The Profession of Talking and Listening

I took a good step back to reflect.

Due to personal qualities that correlate strongly with a helping profession, I found myself drawn to the field of mental health and counseling. Pre-college, I had the faintest idea of what a career in this field looked like, and my many hours of online research were only slightly helpful in figuring out the differences between a counselor, therapist, behavior analyst, mental health technician, psychologist, counseling psychologist, psychiatrist, and social worker, and it all sort of started to blend together. They all seemed so similar, yet also so different!

I have now learned the distinctions between these important professions, and their varying focuses on advocacy, medicine, behavior, assessment, and personal growth. Each one follows a different route towards reaching a goal related to human wellness. Due to this variability between professions, and even more variability within each profession, there exists much nuance in the field of mental health in terms of theories, settings, diagnoses, multiculturalism, interventions, treatment strategies, and so on.

As a counselor-in-training, I often find myself overwhelmed with the sheer magnitude of the things I am learning and practicing. I find my textbook material fascinating, and rousing class discussions stimulate ideas I had not previously considered. Relationships with my classmates introduce me to wider perspectives of the world, and I constantly self-reflect on my identity as both a counselor and as a client seeking my own counseling. I read, think, write, edit, re-write, re-think, and re-read so that I can gather as much knowledge and ideas as I possibly can.

I love to learn, and have been self-motivated throughout all of my schooling, but now I am even more motivated knowing that in just a few short months, this learning is going to directly impact clients sitting across from me in a counseling room. As the person walking with them towards wellness, clients will expect me to be trained and knowledgeable, and I want to be prepared. While this drives me to push myself, this mindset can be detrimental sometimes when I get bogged down by the extent of my growth in such a short amount of time and all the pressure I place on myself to meet unrealistic expectations.

While speaking with a Professor recently, he made a comment that has pervaded my thoughts ever since.

We are in the profession of talking and listening.

This one simple sentence revolutionized the way I have been feeling towards my learning. Yes, the differences in mental health professions, the varying theories, the types of treatment strategies, and the many other nuances that exist are relevant and important, but everything in this entire field boils down to two avenues of treating human thoughts, feelings, and behaviors: through talking and listening. A simple idea, yet a complex follow-through.

While especially relevant to me as a future counselor, we can all benefit from this notion.

We so often become overwhelmed by all of the stimuli around us, pushing us in different directions, with the world’s varying opinions of how we should act, what we should do, and who we should be. Our personal views are beaten down by opposition, and we feel hopeless that we cannot ever know as much as we should, do as much as we should, or be as much as we should. We lose the sense of connecting with the people around us through the impact of self-centeredness, suspicion, and violence.

It can become extremely difficult to know how to navigate the world around us that contains so much complexity, but in those moments, let us remember the simple power of talking and listening. Our words make an impact, and we have a choice in how we use this power. We can lift each other up or tear each other down, and I really pray that we all choose to do the former. Arguably even more important, our simple act of listening conveys so much more than we can with our words. Really listening shows someone that we care, that we are with them in their experience, and that we want to understand them. It tells another person that they have something valuable to share, and you find them worthy of your attention. We crave this type of validation, and we can use ourselves to empower other people in this way.

Sometimes things don’t have to be quite as complicated as they seem. Like when I become overwhelmed with the magnitude of my graduate school studies, we can return to the root of our greater purpose and foster those qualities within ourselves.

Talking and listening may play different roles in each of our lives depending on our relationships, our professions, our responsibilities, and our calls in life, but they remain powerful tools that we can always return to in order to communicate, connect, and love the people around us.

In Joy, Monica

 Conduct yourselves wisely toward outsiders, making the most of the opportunity. Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you know how you should respond to each one.

Colossians 4:5-6