One of my roles in my job as counsellor is to be a clinical supervisor for counselling interns. As counsellors in training, they are given less complex cases to stretch their counselling “wings” by practising, under supervision but on real-life cases, the skills and techniques they have learnt in the classroom.
These interns soon learn is that counselling can be rather challenging. It has been said that counselling is not about providing solutions, but helping the client find solutions for themselves. Yet sometimes clients are looking for solutions where none can be found. They then turn to the counsellor and implore, “What should I do now?”
One of the interns had an elderly lady pour her heart out him. Her life was a long and sad tale of sacrifice—first to a man who had shown her little affection, then to her children whom she raised almost single-handedly due her husband’s poor health, and who now seldom visited her. Alone in a nursing home in her twilight years, she confided to the intern that she felt as if she had nothing to look forward to.
Desperate to help her, my fledging counsellor asked this lady the “miracle question”, a technique from a model of counselling that seeks to work towards solutions by first determining what changes are desired. He asked the lady, if a miracle occurred in her life that changed her present circumstances, what would it be? She answered quickly, as if she had considered it before: “That I will die in my sleep.”
This unexpected answer left my intern, with his head full of fancy theory and heart filled with good intentions, speechless. So I suggested that, rather than looking at this lady’s life as being sad and unfulfilled, she had lived it the best way she knew how. It was a life of service, duty and sacrifice.
In today’s world, these may be outdated ideals. We are told that we only live once, so we should live the good life. But not all of us get what we want. And for some of us, the happiness of others is more important to us than our own.
When a life of suffering is imposed upon someone, that is not sacrifice, but oppression. But others who, like this lady, have experienced years of dignity and personal fulfilment in sacrifice—their years of quiet service will see their reward, perhaps not in this life, but in the next.
Benny Bong has been a family and marital therapist for more than 30 years, and is a certified work-life consultant. He was the first recipient of the AWARE Hero Award, received in 2011, and is a member of Kampong Kapor Methodist Church.
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