Some Counseling Events
For my master’s degree I had taken courses in psychotherapy and took advantage of opportunities to augment my skills in various techniques after graduation. I had many chances to make use of these skills. These are just a few of them.
One Monday morning, at 9:15 I had a highly agitated student appear at my door. He had gone to class thinking he was finished with his weekend LSD trip but, after sitting in class for a few minutes, he was upset by his perception that the classroom walls were changing shape and moving around in a most disturbing manner and threatened to crush him. My plan was just to be reassuring and let time pass until the effect of the drug wore off.
He said he needed a smoke and I said it was alright. Even though smoking in the office was not officially authorized, I did permit it when I felt circumstances warranted it. Then he asked for a match. I didn’t have one so I went to the staff room and asked for one. One of the teachers offered me one of the six-inch-long book of paper matches that were popular for advertising at that time.
I couldn’t very well tell them why that would make my client freak out. That left me babbling incoherently until another teacher gave me a regular size matchbook.
She was a student from the other high school. I had counselled her previously as a potential suicide, and from her demeanour I knew why she wanted to see me. I guided her from the anteroom into my private office at which time she shoved a handful of pills into her mouth, presumably to swallow them.
She hadn’t counted on my having been a farm boy who had experience with forcing a sheep or cow’s mouth open to slip in a pill or two. The process was just the opposite for her. Before she could swallow I grabbed her throat, squeezed her cheeks to open her mouth, and the pills spewed out on the floor. She was surprisingly strong, but I forced each of her hands open and more pills hit the floor. I scooped up the pills and put them in my pocket.
I had no way of knowing whether or not she had swallowed pills previously, but from her drugged appearance I felt she had. I left her in the relative safety of my office and went out to the anteroom. Two male students were putting in time looking the pamphlets on display there.
I went over to them, and said, “I need you to do something. There is a girl in my office and you have to keep her from leaving.”
They looked at me a bit vacantly, and muttered, “What? Why?”
“Just do it. Use physical force if you have to, but don’t let her out the door. It is very important. I’ll be back right away.”
I jogged to the office and told the principal to call an ambulance immediately. While he was dialing, I gave him a quick run down and then jogged back the guidance office.
The girl was still in my office and the two worried students in the anteroom were still standing there wondering what was going on. I thanked them profusely for their help, which confused them even more because they hadn’t done anything, but they were relieved to be off duty and fled the area.
The ambulance arrived at a side door and the girl was hustled to the hospital to get her stomach pumped. I phoned her parents and went back to my regular day’s work.
I had been counselling the student on a regular weekly basis concerning his negative feelings about his family.
Student: “I miss my father.”
Me (being a totally Rogerian counselor): “You miss your father?” Student: “I didn’t even get to go to his funeral.” Me: “You wish you could have gone to his funeral?” Student: “Yes.”
You may have noticed that the Rogerian method uses a technique of rephrasing the student’s statements and feeding them back to him for elaboration. It looks totally lame in print, but does work well in many actual situations.
His ‘Yes’ response didn’t give me much to work on. If I asked him ‘Why’ it probably wouldn’t elicit much more than some superficial answer.
So I took a shot in the dark. “How would that have made a difference to you?”
Student: “I have a lot of things I wanted to tell him, but now I never can.”
Me (being Rogerian again): “You feel you need to get some things off your chest to him?”
Me: “Are you willing to try something which might help?”
At this point I took a deep breath and set the Rogerian method aside. I tried a technique I had seen demonstrated but had never tried it. I set an empty chair in the middle of the room with the student sitting facing it. I sat off to the side and a bit behind the student so I was out of his range of vision.
We did some deep relaxation exercises (close eyes, relax, concentrate on being aware of parts of his body, etc.). Then, with his eyes closed, I had him visualize his father sitting in the chair and told him to open his eyes when he was ready to talk to his father.
In most of the demonstrations I had seen, the facilitator would stand behind the empty chair and provide responses as if they were from the person in the empty chair as necessary to keep the process moving along. In this case he knew what he wanted to say and he did for most of an hour. My only role was simply to provide a few supportive, encouraging comments.
The student told me afterwards that it had seemed totally real and he felt a lot better. It was an amazingly successful session.
The phone rang about midnight and roused me out of a sound sleep. A young voice on the phone said something like, “Our friend needs your help. Can you meet him on the lawn by the School Division Office?”
“Yes. Tell him I will be there in fifteen minutes.”
I parked my car in the parking lot and wandered onto the lawn area with no one in sight in the darkened area. At moments like this it never occurred to me that someone might just be playing a joke on me. In all my years, no one ever set me up with a late night call. I guess they had better things to do late at night.
A slight, young fellow walked out from among the trees, walked toward me and we met in the middle of the lawn. To anyone looking at us they could easily assume it was a drug deal or something even more nefarious. We each introduced ourselves to the other by first name only and walked over to my car without further words.
We drove around, ate a couple of snacks and drank coffee. He said he wasn’t on drugs and I believed him. But he was severely depressed. About 2 AM he gave me permission to call his parents to let them know he was alright, in case they were worried about him. I had a very short conversation with his dad who advised me that they were glad he ran away, and no, they did not want me to bring him home then or any time in the future. That didn’t leave me with very many options.
I decided I would take him home with me—that’s what I would have done with a lost puppy. Wilma was accepting, as always, of our having a houseguest about whom we knew nothing, except that I considered him to potentially suicidal.
He asked if he could have a bath. I got him soap and a towel and he went into the bathroom. I heard the water running to fill the tub … and running … and still running. I was getting worried because I knew a bathtub of water was useful for a successful suicide by keeping a slit wrist from healing over. I tried the door and it was locked. Wilma and I discussed the various scenarios—that he had killed himself with the water running was near the top of the list.
I knew how to unlock it with a paperclip, but I wasn’t sure I wanted to burst into the bathroom to confront a naked teenager with my lack of trust in him. I couldn’t think of a good opening line, so I waited a bit longer. At last the water flow stopped.
Eventually, he came out and we put him up on a hide-a-bed in the basement for the night.
The next day, I took him home for some highly directive counseling with him and his parents.
The parents called me back on two occasions later for booster talks. At least that way I didn’t have to lose sleep.
I used to do weight lifting off and on for most of my younger years and had a set of barbells in the basement.
We had just taken in an aboriginal (First Nation) youth as a temporary ‘foster’ placement. It was suppertime and he wasn’t responding to my calling down the stairs.
When I went down, I found him lying on the floor with the bar resting solidly across his neck, fortunately being supported by the large diameter 25 lb weights on each end pinning him to the floor. If they had been smaller diameter weights it might easily have choked him.
I offered to teach him a bit about weight lifting, but he seemed to have lost his enthusiasm for it.
One of the local agencies, I don’t remember which one—I frequently got referrals from several of them— phoned me and asked if I could visit a young native (First Nation) lady whom they thought was suicidal.
She opened the door. I introduced myself and said who had sent me.
“Tea?” she asked.
“Yes. Thank you.”
I sat at the table facing a clock on the wall. In my readings about First Nation peoples I had learned they prefer silence to idle chatter. Like most white men, I felt the need to fill any silence with words. She made the tea and we sat opposite each other sipping tea in silence.
I strengthened my resolve to be silent by thinking, “I’ll wait for thirty minutes for her to make the first conversational gambit.”
We sat sipping tea while I watched the slow progress of the clock. It was close to twenty minutes of silence before she spoke. After she told me the problem, it was easily resolved.
Her husband was getting out of jail soon and in spite of a restraining order (which she didn’t fully understand) he had said he would be arriving on her doorstep. It had been an abusive relationship and she was scared.
Finding a temporary place for her to stay proved to be a much better solution than suicide—the only alternative she thought she had.
~ The Moment of Decision ~
Sitting in my car in front of the 7-Eleven with a suicidal student after driving around for hours talking.
Student: “I need a cigarette.” Me: “No problem. I’ll get you one.” Me: “ Should I buy apack? I’m sure I must know someone in there who would give me one or two cigarettes. I don’t smoke (which was not exactly true). If I buy a pack and you kill yourself tonight – the rest will just be wasted.”
Student (after thinking in silence for a couple of minutes): “Buy a pack.”
Me: “Are you sure?” Student: (after another long pause): “Yeah.”
I bought a LARGE pack.
~ He Should Have A Driver’s License ~
Lady on the telephone, after telling me how she teleports herself to relatives all over Canada to visit them on weekends
“How old should my son be before I allow him to teleport himself outside the city?”
Me: “Eighteen. He should be an adult before he makes choices like that.”
And then I explained why he shouldn’t travel alone.
~ I Lose—I Win ~
Portage was a small city. But we did have frequently gang wars and student harassment by gangs. Girl gangs were the toughest and most ruthless, but that is another story.
Me (to Steve, leader of a junior high gang): “You want to arm wrestle?”
Steve (showing off to the rest of the class watching): “Sure. I can take anyone.”
We went at it. He was good, but I knew I could take him whenever I wanted. I looked him in the eye, and pushed him a bit, and then let up. He knew.
We had a non-verbal conversation, loosely translated as follows:
Steve: “I gotta win. I’m the leader. If I lose this, I lose everything.”
Me: “OK. Just for you. But don’t forget it.”
And I let him win . . . after putting up a good fight.
The gang never caused any problems in this school again.
~ Food For Thought ~
Wilma to our son-in-law, Henry: “I learned from my dad not to believe anything I was told and only half of what I see.”
Henry: “ Did he tell you that or show you?”