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Popular culture (films, movies, books, etc.) tends to portray counselors in one of two ways.  On one hand, counselors are often portrayed as somewhat mysterious, enigmatic figures who reveal little of themselves to their clients, generally hiding behind horned-rimmed glasses and an air of polish and poise that creates cool distance.  They’re like Zen masters in what they seem to know about clients without having to ask and in their ability to seamlessly reveal the wisdom of the ages.  On the other hand, counselors may be portrayed as good-in-theory but practically good-for-nothing innocents who sort of bumble and stumble through sessions and life.  From this point of view, counselors are naively visible, as is their craft, which is little more than a recycling of the same, worn-out old questions, such as, “How did that make you feel?”

As is perhaps obvious, neither image is really accurate.  But it stands to reason that popular culture portrayals would run the gamut like this if for no other reason than that the person of the counselor hides either behind an image or tired cliches.  Apparently, counselors so infrequently allow others access to what it feels like to be in their shoes, folks are simply left to guess about it.

That doesn’t work for us.  At Change, Inc., we strive to create an environment which facilitates non-judgmental, down-to-earth counseling in South City, St. Louis.  Naturally, that would amount to clients having greater emotional access to us, not just as counselors, but as humans, because we believe it is precisely that human connection (what academic research has called the “therapeutic alliance“) which ultimately makes or breaks counseling.

In light of that, every so often for the next few weeks, we’ll bring you a further glimpse into the lives of our staff as we ask each of them, “What do you love about working with people?”  Today, we start with counselor, Zach Polk.  (SIDE NOTE: Also enjoy the “off-duty” photo!)

“I have always said to myself how rewarding it is that I get to talk to people about their lives and make a living out of it. The main reward I experience is what I would call ‘contact.’ Making contact with a complete stranger and sharing an intimate connection in such a short amount of time is quite a unique experience.  A therapeutic relationship begins, like any other, with small talk — discussions regarding where clients grew up, whether they have children, how long their relationships have been in place, etc.

And then….it happens.

Clients begin to unpack what they came to counseling to work on. Some of the most intimate details of their lives are shared after we have only known one another for a matter of minutes, which I experience as both a privilege and a responsibility. It is a privilege in that a large degree of trust has been placed upon me as a therapist. It is a responsibility to respond to that trust with a total willingness to hold what has been shared with me sacred and confidential.

But it is also a responsibility to help make a choice about what is been shared. Do we examine? If so, which piece? Or, do I simply share how what clients have said to me has impacted me? Whichever route I go, this delicate choosing is was what establishes contact with another human being.

And it is the most beautiful experience. It is the point where a person has chosen the vulnerability of sharing painful experiences, and then notices that in the space we’ve created, there is no judgment — only understanding and appreciation and potentially further inquiry. When a person knows they can be themselves, there is no greater feeling.   When two people can come together and speak plainly about what is really transpiring, it shows a humanness that is not often unveiled, but that so many of us are looking for. It restores my faith in humanity.”