By David Joel Miller.
Wondering what to do with your life?
When you came home from the hospital that first day of your life, did you get a guide to life, where to go and what to do? I didn’t get mine either. People frequently come to counselors for the answers from that book. Unfortunately, there are no such books. There are some lessons we have learned from living our lives but I am not sure we should recommend those to you. Your life is after all yours. So how could you decide what to do? Let me suggest some options.
There are some guides to having a good life, those general things on proper living, like the Ten Commandments and ethical principles. But it is hard to apply that instruction to daily life, like job and children. People look for guidance everywhere. Some people visit fortune tellers and some read columns by economists. The hope is the same; that some expert will be able to tell us what will happen and what we should do. These sources of information may inform your choices but they won’t tell you what to do. It’s your life and you need to make the decisions. Sorry to have to tell you that. So how might a counselor help you with a decision? What are the things that the counselor should do and what are the parts of this process you should do yourself?
What are your values?
What are your religious or moral values? How strongly do you hold these concepts? Is the course of action consistent with these values? How will you feel about that choice after you have made it? A counselor can help here by letting you “talk this out.” You can explore conflicts between what you are thinking of doing and what you value. Many people have never looked carefully at their values. Do you believe this or is this something that you learned from a parent of authority figure? Though shalt not kill is a good value – unless you are in the army or on the police force.
What if you learned that money is all important. Make money your family told you when you were young. Now you have the chance to do something you truly love but the pay is not so good. Which values are more important to you?
No one in the helping professions should impose their values on you. Some counselors firmly believe that a couple should always stay together, no divorce no matter what. Another counselor may be a “feminist” or strong believer in woman’s rights. They may encourage all their clients to divorce. As a profession, most counselors believe we should not make those decisions for you. If we have strong opinions one way or the other we should tell you at the start. We can work with you on improving the relationship if that is what you want. We might also work with you on a safety plan to protect you and the children from domestic violence.
What are your options?
People often stay trapped in a bad situation because they have become stuck and hopeless. They don’t know they have choices. Career changes are a good example of this. The counselor should help you learn to find answers not find them for you. This issue causes a lot of frustration among clients. Some counselors are so reluctant to impose any idea on their client they listen to them talk about their unhappiness but never think to point to the answer even when the counselor knows where it is. An example might help here.
You are stuck in a low paying job you hate. You can’t find anything better and you become depressed and angry with your family as a result. You could work on your anger and your depression. That might help. You could also learn some new job search skills. There are online resources that a career counselor might tell you about where you could look at pay scales and requirements for other careers. There might be one that is perfect for you, just what you want, but you need more education. So the counselor might tell you about schools that offer this training and were to go to research them.
If you were homeless would you want a counselor that listens to your pain or one that gave you the number of an agency that could find you a place to stay? Maybe you would want one that did both. So a good counselor will show you how to find options but won’t tell you which one to choose. It is your life after all.
Many counselors strongly believe in an approach called “Bibliotherapy.” They will recommend books for you to read and then discuss what you read with you. Did the ideas in the book help you make a decision? What else do you need to know?
The counselor should help with reality testing. So what is that?
When people are very angry, depressed or fearful, Ideas come to them that sound like a possible solution to their problem. Suicide and Homicide are extreme examples of this. But there are milder possibilities. Someone who just had a fight with their boss may be in a hurry to quit their job and tell their boss off. When upset we humans seem to lose the ability to think things over and are prone to act impulsively. That is not an excuse for bad behavior, only the truly “legally insane” can’t tell right from wrong.
Say a person comes in and tells their counselor that they feel that God is punishing them for their sins. That, they say, is why they are having all these troubles. If this is consistent with their beliefs the counselor needs to consider the client may really believe this. Who am I to decide what God is up to?
So this client decides to quit his job, give up his family and become a Missionary to Burma. Here is where reality testing kicks in. There is a process in most religious groups for selecting missionaries. Is he willing to go through the selection process? Does he speak the language? How will he support himself? Who will take care of his family? So the idea to drop everything is probably not reality. If he is a doctor and is willing to go through a several year process, this is a lot more possible than if he works in fast food and wants to start tomorrow.
Should the counselor and the client discount this idea all together? Maybe not. He might decide to donate money to a group that is already working in that area. He might support literacy efforts or a medical program. He could decide to volunteer at a nonprofit near home.
So there you have it, for now. Three ways in which counseling could help you decide what to do without imposing the counselor’s values and will on you.
Hope you are moving towards a truly happy life.
For more about David Joel Miller and my work in the areas of mental health, substance abuse and Co-occurring disorders see the about the author page. For information about my other writing work beyond this blog, there is also a Facebook authors page, in its infancy, up under David Joel Miller. Posts to the “books, trainings and classes” category will tell you about those activities. If you are in the Fresno California area, information about my private practice is at counselorfresno.com. Thanks to all who read this blog.
If you enjoyed this post or think others might enjoy it please click on one or more of the “Like” or “Share” buttons on this page.