As graduate students we are taught a lot, and I do mean A LOT! This is often most evident by the 300-500 pages per class per week we are often required to read. Additionally, our education is often a combination of both didactic and experiential learning. While there is a lot that we are taught in grad school, if there is one thing I have learned over my course of practicum experiences – there is a lot they don’t teach you in grad school. In this series of blogs I would like to share with you some of my experiences that I have had that were definitely not covered in the classroom.
As a psychologist in training, I have had a lot of preparation for many types of crises that might arise during the therapy hour. Such crises include suicidal clients, psychotic clients, hostile clients, and diffusing conflict in a group or family setting. While all of this preparation has no doubt come in handy in my work with clients, I have been faced with some unforeseen crises that no textbook would think of to cover.
Imagine being in therapy – you can pretend to be the therapist or the client, the result is really all the same – and all the sudden, with absolutely no warning, a ceiling tile falls down followed quickly by an entire swarm of bees. Now thinking about the situation, your first thought might be to try to remain calm and collect; however, from someone who has been in the situation, my first thought and action was to scream and run out of the room, making sure my client got out before me first, of course. Typically, high-pitched screams usually draw some attention in mental health facilities, so it was not long until a crowd of people were coming to my rescue.
I was once sitting with a client in one of my earlier practica, trying really hard to be actively engaged, empathetic, and track the client’s every word. I guess I was so focused on what the client was saying that I didn’t even notice the fire alarm going off until my client said, “Isn’t that the fire alarm?” Unsure of what to do, I opened the door to my office, and sure enough, the fire alarm was going off in full force. Again, one would think not to panic, but that’s often easier said than done. I tell my client that it is time to leave, and being extra mindful of her confidentiality, I give her a separate escape route than mine as to protect her privacy.
While our graduate studies do prepare us for a variety of common crises that may come up in our work as therapist, the one thing that is certain about this line of work is that there is never a dull moment. In both of these instances, I remember thinking to myself, “What am I supposed to do? What is the right way to handle this?” In hindsight, however, I realize that there is no one “right” way to handle such situations, and, what was most relieving to me, was that in neither of these instances did the unforeseeable impact our work together.