“Give me a lever long enough and a fulcrum on which to place it, and I shall move the world.”
The American Heritage Medical Dictionary says that a therapist is “a person who specializes in psychotherapy” and Webster’s Dictionary says a counselor is someone “who gives guidance or advice.” But for those who’ve sought out a counselor—or those who are therapists—those definitions overly simplify the role.
To be the most effective counselor, and thus help clients and ourselves best, we must endeavor to define ourselves more coherently. An effective counselor does much more than simply gives advice, and many clients are seeking deeper or more holistic means to better their lives than psychotherapy alone. To best understand, and hone ourselves to live out the role of effective counselors, let’s look to the sciences; physics and chemistry to be exact.
Triangles and Sparks
Fulcrum – (n) 1. The pivot about which a lever turns 2. Something that supports or sustains.
Effective counselors are the fulcrum in the life of a person in need. Usually clients have within themselves their means to the end—their lever, so to speak. They have strengths, they have supports, they have dreams; a counselor helps them identify and refine such things to better shape their lever. But what they lack is leverage enough to lift their burdens, or shove their life into a new place.
The therapist is that fulcrum, the additional support that is also the pivot which finally offers the client the leverage they’ve needed to put their own strength to best effect.
Catalyst – (n) 1. A substance that enables a chemical reaction to proceed at a usually faster rate than otherwise possible.
Effective counselors are catalysts. More than the definition above, according to Chemichool (2017) “A catalyst works by providing a different route…for the reaction….the presence of a catalyst” doesn’t just speed the process up, it sparks a necessary chemical reaction by forging a different path for the change.
Analogies to this process can be found in group, family or couples counseling. Effective counselors in these situations may teach skills, raise awareness or facilitate processing but the energy of the group and the qualities of the clients are what empowers the change and fuels the transformation.
Sturdy and Unconsumed
“Did I offer peace today? Did I bring a smile to someone’s face? Did I say words of healing? Did I let go of my anger and resentment? Did I forgive? Did I love? These are the real questions. I must trust that the little bit of love that I sow now will bear many fruits, here in this world and the life to come.”
– Henri J. M. Nouwen, Theologian
This examination of the effective counselor’s role is in no way and aggrandizement, it is a call to humility and self-care.
A fulcrum is useless if it cannot stand the pressure or take the weight of the burden which the client is trying to leverage. In fact, it could be dangerous if the fulcrum collapses at the most stressful point in the transition. But stress is part of the process and the weight of a client’s burden must be shared for a time so that they can grow as they are guided by the counselor. Thus, an effective counselor must be mindful of the honor of that burden at the outset and always strive to only lift what they can, refer when they can’t and seek support for themselves at all times.
An effective counselor must realize that the idea that they alone are the fulcrum is a necessary illusion for the client—an effective counselor is little without a treatment team or some form of supervision and a wealth of training. That triangle of the fulcrum is merely the tip of an iceberg of support and education that stretches down into the history and research of the profession. If we, as counselors, are weary or feeling adrift, we need to look first to our own support network and see if we’ve cut ourselves off or fallen prey to our own egos.
“A catalyst is a substance that speeds up a chemical reaction, but is not consumed by the reaction; hence a catalyst can be recovered chemically unchanged at the end of the reaction it has been used to speed up, or catalyze” (Chemicool, 2017). In essence; once the session is done, or the course of therapy has ended, an effective counselor can return to their life as normal. The counselor who can “be recovered” and “not consumed” is most often reflective of a strong sense of self, healthy therapeutic boundaries and a self-care system which fosters holistic wellness and self-restoration.
There are no super-hero counselors. Counseling is an astounding trust rewarded by the awesome gift of being present when lives change for the better. It is also exhausting just like any other job, and sometimes more than other jobs depending on the field. We must keep ourselves physically, emotionally and mentally healthy if we are bold enough to think we can offer that to others.
The universal and consistent need for self-healing is part of why this website exists; everyone needs it. Simply click on the Soul Quenching, DIY Psychotherapy or Living and Psychology categories in the upper right pull-down menu and the theme of Street Level Wellness abounds. Rather than offering links to specific pages as a resource; just click all of it to find a collection of physical, emotional, mental and spiritual renewal ideas. Wellness isn’t just for spas, counseling offices or retreats and wellness is not just for clients—wellness is for everyone, down on the street-level, all the time.
As effective counselors we must be aware of two things. First, that without clients a fulcrum is just an inanimate wedge and a catalyst is just an inert chemical; we need each other. Second, that the stress of lifting and the explosion of catalyzation are the key functions of our role. We must be expecting, prepared, restored and grateful for the opportunity.
American Heritage Medical Dictionary (2007) Therapist. Retrieved from: http://medical-dictionary.thefreedictionary.com/therapist
Chemicool Periodic Table (2017) Definition of a Catalyst. Retrieved from: http://www.chemicool.com/definition/catalyst.html
Collins (2017) Fulcrum. Collins English Dictionary. Retrieved from: https://www.collinsdictionary.com/dictionary/english/fulcrum