Thank you for Sharing

Before I walked into my first session of a nine weeks course in basic counselling I would not have thought that I was going to encounter a sentence that is probably the mantra of any self help group on the planet:
Thank you for sharing

But first things first. I have decided to participate in a counselling course in order to get a better understanding of the profession of counsellors, of how they are trained and which pedagogic frameworks they use. In other words: I want to ‘go native’. By this expression anthropologists refer to the phenomenon of immersing oneself in other people’s every day lives and as a consequence gradually losing one’s outside perspective. This process allows for developing a profound understanding of the topic in question. After having gained considerable insight into the everyday practices of domestic violence counselling in women shelters, I decided it was time to include a different perspective on the matter: How do you become a counsellor in the first place? And what is currently the state of the art in the profession of counselling?

With this motivation in mind, I registered for a Basic Counselling Course that is conducted by an organization in Johannesburg, well known in the field of both counselling and counselling trainings.
As I experienced during the first day of training, the course is as much about increasing self-awareness as it is about learning the core principles of counselling: enhancing listening and communication skills and developing a non-judgmental conversational technique.

Usually, it is not up to me as a researcher to reveal personal information about myself and to disclose and confide into another person. In most cases, I am the one asking the questions, observing the situation and reactions. Surely, when meeting people in the course of my research, they ask me questions and try to find out more about me. But that usually does not go beyond asking where I am from (And where exactly in Germany? Is it near Munich?), for how long I have been to South Africa, if I am enjoying my time in the country and where I am staying while I’m here. Not counting the incidents in which conversations take dramatic turns or when it comes to sudden and unforeseen changes of plans it most of the time feels like that I am in control of the situation.

However, yesterday’s fieldwork experience has been the complete opposite of all my experiences so far. Why? Entering the room (I was a bit late because the roads had been blocked due to a marathon AND a bike race) I found a huge circle of chairs accommodating the very mixed group of 20 course participants. I had expected a rather school like teacher-centered seminar where I would be educated in different counselling approaches and the underlying principles and theories of the ‘Egan Model’ which is the focus of the course. Instead, throughout most of the day, I found myself participating in various exercises during which I had to report quite personal stuff about my life, my family background, my anxieties, wishes, dreams, regrets etc. to the group. The message of these exercises was twofold: First, you should get a feeling of what it is like to talk to a complete stranger about your personal life and experience the fear of being judged. Second, you must know yourself before you can start helping others, you must be confronted with your own insecurities to understand the insecurities of others. Thereby, the course invoked the question if, in some way, aren’t we all wounded healers?

As it turned out, at least four of the participants are themselves currently receiving counselling or therapy. The idea of the wounded healer goes back to Carl Jung and describes the therapist or counsellor who attempts to heal his own wounds by helping others. If you want to find out more about the phenomenon from a psychological perspective you should take a look at ‘Wounded Healer. Countertransference from a Jungian Perspective’ by David Sedgwick. For an anthropological study, Ria Reis’ article ‘The ‘Wounded Healer’ as Ideology’ in which she investigates witchcraft in Swaziland is a good place to start.

Although the counselling course has turned out to be very different from what I have expected I am looking forward to the next sessions. In the beginning, I felt quite uncomfortable in this setting and even considered leaving. But in the end, I understood that with this course, I will not only myself be trained as a counsellor but I also have the unique chance to personally get in touch with 19 upcoming counsellors and learn about their goals and aspirations. As an additional personal benefit, after those nine weeks I will probably no longer feel awkward when talking about personal stuff in public. Might come handy one day.

And as I type these last sentences that reveal my emotions towards my newly found field, I have the appreciative voice of my counselling trainer echoing in my head:

Thank you for sharing!

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