As a school counselor with seventeen years of experience, I can tell you: It does get easier, but it never stops being hard. I’d like to say that my month-long absence from the blogosphere was because I was on a fabulous around-the-world voyage, but in actuality I’ve been off on a storm-tossed odyssey unlike anything I’ve experienced in my entire career. You know that critical issues class you take in grad school that covers just about everything that can go wrong for kids and families? It was like that, except for real, and squished into the space of three weeks instead of scheduled into tidy, interesting presentations over the course of a semester. Whew!
Here, in a nutshell, is what was going on: homelessness, domestic violence, illegal drugs, prescription drugs, missing drugs, suicidality, threat of harm, full day in court, multiple icky reports to child protective services (in two states), threat with weapon, strange van that flashed a gun at students, ambulance chase and ER until 7:00pm, crisis evaluation, police, probation and parole, disappeared family, plus all the usual school craziness. And in the midst of this, Career Day (17 guests x 44 kids x three interviews each). And oh yeah, the neuroscientist who brings brains to Brain-O-Mania (our huge family event at which “real brains” are the centerpiece) had to cancel. You would think that that mess of issues could have at least included zombie attack so that I could have gotten some brains, but no-oo!
But there’s always validation, and a laugh, around the corner. After Career Day, as I was sorting the thank-you cards the kids had made (on yet another past-my-bedtime evening of work), I came across this note that a student had written to me:
After I stopped cracking up, I thought, “Buddy, I already AM an extreme school counselor!”
Here’s Wikipedia’s definition of extreme sports. Insert the school counselor’s version of weather and terrain variables, and you will see that we are every bit as awesome and daredevil-y as ice climbers and cave divers. Duuuude!
Activities categorized by media as extreme sports differ from traditional sports due to the higher number of inherently uncontrollable variables. . . . Because these natural phenomena cannot be controlled, they inevitably affect the outcome of the given activity or event.
Yup. But never fear, we extreme school counselors are here!
Some things get much, much easier with experience:
- You can often shift into “automatic” when responding to a situation. You have to keep thinking, of course, but can get balls rolling more quickly and with greater confidence.
- You develop relationships with service providers, agencies, and law enforcement that can help you gain access and information more easily.
- You learn how best to advocate with gatekeepers in the child protection and mental health crisis systems so that your students are more likely to get screened through for services.
- Your colleagues come to trust you and understand the nature of your work. They forgive you when you have to cancel or delay, and help out with some of the non-counselor-specific tasks when crisis commands all your attention.
- You have lots of experience to draw on that lets you know that you WILL get through it.
- You have a sixth sense about when you need intensive self care, and you initiate it BEFORE you start to collapse.
Some things don’t get any easier:
- Despite my best efforts, I am still only human.
- Sad, scary stuff is sad and scary.
- Time does not slow down when I ask it to.
- There’s always more to learn.
Here’s what I learned this time around:
- It’s a little bit cool to drive in the slipstream of an ambulance (when no life is in danger, anyway.)
- I have a new talent: the ability to coax someone out from under the witness stand.
- There is something really satisfying (and also surreal) about unexpectedly working hand-in-hand through a crisis with a rookie police officer who once was a lunch group regular.
- If I am abducted by aliens or otherwise disappear, my school will be in great hands; my co-counselor is a newbie-no-more and can handle anything.
- Do not ever, ever, ever schedule Career Day during March/April.
- Other school counselors will understand and forgive if I drop off the radar for a while.
Still, it’s nice to be back. Extremely.
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