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  • Reverend James Squire

A Detective

If I had to choose among all the options that are streaming, I would choose a good mystery that has many twists and turns that I don’t see coming. The ending has to be a surprise in terms of the final outcome or the person who was the real cause of a problem or the murderer who has escaped notice throughout the film. Twists at the end are popular in our culture. One of my former students, M. Knight Shyamalan, told me before his movie, The Sixth Sense was released that it had quite a twist at the end. That twist made the movie one of the most popular movies in the movie industry.

I was asked at a recent book signing about what I read at night before going to bed. I usually end up reading a few pages of a Robert B. Parker mystery. He has a Ph.D. in English from Boston University. He writes in such a way that you can visualize the narrative. I commented that I read the mystery writer because it is a world that is so different from what I did day in and day out.

I was wrong! Recently, I have discovered that in my work as a counselor/therapist that I find myself trying to solve the reason that someone is unhappy and is not functioning at the level that they wish. Sure, I use all the training and theory that I have learned and experienced over the years, but when it comes right down to it, I am a detective. Since orthopedic or spine surgeons use saws and connecting rods in practicing their profession, they will agree that they are highly trained and skilled carpenters on the body.

I love helping people, but I also love solving with them the underlying cause of their distress so they can function with a higher sense of well-being and pay attention to what is right with them as opposed to what is wrong with them. Then I leverage and build from their strengths.

After a zoom call or in person counseling, I take a few moments to reflect on what happened and more important how could I have done things better in helping the individual. Reflection is needed.

Everything that is said in the session is important to the healing process even those moments when you know there has been a setback. Even a setback tells you what is needed to help the individual to discover their strengths and work towards healing. To use the title of one of the old Clint Eastwood westerns, everything matters, The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly.

Mistakes become opportunities with this approach. It mirrors those words of wisdom in education that “you learn to fail or you fail to learn” in the case of counseling everything serves a purpose as it does in the classroom.

Doing therapy requires that you be fully engrossed in the life of the person that you are helping. Everyone loves a good “page turner” in a book or watching a series that is streaming where the episode that you are viewing ends with “a cliff hanger” moment where you can’t wait until the next episode. It keeps your interest and takes you more deeply into the lives of the characters. None of us likes an ending that is unsatisfying not given the time that we put into reading the book or watching the movie. As a counselor you yearn for closure that will be something worthy of the work that you have been doing with another person. They deserve nothing less. Often the ending is a measure of how much the therapist is engrossed in the narrative that the person brings to us. We have to be open, not having a priori assumptions of how this mystery of the person will end. There could be a twist at the end of our time together. The key words are engrossed and open to all that is happening in the session.

I was a founding board member and therapist of a counseling center on the outskirts of Chester. We had clients from all walks of life, and some who were deeply troubled. One of my memorable clients had ties to the Chester mob. She came to each session wearing a black cape so I never could see her hands. But on one occasion I was trying to follow her themes as she lost touch with reality. She left the room after walking around and around my chair. I had to call the police to go to her home to protect her children. Being engrossed doesn’t always result in helping the individual in need.

One of the things that we failed to do at the center was to get a phone system into all the rooms quickly enough as most of the counseling rooms were on the third floor. As I was seeing someone, I heard this loud movement of furniture in the room next to mine. I could tell that furniture was being overturned. I went next door to see what was happening to my colleague. The client brushed by me in a rush as he left the room. My colleague came out of the room quite disheveled in appearance. I asked, “What happened?” I will never forget his response, “He said, “I wonder what he was trying to say before his anger got the best of him?” Mysteries don’t always have a satisfying ending either.

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