I had the pleasure last week of writing for the Career Counsellors Chapter blog of the Canadian Counselling and Psychotherapy Association. It’s on a topic I’d been thinking about for a long while: what happens when a client tells a traumatic story in the process of narrative career counselling?
Here’s an excerpt:
I’ve heard some really wonderful things in these narratives. Moments of pride, happiness, and achievement are always highlights of their respective stories. Of course, I’ve also learned that joyful moments are often shadowed by much darker, more tragic stories. Among the stories clients have shared with me, I’ve heard chapters punctuated by abuse, serious mental illness, family members and friends disappearing or being killed, and fleeing war-ravaged countries on a day’s notice. Sometimes all in the same client!
Some tell these stories as if they were recounting to a friend what they had for lunch, while others are reduced to tears. Some go into pinpoint detail, recalling the intricacies of each sensory experience and ensuring the proper sequence of events is presented; others speak abstractly, choosing each word carefully – perhaps to avoid re-living the painful details, perhaps to safeguard against the provision of any more information than they deem necessary.
Regardless, these kinds of stories are not the exception, but the rule. Every story contains at least one or two “dark” chapters (else, how could they be interesting? How could we appreciate the highlights?). As career counsellors, sometimes we’re told of these dark chapters, sometimes we’re not. The responsibility for that decision lies with each life story’s author. One decision we can make, though, is how to deal with potentially traumatic stories as they are introduced.