Monday, September 24, 2018

The Barmaid Teaches the Young Counselor a Lesson!



The sailors come off the ship after months out at sea. They come to a bar sign, walk down a short flight of concrete steps and enter a dark, dank establishment. There is loud and foul language in the air. The establishment does not smell clean.  An aging barmaid with excessive, perhaps garish make-up, clearly looking older than her real age, is serving shots of booze and beer. When we hear her speak words we detect a crudeness and probable lack of education.

This is the woman that was sitting across from me, on public assistance, needing a plan for reemployment. It was Friday the end of a long work week. It was early in my career.  My experience and skills were very limited. Since she had not finished high school, I ask her if she wanted to attend the Learning Center for a GED.  She laughed and asked me if I was serious. No one had ever offered her further education or even suggested training. I told her, "Of course. You can go over to the community college, take the placement test and begin study on Monday." She took the referral.

When I entered my office Monday morning, the phone rang and the director of the learning center began rattling off reasons why my latest referral could not be accepted. 


  • She is barely reading at a fifth grade level. 
  • Her math skills are extremely limited, despite handling money and making change continually in her past work. 
  • She would be taking up space preventing other students with real potential from getting into the program.
  • She has no chance of being successful.
  • She was not appropriate.

I felt a little anger swell and it prompted me to threaten to pull out all of our business and financial support.  We paid when our customers got into the Center. My client got to start that day.

By the end of the week I was becoming increasingly nervous, thinking the director might talk to my supervisor in the Department of Labor Special Programs Office. I was the newest counselor in the WIN program fresh out of graduate school.  I did not have the power to carry out my threat and I did not want to be chastised for an inappropriate behavior. I visited the learning center to see how my client was doing and found her reading a book that looked much like the ones we used when my son was first learning to read. I made the decision to visit the Learning Center often, so that I could pull her out the moment she got frustrated.

Every time I visited, she was in her chair focusing on her work, day after day, week after week and the journey turned into months. I told her if she was feeling too much stress we could look for other options. She chose to continue the journey and did nothing that would cause removal.  I witnessed a transformation taking place. The Barmaid began to dress better, I suppose because of the environment and increasingly looked more and more like a student. It was nearly eight months after we first met that my client was accepted into Casino Security Guard Training. After passing her High School Equivalency exam, her options had expanded. She was placed easily into an entry level Casino Job and her first year income tripled her best year as a Barmaid. She stopped me on the street in Atlantic City and gave me a big hug.
  
Maybe her counselor experienced second thoughts and the Director was sure she could not succeed. But, not my Barmaid. She had no idea that she was incapable of earning a GED.   
   
I had to make a decision about whether it would impact how I felt about trusting people, and I decided I wasn't going to allow it to impact my outlook on trust, because I believe trust is a choice.  I've always given people the benefit of the doubt until they prove me otherwise. So, it just made me stronger in my conviction about that, but it also taught me never to put anything past anyone.  ~  Boris Kodjoe

Monday, April 9, 2018

A Few Thoughts on Coaching and Counseling


The leaders of the American Counseling Association and its divisions finalized a definition of counseling back in 2010:
“Counseling is a professional relationship that empowers diverse individuals, families and groups to accomplish mental health, wellness, education and career goals.”
My first real job was assistant recreational counselor. My uncle was the counselor and we went to the Ghetto in the nearby big city and delivered an after school program to get the disadvantages kids off the streets. We played basketball with the kids and my uncle offered guidance to those most in distress. The next summer I became a camp counselor for rich kids, taught swimming and played games with kids just a few years younger. I provided peer counseling as needed.
I earned my master’s degree in counseling in 1975 and worked as the only employment counselor in the Atlantic City public employment office before, during and after the advent of casino gambling. Developmentally, I have been doing this for a long, long time.
A HISTORY STORY: When the psychologists wanted to be licensed in the United States the psychiatrists, more or less, said they were not qualified. Later when the social workers wanted to be licensed, the psychologists and psychiatrists said they were not qualified. When the counselors wanted to be licensed the psychiatrist, psychologists and social workers said they were not qualified. Now that the Coaches are on the scene, again many of those who have become licensed say coaches are not qualified. While this is a simplistic story, it is a pattern that I have written about and with counselors, lived through. I was around when the counselor certification process began and all through the quest for a license. There was a time when anyone could call themselves a counselor and hang up a shingle and they did. In the United States now, in all 50 states, counseling is a licensed profession, so Coaches without the "needed credentials" cannot say they do counseling. I think, the day will come when all the coach associations join together to create all that is necessary for increased professional recognition. Right now they are just the new kids on the block. Of course, they are marketing themselves to be different than Counselors and suggesting that their approach is different. 
There is nothing that a Coach does that I have not done during my career. I have worked with homeless people and displaced professionals and everything in between.  How therapeutic or how directive I am depends upon the needs of the individual at my desk. I certainly hold people accountable for the decisions they make. I have provided business advice to employers and mediated disputes at their workplace. Needless to say, I am a far better counselor today than I was in 1975. Lots of formal education, numerous certifications, hundreds of hours of continuing education, presenting workshops and tons of experience, all lead to increased competency. Even at this stage in my career I encounter situations outside my expertise. I do not overstep my boundaries. I refer the person to someone with the required experience and education.
Just because someone owns a credential it does not mean they know what they are doing. The longer it takes to earn a credential, the less is the competition. If we have a natural talent for something or specific experience, that is good. In all cases, the more formal and informal education we have, the better we get.
Counselor Wendy Stubbs presented at a National Employment Counseling Association Conference back in 2002 on "Brief Career Counseling. I had many clients that I saw once or for very brief periods of time and Wendy helped me refine my approach.  Back then Life Coaching and Career Coaching had relatively little national attention.  She is now marketing herself as Dream Career Coaching because Coaching is quite popular and does not have any stigma about being in "therapy."  Look at what she presented and you will see a "Counseling Theory."  Do you also see something very similar to what Career Coaches might be doing today?