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Clients Look For Connections Even When We Don’t

Comfort Zone

  I was once stationed overseas in Germany.  I learned an invaluable lesson of self-awareness and connections.  Like many soldiers, I was initially scared to leave the comfort of the military base.  I eventually left the station and started to explore the local community.  In the beginning, when I left the comfort of the army base, I eagerly looked for other Soldiers and Americans.  Regardless of their race, they were easy to spot.  The moment I spotted another American, I felt a sense of comfort.  It was as if we had an instant connection.  It didn’t matter whether I knew them or not because I assumed they would understand and accept me.  
  The first question was generally “Where’re you from in the world?” (Military slang referring to the United States).  Followed by “What unit are you with?”  Sometimes there were no conversations, just merely a head nod.  The longer I lived in Germany and the more Germans I got to know from the local community, the less I relied on using other Americans as my security blanket.  I grew to appreciate the German culture and learned the language.  The Germans loved it when I would attempt to connect and speak their language.


Connections

  We humans, love l to find connections and look for it everywhere. The moment we discover the person we’re talking to is from our same state, we keep drilling down.  “What city, what neighborhood, what school, what street do live on?”  As the conversation continue, we look for the people we know in common.  We even explore if we’re related.  This process also plays out visually with race and color.  Even though it’s unreliable, race and color are the visual cues that serve as a shortcut to comfort.  It acts as a visual security blanket. 

  Much like my military experience, some are too anxious to leave the comfort of the base and explore the rich diversity of the surrounding community.  Others embraced the rich culture, learned the language and married Germans.  Some were angry about being stationed in Germany and hated everything about Germany.  On the other extreme, some Soldiers were ashamed of their American roots and did everything they could to avoid being seen as American.

 

Counselors and Therapists

  Most of us counselors and therapists are very comfortable and embrace different cultures.  Our education and training have expanded our worldview.  However, most of our clients do not come to us with this high level of self-awareness, education, and comfort.  Overcoming the anxiety to get help is hard enough for anyone.  For many of our clients, it may be their first time seeking help from a stranger.  Like Soldiers overseas, clients are looking to connect.  Some clients need the security blanket of seeing someone that looks like them.  When the therapist or counselor looks like them, it’s one less hurdle to overcome.  It’s almost instant rapport.  Right or wrong, some clients will never leave the “barracks” and embrace other cultures and communities.  For others, it will not matter as they will thrive and flourish. 

  Even though race may not be a source of anxiety for us as counselors and therapists, it may be for the clients we work with.  As helping professionals, I believe it’s our job to meet our clients where they are rather than expecting them to arrive with our comfort level and worldviews.  Even the Soldiers that refused to leave the base were entitled to good mental health care.  So how does the community you serve know you are open to serve them? 

 

About the Author

Dr. Dave Jenkins, DMin, LMFT is a marriage and family therapist in the Northern Virginia area.  He’s the founder of Family Room Services, LLC, My Marriage School, and Counselors of Color.  He’s been married to the same woman for 25 years and has four children and a daughter-in-law.
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