Thursday, July 12, 2007

Group vs. One-on-One: Being Aware of Lenses

I've written a few posts about my new job working with teenagers with Asperger's Syndrome. Today, yet another insight dawned on me on the drive home. I've worked in the human services with people in groups before, but never in a psychological setting like this, and of course, the experience is bound to give rise to a few realizations.

Today, I realized that some of my campers aren't too terribly different in age and functionality level from some of the clients I had this year at the university counseling center where I interned. Then I realized that those same campers would look radically different to me in that dyad format.

Since the university is small, I occasionally had the chance to observe my clients interacting with their friends around campus. Occasionally, I was quite surprised to see someone behave quite differently than I expected. Folks I had worked with at the counseling center who were polite and eager-to-please sometimes behaved quite differently with a group of their peers. By the same token, when we counselors have a one-on-one conversation with any of the campers this summer, they almost always come across much more intelligent, kind and aware than they present while in the group.

Though we are taught this in school, it's coming home to me now in a three-dimensional way. As I grow as a counselor, it'll behoove me to bear in mind the settings in which I don't get to see the client. It's often in their day-to-day relationships that folks experience their psychological distress most acutely. If I only see them one-on-one in a quiet room with a professional atmosphere, I need to do a lot of translating while they give accounts of their daily lives.

By the same token, if I only see them working it out within the bump and bustle of group dynamics, I might miss the graceful intelligence or glowing generosity hiding within their quieter heart of hearts.

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