Sunday, March 04, 2007

'ugly betty' and the moment of truth

Naturally enough, I've been doing a lot of reading about counselling lately.

The more I read, the more I question if I'm really cut out to be a counsellor! There's a wealth of difference between nodding sagely with the appropriate sprinkling of 'a-huh's, and having the skills to help someone find their way through a difficult period of their life. With each turn of the page I can't help wondering if I'm too screwed up myself to offer anyone else assistance.

Tonight 'Ugly Betty' revealed how true this fear might be.

I cried again.

Not the big bawl of a fortnight ago, just teary eyes and halting breaths to stem the flow. Frank was with me after all, and it wouldn't do to cry over a shallow TV show in his presence.

It was the episode in which Betty undergoes a Queen's style makeover. There she is, all glammed up with her false nails, bouffant hair and off-shoulder top, coyly hoping people will notice her efforts to be beautiful, when Wilhelmina systematically reduces her to nothing in front of the whole editorial team. Soul destroying! Betty tried so hard to be darling - and nobody cared. Nobody valued her attempt or complimented her or embraced her efforts. They scorned her and I wept almost wept.

I used to think this crying in every news report, movie and serial TV program displayed empathy. I was so in tune with the feelings of the maligned that I could weep for their pain. My tears demonstrated the most caring identification imaginable.

And then I started studying counselling.

Brems (2001:183) writes that "the co-experiencer becomes so involved in the other person's experience that she or he begins to have the same feelings and gets caught up in the other person's experience. The personal boundaries break down and the two people respond as one.

"Unlike the co-experiencer, the empathic person, while accurately understanding the other person's feelings, does not get caught up in them. The empathic person accurately perceives the other's reactions and feelings and cares for the person (expressing warmth) but remains clear about personal boundaries and does not get caught up in the emotion or experience."

Could it be that my weeping does not demonstrate empathy after all - that I am simply a co-experiencer with leaky boundaries? Someone who over identifies, unable to remain emotionally present and available because I am lost in my own emotions? Do I resort to 'warm fuzzies' in the hope that we will all feel better (Brems 2001)?

I'm still figuring it all out - for now I'm sticking with it. I'm optimistic enough to believe I can make a good counsellor. I'll just keep watching 'Ugly Betty' in order to gauge my progress towards helpful empathy!

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At 3:28 am, March 05, 2007, Anonymous Paige said...

I'm a counselor.

And I cry at TV shows all the time.

But my boundaries at work are different than my boundaries at home, with my friends and family. That's one of the big things you learn at work!!

You can do it. :)

At 6:13 pm, March 05, 2007, Blogger Lucidiocy said...


Hmmm I've tried to leave this comment 3x now. Hopefully it will post.

My sister just finished her masters and is interning for the first time as a counselor. She was so nervous the first couple of weeks but she is doing spectacular and loves her job. I am very proud of her and know it is her calling. And I think it's a good sign that you're worried about doing the right thing ethically, I think it means you will always strive to uphold those expectations.

Besides, isn't it written somewhere to 'mourn with those who mourn' and 'cry with those who cry when watching Ugly Betty.' ?


At 9:54 pm, March 05, 2007, Blogger Cecily said...

:) Thanks guys... I shall stick with it (though I confess to doing nothing this evening but surfing the internet and talking to friends... very bad)!

At 12:29 am, March 06, 2007, Anonymous Sandy said...

Glad to hear that "Ugly Betty" has not turned your head on counseling. I used to cry for "Lassie" now it's "Ghost Whisperer". I agree with T~ that it's a good sign. More counselors should have your heart!

At 2:57 pm, March 06, 2007, Anonymous Lyndsay said...

I know having cried on your shoulder many a time that I find you very empathetic. You didn't cry and you kept me calm so that I could stop crying and although I am never going to be able to tell it to the mirror first, I value your advice and support when I am feeling upset or confused.

Thank you very much!!!!


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