I’d heard her name before. She and my bestie had met each other in class … there were both enrolled as mature students in the Social Work program offered through a nearby University. The woman standing before me introduced herself as “Jody”. She was direct … and … got right to the point. She was hoping I might be willing to supervise her Junior Practicum. I sensed she was a very determined soul. There was something about her energy that both impressed me and intrigued me. We agreed to meet at a later date to determine if we’d make a good fit for one another.
She recently reminded me that, when we subsequently met, I told her that she might cry if she did her practicum with me. I do like to give students a chance to reconsider having me as their supervisor, because I know its not easy being my student. Not because I am nasty or malicious … but rather … because I don’t step over much. I don’t believe it would be in my student’s best interests to hold them in anything less than my highest vision for who I sense they could be in their careers.
From where I am looking, practicum is not only the time to put all that social work theory into practice … but it’s also the time when all of our own unhealed ‘stuff’ will be triggered by the things our clients are expressing and experiencing. I tell every potential student that I am going to invite them to examine their own perceptions, explore their beliefs and excavate anything that could hinder their capacity to ‘hold space’ for their clients with the utmost compassion and empathy.
If we are not clean, clear catalysts for change, we will not be able to stay focused upon our client’s interpretations of their experiences. Rather, their struggles and sharing may trigger some of our own unresolved prior lived experiences, and then, we can unwittingly getting caught up in the energy of our own unhealed pains of the past. And, even if we’ve been through ‘the same thing’ … our felt sense of that ‘same’ experience may be very different from theirs. And so, if there are places in our history that we are not yet at peace with, we are at great risk of projecting our own meaning making into their situation … rather than making room to deeply honor and understand the internal world of the person we are attempting to support.
And so, yes … I like to give my students the heads up that this practicum will likely be more about their own internal processing than they expected In keeping with that, I require every student to do daily reflections … discussing three things:
- Learnings – what did they notice/learn about counselling skills/practice/theory during the sessions and/or our debriefing?
- Questions – what questions arose for them during that day?
- Reflections – what got stirred up in their own souls during our daily round … or … what ‘aha!’ moments may have grabbed them unexpectedly … or … how is our work stretching who they know themselves to be?
Students often think our job is to save people … to offer people solutions … to rescue/protect them from the messy parts of their lives. I must humbly disagree. For me, the work that we do as counsellors is not at all about showing up all shiny and bright and guiding people to the perfect resolution for their situation … from some loftier place of academic enlightenment. No. From where I am looking, counselling is about connecting with the deepest parts of people’s lives … honoring all the spaces where the sacred soul seated before us may be struggling … feeling scared, sad, sleepless, soured, silenced, stuck … or stressed in some significant way.
And it is remembering that ‘stress’ behaviour often looks like ‘bad’ behaviour. When we as humans are alarmed or overwhelmed by stressors, we are far more likely to make poor or unfavorable choices. Yes. It’s recognizing that people will try to ‘numb’ any pain that they can’t endure … perhaps with drugs or drink or gambling or sex or internet gaming … or even food. It’s remembering that our logic and reason can be high-jacked by our ‘fight/flight/freeze’ response. It’s realizing that our job is to create a safe space so they can trust us enough to be vulnerable … so we might help them to sort things out. And from that humble space, we get to support them in connecting to and/or building the strength and knowledge they need so they can save themselves … with us safely by their sides.
Yes. Most importantly, it is our job to check any assumptions, biases or beliefs that might invite us to judge people rather than understand them. And, understanding does not necessarily mean excusing … but … I believe that everything makes sense if you have enough information. I believe that effective counselling is driven by compassionate curiosity. It’s being aware that we are only seeing the tip of the iceberg. And so, if someone says or does something that just doesn’t make sense to me, it is my job to look deeper … to keep searching their soul until I can say “oh, of course … if that is what you were thinking/feeling/experiencing … I can see why you would have responded that way.”
Jody assured me she was up for the challenge. And, you know what? I believed her. I also sensed a bit of an edge … like if I pushed her too hard … she might push right back. And yet, I also suspected that her seemingly unfettered and impenetrable exterior might be protecting a very tender, kind and exceptionally loving heart. But we never discussed any of that then.
And so … we embarked on a staggeringly remarkable journey together. Neither of us could possibly have anticipated where our connection was going to take us. I can tell you right now … it was a divinely inspired union … for so many reasons. But, it’s probably not wise for the practicum supervisor to admit to having favorites. So, I won’t do that. 😉
And, that is not to say it was all gumdrops and roses. I suspected at the time … and I know for sure now (because she confirmed it) … that there were days when she was cussing at me under her breath! Nonetheless, Jody was a trooper! And she challenged me and I challenged her … and ultimately … we gained such tremendous respect for one another. And through it all, the infinite depth of Jody’s capacity to care became exceedingly evident. Yes. The tenderest parts of her soul became more exquisitely exposed and empathetically expressed as she leaned into our work and honored the hearts seated before us.
I started to look forward to seeing Jody every morning. Her unfailing sense of humor always tickled my heart. She always had her homework done … no matter how exhausted she was at the end of the day! And, we never ran short on incredibly interesting conversations … about trust and shadow work and the challenges of honoring differing perspectives while standing in our own truth.
In the beginning, I sensed that she abhorred my unfailing allegiance to the philosophical constructs of Debbie Ford and her impeccable body of work. Yes … I even thought I might lose Jody the first time we really dived deep into some of Debbie Ford’s most controversial teachings. Her contention that each an every one of us holds the capacity to be both divine and diabolical … both saint and sinner … both light and dark … is hard for many to swallow. While I sensed that Jody would rather spit that paradigm out right out rather than chew on it …. she didn’t. She went home and tasted it. I’m not sure she actually liked any part of it … but she held some space for it. Some say that a sign of true wisdom is the capacity to entertain an unfamiliar idea without feeling the need to immediately embrace it or reject it.
And, despite the differences in our perspectives, we learned that we shared a mutual passion for being allies to those whose voices have been muted or silenced by a majority that often refers to those of our sort as “bleeding heart” social workers. And in addition to all that, it turned out that Jody also shared my compassionate concern about the potential for unreconciled grief related to unexpected pregnancy loss. And with that often overlooked issue in mind, she returned to do her senior practicum with me as well! Her passion for grief and loss and trauma work rose to the forefront as we shared another four months together.
And, ultimately, the eight months we invested with each other became precious to me. Her willingness to continue peeling back the layers of who she was and who she wanted to be was deeply inspiring. She wisely wrestled with everything she thought she knew and made room for perspectives she had not yet considered. It was so refreshing to watch her meeting herself in brand new ways … growing and glowing and generously embracing the gifts of her own gentle spirit. I looked forward to seeing her and enjoying all the conversations and curiosities and laughter we shared. And, when her practicum was over … and she graduated … I knew I was really going to miss our time together.
But then … something wonderful happened! Jody asked me if I would supervise her as she acquired her required “provisional” hours when she started to work in the field. I was honored to do so, but we had one communication obstacle. Jody is a night owl and I am often in bed before 8:30pm. And so, she would send email updates at night that would greet me early in the morning while I had my first cup of coffee. And, I must admit, my mornings were better on the days that started with a nice reconnection with this special soul!!
Jody has gone on to do some very empowering work in a small rural community that is populated with many homeless people. It is her job to help them find shelter for their bodies. And, most remarkably, while she does that, she also shelters their souls. As with so many of those who are living on the streets … they may be struggling with various addictions and/or have experienced domestic violence and/or continue to endure various forms of abuse and/or neglect and/or trauma in their lives. She compassionately honors their struggles and warmly embraces the hearts of those who are often ostracized and marginalized and stigmatized by mainstream culture. When she is working with her clients who she affectionately refers to as her “peeps” … she does not proceed from the condescending space of questioning“What is wrong with you?” but, rather, gently approaches her work from a trauma-informed space of wondering …“What happened to you?”
And, from where I am looking, Jody brings unparalleled compassion and respect and loving care to her social work practice. She is a rare gift to her community … with eyes that see beyond their unfavorable circumstances. She never loses sight of the fragile hearts and traumatized souls that are simply doing their best to survive the reprehensible conditions that often unrelentingly color their capacity to choose differently and/or to rise above their day to day existence. She is a true blessing to the social work profession.
And so, Jody … this “Better Because of You” tribute is in honor of you. My world has been so much better for your presence in it! My mornings continue to be blessed by your engaging emails. You are no longer a student … but instead … have become a highly skilled professional … and … a very precious friend. And for this, I remain eternally grateful. Despite all you have going on (especially now that you are doing your Masters degree!), you somehow remember to check in with me, regularly, and see how things are going in my world! And, you have created a safe place for me to be open, honest and vulnerable with you. We’ve had enjoyed some deeply philosophical discussions via Gmail, haven’t we? 🙂
Remember one of the email exchanges we had in the stifling and unrelenting heat of last summer? We’d been talking about how the blazing temperatures were taking a toll on my flower beds. I responded to your morning email on July 20, 2017, by saying:
“I did sleep well … and … my anxious mind is still tending the blossoms.
I’ve been coddling them and I so very much enjoy them standing in their fullest glory that it saddens me to see a few of them falling through the cracks … succumbing to the hard knocks of life. I guess I feel the same about people. My heart aches when I see anyone or anything losing the struggle to be the best expression of themselves. Even a pansy.
And … it’s so metaphorical really. It can happen in a heart beat. One moment all is well … and then … it’s not. Life can be so hard … even for the pansies. And especially for the super sensitive begonias and fuchsias. Hmmm …. it strikes me that I’ve always been a bit of a begonia myself. I think my life would have been easier if I was more of a petunia. They tend to roll with the punches better … they don’t even seem to notice the wind, heat, flooding and/and drought as much. My delicate begonias feel everything! Anyway … my plan is to give the most wilted little souls a little extra TLC today. Sheesh … who knew I could even get all social worky about flowers??? 🤤
I hope you rested well too …and … I’m glad we’ll get to spend some more time together on Saturday!
Hope you enjoy a wonderful day.
Much luv … k”
Ha Ha. And you responded by saying you love my ‘social worky’ mind and then compassionately added: “I know it’s not easy to be a begonia my friend, so don’t forget to tend to yourself ️❤ !!”
Yep. You tend to my spirit in the most loving ways. And may I say that I am just so darn grateful I get to be all of myself with you Jody. Strong and capable … quirky and anxious. Wise and ‘supervisor’ worthy … scared and insecure. Joyful and hopeful … discouraged and defeated. And, you find a way to hold space for all of it without raising an eyebrow. I know you create that same safe container for your peeps … and … that their lives are touched for the better in countless and meaningful ways. Like I said to you in a recent email:
“Ahhh …. I love, love, love your “long winded” emails. I love hearing about your work and your peeps and the passion you have for all of it and all of them […] along with all the possibilities you envision within your heart space and invite into your peeps perspective. All of your ‘light’ that you bring to their ‘dark’ is so incredibly palpable in your words.
More often than not, I can hear your voice as I am reading … and it’s like we are talking face to face … and I can hear your tone and imagine your facial expressions and I am thoroughly captured by your big juicy loving heart and all of it’s divine intentions.
You have created a movement out [where you work]. A much needed movement towards love and compassion and away from the cultural judgment and righteous indignation that often permeates mainstream interactions with our indigenous population.
I can’t even imagine the gap of support that would be left if the grant for your position was not extended!!! And … so it’s no wonder you are always thinking!! Once we ‘see’ the root of the problem we can’t not ‘see’ it … and … we can’t [be complicit in] covertly blaming the victims with our lofty behavior interpretations and hands off solutions.
And … I can only imagine how overwhelming it is to ‘see’ so clearly what needs to be done. But … you are only one person … albeit with the heart of 100!!”
And, I love your ‘social worky’ heart. It knows the way … but sadly … you bump into barrier after barrier within systems that have no room to ‘see’ what you see. And yet, you allow your frustrations to fuel your determination to challenge and resist the oppressive social structures that have historically ignored all that lies beneath the tip of the iceberg..
And, as a result of who you are ‘being’ … your people feel your presence … and … you make a difference in their hearts. And, as we have discussed … ‘heart work’ is so critically important … although often socially dismissed and/or professionally discounted in favor of outcomes and statistics. But … as Paul Brodeur astutely contended: “Statistics are human beings with the tears wiped off”. Yes, you and I have both seen what a difference it makes when we are able to honor the heart of our humanity by adding a little bit of kindling to people’s internal flames. As Eldon Hubbard has wisely acknowledged: “We awaken in others the same attitude of mind we hold toward them.”
And we have talked about this often … in so many other email exchanges we have shared with each other … like this one you sent:
“I have had some interesting client stories this week as well … I am always in awe of the power of the human connection and how despite the circumstances that bring people together in one room you can share that space with compassion and understanding and safety for them to share their stories and feel loved and heard and often, for the first time a sense of peace … My work is ever evolving and every day is stretching me and allowing me to see through new eyes!!! ️”
And that is what you bring to your work: your tender, compassionate, loving heart. You often like to hide it behind your strength … but … people can feel it. It sneaks out through your kind eyes. And, your sweet soul shines through your smile. And I suspect that for many of your peeps, you might be one of the first people to look beyond the messy ‘doings’ in their orbits and acknowledge the soul-filled ‘beings’ of their precious spirits instead. It doesn’t hurt that you are also very real and authentic and approachable. And funny. Sheesh … you have an impeccable gift of being able to find the humor in everything!
Yes. That is the energy you bring to your relationships Jody. You never fail to make me laugh and ponder and feel grateful for our connection. And, I trust that with you by their side, your peeps are invited to see possibilities for their lives that never before crossed their radar.
Yes. It’s true. My life has been touched in countless ways by your presence in it. As I say that I am reminded that one of the other blessings of our morning email exchanges is that every once in a while you forward an amazing TedTalk … like this one … which you said reminded you of conversations we have had in the past. I would agree and responded by saying:
“I love this! Thanks so much for brightening my day. It’s like we are still in practicum … chewing on meaningful perspectives, compassionately reframing our perceptions and finding new eyes to make better sense of the chaos and distress we see our worlds.”
And so, “Sawubona” my beautiful friend … and … thank you for “seeing us.” All. Of. Us. There is nothing more empowering than being ‘seen’ and ‘accepted’ and ‘acknowledged’ for every part of our being … especially during the times when life feels most grim. It is in those moments that we need someone to cast a light and help us find our way. And Jody … that is what you do so well. As you bring your tender soul to those in your orbit, your presence fills up every inch of our hearts.
Yes … your energy and heart and intention are such a gift to humanity. You are changing peoples lives … one heart at a time. And so, at this moment … it seems fitting for me to add a little wisdom from Debbie Ford. Are you cussing again?? Ha ha … I know you are appreciating her more and more these days!! 😉
And I have absolutely no doubt that you will do exactly THAT. You are a rare gem in the jewels of life Jody. You are such an enviable and exceptional blend of sparkle and shine … grit and gumption … wisdom and wit … edge and empathy … love and laughter … courage and compassion … intuition and irreverence. Yes … Debbie would be inspired by your beautiful integration of polarities!!! And … I know that the world is so much better because you are in it Jody! ❤
I could say so much more but I hope you are getting a felt sense of my love and appreciation of you. Yes. Let me close this tribute by saying … “thank you for choosing me”! My life is so much richer because you are in it! I will remain forever grateful I got to be your practicum supervisor (twice!) … and … even more grateful that, now, I get to be in your circle of friends.