A couple of years ago, I was visiting the St. Louis Botanical Gardens and saw this quote which I keep with me at all times: “How far you go in life depends on your being tender with the young, compassionate with the aged, sympathetic with the striving and tolerant of the weak and strong, because someday in your life you will have been all of these.”
The older I get the more I realize how much more I can identify with the various situations of the individuals I meet. When I was a very young social worker, I compensated with enthusiasm and determination for what I did not know and had not experienced. It was hard to work with parents of adults who had developmental challenges when I wasn’t a parent. I wanted to understand. A wise mentor told me that it’s impossible to have encountered every experience that a person might present. What people really want is someone who will listen and care about their experience. I have also carried this piece of wisdom with me and tried to share it when I am supervising students or young workers.
Even though I was a child and I have children, my experiences are frequently not the same as the people I meet in a counseling setting. It’s so tempting to relate your own experiences instead of processing what the person is really talking about. The challenge of working at JFS is for our staff to relate to the people who come through our doors in a real and meaningful way. JFS helps people cope with life’s transitions through counseling and other programs. Our job is not to fix the problem, but to empower the individual or family to figure out what they need. It’s a process, and you’re not alone.