What do you do when you don’t know how to answer things?
- Don’t answer. I believe it might be much more easy than we think. First, just because you are a counselor doesn’t mean you do have all the answers. Also, it doesn’t mean you should have all the answers. No one has all of the answers. Second, it is a myth (propagated by someplace) that counselors are supposed to be fixing a person’s problems. We aren’t advice or answer givers. We aren’t. We are counselors. We direct, guide, reflect, ask great questions, probe some, and engage our client’s into their own insights, discoveries, plans and direction. We aren’t akin to the local information counter in the shopping mall.
- Also, we need strong supervisors, peers and mentors around us. We need others to help us weave through areas we have yet to travel. If I don’t know what to do or if I can’t answer a fact-based question, it is important that I ask someone who might. This better equips me for the next time someone asks me that question. The first time a client asked me what a barbiturate was I panicked. Surely I learned that in school. I knew. I know I knew. But I couldn’t remember for the life of me. I was scared. I had fifty other client’s staring at me waiting for me to give the right answer. Any answer. – I could be exaggerating that part – but I couldn’t remember. So I said that. Whew. No one died. I asked another counselor who had more experience. She gave me a great resource by pointing me in the direction of a list of all substances that even included street names for substances. Next time I knew the answer. To this day I can rattle off every medication on the barbiturate list. Wanna hear me do it?
- Here is a third little trick. Repeat after me, “I actually don’t know an answer to that. Let me ask someone and get back to you.” Again, it is okay to let your human out once in a while. Who would want a “know it all” as a counselor, anyway?
- Finally, use those counseling skills you paid all that money to learn. I will refresh your memory…do you recall what Socratic or maieutic mean? The more education we receive the bigger the words we can use. That simply means answering a question with a question. It is therapeutic. When someone pleads, “What am I supposed to doooooooooooo?” Instead of launching into quick fixes for them it might be much more simple - and useful to them if I respond, “What are you going to do?”
Questions about becoming a helping professional? Ask. I may not know the answer but I will do my best to find some that might be useful.