I surprised myself this morning when I found myself banging my fist down on the table during a meeting with my summer chaplain students. "No," I said. "I want to hear what it was like to sit here in this room with this person and listen to this" traumatic experience the person had shared with us!
It's actually a pretty standard part of how I work as a chaplaincy supervisor/educator to bang my fist on the table, although I don't think I've done so much of it with this current group yet. My normal demeanor with students -- especially this group -- is one of a quiet gentleness (imagine a cuddly bear). But I have this other side of my personality that I (carefully) share when I feel a need to make sure a point is heard. This time, I wanted this students to get real. I wanted them to stop avoiding what I thought was the heart of the matter. I wanted them to confront their own experience-- their own (sometimes difficult and painful) feelings.
I would explain later in the session that this is a big part of what we do in clinical pastoral education -- we try and get real by confronting our own experience and feelings. . . . .Because we believe that meaning arises not from thoughts or intellectualizing, but from starting in our guts with the feelings -- the ones we can feel in our very bodies -- that arise with the concrete details of our experiences. . . . . Because the real task of pastoral care is about forming relationship with patients and families. . . . . . And if we don't show a willingness to inquire into their experiences -- and face our own experiences -- we have no hope of forming those relationships.
Another way of characterizing my table banging is as what Pamela Cooper White would call a use of the self. That is, there was some genuine feeling -- in this case some anger and frustration -- behind my words and actions. But it wasn't an uncontrolled release. Rather, it was a very intentional use of what was going on for me genuinely in the moment.
I've noticed that I'm starting to do more of this getting real -- or use of self -- in recent days with my students. About a week ago, I first noticed myself doing it in a group session (I'm writing a longer blog post about my 'roaring like a lion' there that I hope to -- finally! -- finish and post soon). And I've been doing it in my individual sessions with them also, being willing to share things like "I feel pushed away by you just now". I feel that the sessions are now starting to go to a deeper level.
I'm not sure why that is happening. It might be my greater use of self. Or it might just be that we're now in the fifth week of a 11-week program. Maybe the students are just now ready to start getting real.
As I said above, I have a blog post (well, really more than a few!) that I have started writing that I have not posted, yet. With the intensity of leading this program, It's been really hard so far to find time for blogging and other reflection. For a person who is committed to a learning model that emphasizes action and reflection, this is obviously not a good thing. But I'm trying to be compassionate with myself about it. This is my first time leading a summer CPE unit solo and things have really been going well with the students. . . . Maybe my reflection (and the learning that comes from it) will just have to wait until it's over! :)