Saturday, March 03, 2018

Detecting Precious Metals

The beach person that most intrigued me last week was the gentleman who slowly walked up the beach with a metal detector. They are quite common. I assume they are looking for metal that someone has dropped out of a pocket or whatever.

Once in a while I see someone with a metal detector being pulled from their own walk to help someone find something. The crew who was putting the beach chairs out for the season corralled a passing metal seeker to walk around to find something that was lost. It took about ten minutes but it was a successful job.

The usual pattern, though, is the slow walk up the beach, the detector at the end of a wand that is slowly moved back and forth in front of the walker. Headphones are used to transmit a sound of detected metal. When that happens the prospector stops. He then double checks, moving the wand back and forth making sure the sound was correct.

If so, the next step is to do some digging. Down on their knees they go to do some pushing around of sand and seashell fragments. After a moment or two of digging the detector is brought back into play over the spot. If the sound is still there, the digging continues.

I realized that the metal seeker is a good metaphor for what I do as a counselor/therapist. Whether in group or one-on-one my first task is to detect what's happening. I rummage around the edges. I ask questions. I listen carefully to what 's being said. I pay attention to what is NOT being said. If it's someone new it takes more time than if it is someone I have worked with previously. It takes concentration and an attitude of acceptance- "Something is in here for me to discover," is my opening thought.

Then I hear it. It is sometimes subtle and sometimes so blatant that it's like alarms going off. A key word, an attitude shift, a change in tone or body position. "Hmmm!" I think. "Let's do some digging." I ask different questions, give feedback on what I might have heard- the old Rogerian-method "What I hear you saying..." or just simply repeating what they said and see what they do with it. In essence I am the metal seeker getting into the story. Was the intuitive "ping" I felt real or just a false alarm?

Intuition is an important piece here for me. It is often built on experience. Very few times do I hear something so completely new and different that it is totally unlike anything I have ever heard before. There may be a new twist to it, but the underlying concern or issue is almost always something I have seen and worked with in the past. That is why more experienced counselors tend to be better at intuitively understanding situations. We aren't smarter, just been around the block a few more times.

That is why counseling/therapy can be so rewarding. It is a "treasure hunt"- a stroll along the shore of another person's depths and worries, hopes and disasters. In so doing I am hoping to be able to help them find the answers they seek- or at least help them ask the questions that will move them in a healthier direction.

Counseling is not magic nor mumbo-jumbo. It is an engagement with another human being on an exciting journey. I am humbled to have been able to do it for so many years in so many different ways.

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