From the Other Chair

by Matt

The University of Houston Counseling Center provides students free individual (up to 8 sessions/semester) and group counseling.  Throughout my foundation semester and first year, many of my clinical instructors suggested that students take advantage of the opportunity to experience counseling from the other chair.  I had one session with a psychiatrist about a decade ago but had little formal experience working with a therapist.  I considered walking over to CAPS but put it off until I took a wonderful group therapy class over the summer.

A few other students had shared their positive experience with CAPS, so I walked over in late August to make an intake appointment.  The staff there is very solicitous and the atmosphere is calm and private.  I was able to set an appointment within a week and had two clinicians conduct my intake.  The CAPS program is operated by psychologists, not social workers, but we won’t hold that against them!  The intake questionnaire was fairly long and detailed, and I did my best to be honest.  I was impressed that nobody looked like their eyes were going to pop out of their heads.  At the end of the session, the female clinician asked if I would be comfortable working with her on an individual basis and I accepted.  I also asked about group therapy and was told about several different options.  I started both the next week.

I have benefited enormously from both experiences.  I suspect that most people who know me would characterize me as a well-adjusted person…but let me tell you, if they only knew what I was thinking!  All joking aside, I suspect that most people would have something to share with a decent therapist that would help them on their journey.  One of the clinicians who supervises my work at Baylor Psychiatry Clinic told me that it is difficult for a therapist to go deeper with a client than they have been in their own psyche.  There is a certain resonance there for me.

I have noticed in group that I struggle against going into therapist mode myself with some of the other participants.  Part of that is training, but part of that is also the ego choosing to focus on something other than itself.  I think we shy away from scrutinizing our own internal processes, but this is a trap for anyone who wants to be a good social worker.  If we cannot bear to turn our attention inward, if our powers of empathy fail ourselves, how can we presume to think we can journey with another person?

My ultimate takeaway from this experience, other than the value gained and warm fuzzies, is that I will probably choose to continue this process.  I am glad I took advantage of the opportunity for free, i.e. something that is included in my fee bill, therapy as it has afforded me the experience of being a client.  I would encourage everyone to take advantage of these services as they are able even if you are not thinking of pursuing a clinical track at UH – I hear you macro people are megalomaniacs.  Live long and prosper.


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