Past experiences play a huge role in the lives of people and the choices they make. Depending on the theoretical framework you pull from, past experiences may play a significant role in the treatment plan or may not be a focal point at all. For example, in Solution focused therapy attention is focused on what is going right, small goals, and what they can do now to change the problem they came into therapy for. Therefore, little treatment focus is placed on past experiences. Gestalt is all about “promoting awareness through experiences in the here and now…as people become more aware they reconnect with parts of themselves they may have been cut off from (Seligman 2010).” So, basically being aware of how your past has influenced your current position in life, how it has impacted your choices, and being focused on emotions, experiences and sensations to promote growth and change in your life. Existential therapy places focus on choices and finding meaning in life. The past here is used to honor the meanings you have found from life experiences. Adler, Erickson and Freud all felt that the past holds the key to understanding your conscious self. The past influences us; from the teacher who made me feel special in kindergarten to the first boy who broke my heart and especially to the family members that taught me what family and relationships look like (or sometimes shouldn’t look like), the past impacts your choices and your future. The cool part about this thing called life is that we do have a choice in our behaviors and we can work towards a life that gives us meaning and self-actualization.
The extent the past will be examined really depends on the client. Some clients do not focus on the past, or may be in a place where treatment can be centered on the current problem. Perhaps cognitive behavioral therapy would work best for them. While others may never have gotten over being bullied as a child and the feelings of inferiority that were never resolved, that Adler talks about, wreaks havoc through all aspects of their lives. I know from experience that we may have in mind what direction we would like to take with the client after meeting with them and collaborating with them on goals, but then the next session they come in with a whole host of other items that take a front seat to “my plan”. What I have come to understand is having a road map plotted with all the important stops is useful, but there are times when taking the scenic route provides a much better adventure, for both the client and myself.
Past experiences have influenced my decision to become a mental health counselor in too many ways to bore you with, so for the highlight. Business wasn’t my bag. I was good at it, it was profitable, it was even fun at times… but, to that little voice in my head and my heart that got louder and louder…I had to get out. I had to do something more, I had this need to feel useful. Counseling seemed to fall into place for me. I received my B.A. in Psychology from the University of South Florida in 2003, but was not interested in doing loads of research, and was not aware at the time of the program I graduated from (Masters in Rehabilitation and Mental Health Counseling). So, business it was. I always wanted to go back for my Masters or PhD, but did not know which field was best suited for me. Five years after graduation, I had the opportunity to work in business in a different arena. I was trained as a focus group facilitator and took part in diversity work at my old company. I excelled and loved the work. Around the same time, I had a friend go through a very difficult period and I was her mediator, her friend, her counselor. These two events coincided, and I found the counseling program at USF and, whalaa…here I am!
Early childhood or adolescent experiences that shaped my decision to become a counselor included a mother that was married three times, as well as many dysfunctional relationships in my extended family. There is also a lot of substance abuse that runs in the family; there were many moments in my life when I felt like I did not fit in with them. I had no desire to be out of control and use substances to avoid my problems. I think I have always enjoyed solving problems, getting work done, seeing things run smoothly. Probably the reason why I was such a good manager for so long. Perhaps the confusion around me shaped my view of people and family dynamics. Learning how the human mind works, how we influence each other and how to process change allows me to help others, while also having an understanding of what a healthy relationship is for me and the ones I love.
Specific people who influenced my choice of profession include my awesome professors, with stories of working with couples that intrigued me. I must admit this is my favorite work. I love watching the connection between two people in love, or even two people that want to be in love again. My previous supervisor at a nonprofit homeless shelter has been so helpful in conceptualizing and mentoring me. There are days when I am in awe at what she pulled out of a tape that I did not even think of! The clients that I work with influence me daily. When I initially thought of doing marriage and family therapy, I was psyched! Then I did it, and I felt completely incompetent! Over time I have come to realize, patience Missy, patience…it will come. My skills have gotten better, I feel more competent and that influences my comfort level in this profession. I hope over the years I will stay open to new things, keep learning and keep expanding my growth as this had served me well so far.