Written by Zach Kissell (counseling intern)
I’ve been working here at The Community School for many months now, and it’s a great place for a counseling internship. I appreciate the culture of learning and growing through relationships, as well as the ways staff members are encouraged to engage in the growing process alongside of the participants. To help facilitate staff cohesion and personal development, we have meetings every Monday where one staff member has the opportunity to lead the group in an area of his or her passion and expertise. We have held sessions on empathy, friendship, and kindness, as well as instructional sessions examining therapeutic techniques and skills to use with participants. When my name appeared in the upcoming meeting schedule, I was excited to prepare something meaningful to share with everyone.
In the not-so-distant past, I worked as a field guide for a therapeutic wilderness program; and it was there that I discovered the joy and frustration of bow-drilling. While the skill of bow-drilling is not directly transferable to the experiences one encounters on a daily basis, the process of acquiring that skill absolutely is. Bow-drilling requires patience, practice, preparation, and above all a willingness to fail: many of the same characteristics necessary for acquiring any other difficult skill. Learning to bow-drill for fire was an experience that informed my understanding of meaningful therapeutic work from the client’s perspective. When participants arrive hoping to learn new skills to carry with them for the rest of their lives, we need to have an understanding that the journey will be arduous. For this presentation I hoped to invoke the feeling of frustration that many of our participants experience with the work we do everyday at TCS.
In the hopes of sharing the lessons I learned from bow-drilling, I brought in my old bow-drill set and offered to teach one person how to make a fire while the rest of the group observed. With the eyes of the group upon her, one brave staff member (Sarah Champ) volunteered. She sat in the middle of the circle, alone with the tools necessary to bow-drill and began her attempt. No Luck… I provided her with a pre-recorded audio description of “how to bow-drill”; still No Luck… At this point she got a little frustrated. Someone from the group suggested that she ask for a little help. She did, and in response I showed her a video tutorial of “how to bow-drill”. With a renewed sense of hope she tried again; still No Luck…
At this point the frustration was mounting, so I left my chair and joined her on the floor. In this way I was joining her in her frustration and sitting patiently as she explained how she was feeling. I offered some encouraging words, and told her to try again. She tried again unsuccessfully… this wasn’t enough support to get her to make a fire. I shared that no matter how many times someone told me or showed me “how” to do the work, the process didn’t make sense until I tried it for myself. We sat and talked about what was happening for her, and I offered several suggestions and even some hands-on tips.
As the presentation portion of the meeting wrapped up, we still had not made a fire. Surprise! Bow-drilling is not something that you learn in 20 minutes! Just like empathy or reciprocal communication, this is a slowly-developed skill. After thanking Sarah for her help, the group had a chance to talk about what we saw and how it relates to working at TCS. In our own ways, each person on staff joins participants in their discomfort and offers patience and encouragement to persevere through frustration. Hopefully, we can carry these themes into our lives and our work, and trust the process as it unfolds.