By Guest Blogger Cristen Wathen
The task we must set for ourselves is not to feel secure, but to be able to tolerate insecurity.
I’m a counselor. I’m a Christian. I’m an educator. I’m an academic. I’m a researcher. I’m a wife. I’m a friend. I’m an advisor. I’m an advocate. I’m a makeshift yogi. I’m a hiker/camper. I’m a mentor………… I’m really tired.
Ha. I am with those of trying to balance your world. My thoughts, my feelings, my dreams, my hopes, my desires all seem to change in some ways when I wear a different hat. One day I want to read philosophy all day long, the next I’m into a really cool new pair of cowboy boots and how much I want them. I go from wanting to submit life-changing articles, volunteer for local community projects, and thinking about amazing research projects to promote mental health to deciding that what I’d really like to do is sit on the couch and watch the Razorbacks play football all day long. While eating cake (but only cake made with local, organic ingredients, of course). One day I want to change the world, the next I want to have some time to enjoy the world. And then I have those days like today where I recognize how privileged I am to even have choices about what I want to do in my life. I’m never quite good enough at all the things I want to accomplish in life. I’m always working towards perfection in goals that I know are unattainable, but for some reason are really appealing. Cristen Wathen… the most flexible yogi who has published twenty articles on trauma and sexual abuse, who hikes and camps twice a week, and mentors young at risk children, while being the best wife ever and advocating for the poor in her spare time. Oh and she never misses “quiet times.”
How does one determine what is most important to them when there are so many things that are so important to them. That is where I am. I don’t know how to do it all. I know the Sunday School answer to this question, but at 34, I realize, the Sunday School answer isn’t working for me anymore. I have to publish to keep my job, I want to work on my relationships to keep them healthy, if I don’t exercise, I’m buying bigger clothes, and if I take the day watching football, things pile up and I’m stressed out for a week. And I don’t even have kids. Dear Lord, please help me if and when that changes.
Not to mention the emotional stresses, the family problems, the fact that Westboro Baptist Church is petitioning at MSU and I should do something about it, the sadness that still creeps in after teaching an awesome class, but not being able to call my mom and share because she passed away way too young from heart disease, and that I miss my nieces and nephews and am missing being a big part of their lives.
I’m sitting in front of this computer screen, exhausted, with tears in my eyes, when I should be writing an article and prepping for classes… or hiking and working on my health, realizing that people come to me when they feel this way. Overwhelmed, stressed, sad, and tired. I’m a counselor. And what do I do for people when they come to me, I ask myself? Do I give them advice? NO- that is a cardinal sin in the counseling world. Do I start a plan for them for making life changes and life goals? Sort of. Do we begin an existential journey uncovering what is truly the most important to them and how it relates to their mother? Well, sometimes. But what do I do first? I make a connection, I listen, and I accept them. I listen with active engagement, I connect with them. Mirror neurons are firing back and forth, I’m forming a relationship with them. I’m listening for how they feel, what they are thinking, I’m putting myself in their shoes, I’m caring about them, I’m looking for ways to show empathy, I’m looking for non-verbals that speak to something different than the words that are coming out of their mouths.
Suddenly, I know what to do for myself. I need to connect too. To hear another person say, “Yes! Me too!” “I Hear You.” You are normal… I accept you for who you are and care about you… will you do the same for me? (sidenote- these statements are what I would hear from a friend- a counselor would most likely respond with different words that get across the same connection and care)
God hears us. Our true friends hear us. Good counselors hear us. Same with acceptance or as we counselors call it, unconditional positive regard. We all need relationships, connections, acceptance, and to be heard throughout our life journey.
This week I’m asking my students to take risks and be vulnerable in front of me. In order to become caring counselors, they must have the experience that they are asking their clients to have with them. . It is their first class where they will actually be practicing being counselors and understanding what it is like to be a client.
I’m teaching them to listen with their eyes, ears, and heart on multiple levels. I’m teaching them about unconditional positive regard. I love my job. I am training others to have windows into another person’s soul.
God has windows into my soul and He has blessed me with people in my life that hear me. Time to practice what I preach… friends… I’ll be calling you this week. God, Hear my prayer this week. I’m looking forward to being listened too and accepted by those who love me and by God, who totally rocks despite the often bad rap He often gets.
This week I’m relaxing in my acceptance from God and going to revel in people who hear me and love me. Then, I’m going to do the same for others. It’s like this week will be an uberlong savasana after way too many sun salutations. I love it. Who are your safe places? What would it be like to be vulnerable and talk with them? If you don’t have a safe person, how might God play a role in listening and accepting for you? And if you don’t have a safe person, check out counseling services in your area:
http://www.mentalhealth.gov/ Read the information and check out the mental health locator… just a starting place.
Dr. Cristen Wathen is an Assistant Professor of Counseling at Montana State University,(Bozeman, MT), in the Health and Human Development Department. She is a licensed professional counselor in Idaho and a Nationally Certified Counselor. Cristen earned her Ph.D. from Idaho State University in Counselor Education and Counseling, her Master’s degree in Community Counseling from Baylor University in Waco, TX, and her BA in Biblical Studies and History from Ouachita Baptist University in Arkadelphia, AR. She loves dance, yoga, mindfulness, the Razorbacks, and working with clients on spiritual issues. She is married to Christopher Wathen and they are southern implants to the West who are getting used to snow, love to travel, camp, and explore beautiful places. Professionally, Cristen has experience training and supervising counselors, writing and presenting in her field, and working with sexual abuse survivors, college students, and a wide variety of other clients. She is lucky enough to be irrevrin’s sister-in-law and is honored to be asked to write a post in this excellent blog.