What I Do: Counseling

Above: Angela preparing for a counseling session in her office.

With five full weeks of school under our belts, I’m not sure whether it feels like time has flown or like we’ve lived several months in the span of weeks!  Regardless, I was struck the other day by how much more we know now than we did when we first got here, and how much has happened already.  Learning and adjusting is tricky that way – a lot of times you don’t realize you’re doing it until you take a step back and realize how far you’ve come.

For one thing, I know a lot more now about what my role is at the school – this makes a big difference!  The other counselors and school staff have been so gracious in showing me the ropes and supporting me in figuring everything out.  The counseling department has a total of five staff – two full time and three part time.  As the department chair, I coordinate counseling programs and services, attend lots of meetings, serve as co-facilitator of the Child Safety & Protection Task Force, manage the massive Excel spreadsheet that tracks the 50+ students we see in our offices on a regular basis, strategize about budgets, create and revise policies, and handle various other administrative needs.  Truth be told, these are not my favorite parts of my job.  Yet, I also know this is part of the ministry God’s called me here to do, and some days He grants me a little extra clarity to see difference these things actually make.

Thankfully, there’s also a much more relational and therapeutic side to my work here as well.  I get to support the other counseling staff in the work they’re doing and provide direct support and therapy to individual students, parents, and families.  Currently, I have a caseload of 9 students who I meet with weekly, and without fail I also tend to have about 5 other students or parents who unexpectedly show up at my door and invite me into their struggles, needs, and heartache.  The stories that have been told to me on those old green couches in my basement office have been profound and varied – and the year’s just begun!  Just like anywhere else, the students here struggle with challenges ranging from ADHD, OCD, and Asperger’s to broken families, anxiety, depression, and abuse.  While it can sound and certainly feel overwhelming to think of the litany of challenges people are facing in our community, I truly find them and their stories fascinating.   Some days it feels like I’m doing as much research and learning on clinical issues as I did during grad school, yet I find myself so drawn into the lives of these families that I often can’t wait to see what God will do next!  He has already started to do so much through these trials – drawing those who know him closer and softening the hearts of those who don’t.  And so, I pray and study and listen and guide as best I can, trusting that God will continue to somehow use me in this place to bring healing and to share the love and freedom of Christ.  My prayer at the beginning of the year was that God would give me His heart for the people I would encounter, and it certainly seems that he has!

Doug will share in his own post about all he’s been doing here, but there’s one other main aspect of our ministry here that I want to mention – Peer Helpers!  Doug and I have started leading a small group of high school students who are or want to be primary sources of support for friends and peers facing life challenges.  In essence, these kids are some of the hubs of the community’s natural helping network.  We’ll be meeting with them twice a month to help train them in basic listening and communication skills and to address some of the tough issues they and their peers often face.  After our first meeting I was so impressed by their insight, vulnerability, and passion for serving their peers!  I foresee some enthralling discussions in the coming weeks and months.  At its foundation, though, this is an incredible opportunity for discipleship.  We hope and pray that God will use us to deeply encourage and mentor these kids throughout the year.

As you can tell, there’s a lot going on here!  Stepping back to see how far we’ve come in just 5 weeks, I can only imagine and hope for what we’ll look back and see at the end of the school year.  As we press on, these are the prayers of my heart, and I would love you to join me in praying for:

-Wisdom (clinical and otherwise!) to know how to best support students and families

-Courage to lead the counseling team as we refine our policies and procedures

-The growth of the students in Peer Helpers and for us as we mentor them

-A U.S. approved clinical supervisor who can provide me with accountability and supervision

-Deeper friendships with individuals and couples who we can grow and walk with here

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angela October 12, 2012 Ecuador