Today was a historic day for me as a counselor-in-training. “Why, Ashley?” You may be asking. I’ll tell you. It begins with a story, starting a week ago (last Friday).
I run a group at my internship site called “Meeting of the Minds.” Originally it was supposed to be a reading and discussion group. It has since evolved into a “lets talk about anything” group, given the participants are mostly too fueled by their ADHD to pay attention to one topic, never mind read a book during the week when I’m not around. The group consists of three boys, all around 17 years old. One is wild with ADHD (we’ll call him R), one who is almost the picture image of Conduct Disorder (henseforth known as J), and then finally one of my individual clients, N, who is mild-mannered with a diagnosis of PDD.
The way this group usually runs is that we sit down and talk about the most recent idea one of the boys has, which is generally outlandish and impractical. I like the group because I’m getting to know these kids, share in their humor, and get to build whatever they bring to the group into something therapeutic, or a learning experience. Last Friday, though, things took a turn for the worst. I was expecting it to eventually, given the clash of personalities and diagnoses.
It began with a question, “How do you make money?” They asked me.
“I have a job.” I said.
And the turn happened here. “I bet you deal drugs.” J said.
“Inappropriate, but no, I do not deal drugs. I have a real job.” I said. R is laughing hysterically.
“Well that’s good. My first guess was that you are a prostitute.” Says J.
From here, the conversation obviously goes wild. R will grapple onto anything and run with it. This resulted in me being called a bunch of nasty names that I refuse to write on this website. N, of course, sat quietly in his seat and listened. After much failure trying to redirect the conversation, I used my last ditch effort. I sat, and I said nothing. Quietly, I watched the two boys. If they wanted to act inappropriately, without any regard to how I might feel by the name calling, I would not engage. And this tactic worked perfectly. Awkwardness flooded into the room, like a dam breaking after much stress.
It was thirty minutes of stone-cold silence. Of course the jokes fizzled out and turned into gripes and pleas for me to talk. J remarked that he felt guilty. R kept saying how awkward it was that I kept watching him and not saying anything. N, causally, said, “She wants an apology, and isn’t going to speak until she gets one.” Not exactly true, but good enough. I was silent for the rest of the group, and then when I took them back to their classes.
I spent the rest of the week trying to figure out what to do today, to process what had happened, and after taking the question to my group supervision, I had my plan. Yesterday I spoke with N in private, who agreed not to come to the group today, as he did nothing wrong. He and I processed what had happened Friday, and then moved onto his personal things that he had to deal with.
And here is where I’m proud of myself:
Today I collected J and R and walked them to our normal meeting spot. While we usually sit on couches, I put them at the table with their rigid hard-back seats. They asked if I was talking, and I said yes. To each of them I spoke about my disappointment with their actions and how it wouldn’t be tolerated in the future. Then I provided a human rights worksheet, based on prejudicial comments, and made them read the questions and answer them out loud. They were obviously uncomfortable, but solemnly participated. We talked about what jokes were okay and not okay in group. We discussed how hurtful that behavior can be. We talked about a lot of things, and then we had our normal group. We sat and talked, and things felt like they were right again. The awkwardness left.
I’m proud because I stood up for myself and my group and enforced boundaries in a way I never have done before. This is something that I knew would happen, since day 1 at MSPP when I learned about these things in my Seminar class. The experience was uncomfortable for me, too, though I’ll never tell the kids that. I dislike being strict, enforcing sanctions, etc. Especially because I like my kids and don’t like knowing they’ve done wrong, even by me. But I’m proud that I made this step, because I know I’ll be able to do it again when a similar situation arises. It was a big day to learn to do something new and I’m happy with how it went (I expected it to go worse).
It’s nice to know I’m capable of doing things that make me uncomfortable. A year and a half ago I didn’t imagine myself in this place. I’m really enjoying my internship this year, despite this little snag. My clients are all wonderful. I went for a walk today with one of my female clients and we came across this guy:
Isn’t he cute? It was the friendliest horse. There were two others, but they weren’t as interested in us as this one was. I’ve been walking by this farm all semester with clients, and this is the first time the horses were in this particular part of the yard and, apparently, eager to say hello! I knew it was going to be a great day after that, and so far it has been. What a perfect start to the weekend, don’t you think?
Now it’s time for me to adventure out of this office and find one of my clients. Until next time, folks!