Marvin Bornschlegl, a Licensed Professional Counselor from Illinois, called me one day to discuss suicide rates among first-responders. He was advocating for his fellow police officers and other first-responders. I found his story very, very interesting. The career moves he spoke of seemed so disconnected at first, but in actuality, his is one story with three distinct chapters.
Read about Marvin as he moved from chef to cop to counselor. Perhaps some of his experiences will resonate with you as you follow your career path.
Rebecca Daniel-Burke:I know you were a police officer before you became a counselor. What led you to become a police officer?
Marvin Bornschlegl: I had gone to trade school to become a chef. I was working in the culinary field, and it was very demanding timewise. I often worked 12 hours a day, six days a week, holidays, Mother’s Day, etc. I wanted to find a place to socialize. I had never been a drinker, but I really liked to lift weights, so the gym became the place for me to hang out and reduce stress.
I met a police officer there, and we were talking about our jobs. I told him about the long hours and working holidays and he said, “Why don’t you take the police officer exam?” The police department had a rotation schedule at the time, and I would get at least some of the holidays off, and it was an eight-hour workday, so I applied. They said I had good people skills. I took the exam in my county and was sent for physical and mental exams. I placed 20th on a list after about 1,000 initial applicants. I did the same exam process in another county and got the job. I became a police officer and was promoted to police sergeant three years ago. I’ve been on the job 18 years.
RDB: Tell me how that work has been for you.
MB: It is definitely the helping people part of it that I always liked. I liked the same thing as a chef, making people happy with food.
RDB: How about the violent part of it? How has that been for you?
MB: Like most first-responders, I can get hooked on the adrenaline of intense situations. But in reality, the majority of a police officer’s work has nothing to do with adrenaline or violence. We talk to people and try to resolve problems.
Also, I am about 6’1” and weigh 240 pounds. Since I am a power lifter, I carry a lot of weight in muscle, so that tends to be a deterrent. Because of my size and presence, I usually do not have to resort to force. Some guys called me “Bornschlegl the Bone Crusher,” but more called me the “Gentle Giant.”
RDB: What led you toward a career in counseling?
MB: There was this social worker named Richard Zembron. He died a few years back, but he was incredible. We would respond to a domestic violence situation at 2 a.m. He was of small stature and he was soft-spoken. He was very empathic. He would arrive at this domestic violence situation, and we were in bulletproof vests, but he would walk in and sit close to the family. He would begin making small talk with them. Then he would say, “This is a great family. I would like to work with them.” He would point to us and say, “Look! These guys take such good care of me.” He was telling them, “I am not the big guy, but these guys will take care of me if they need to.” He sparked my interest in counseling.
RDB: I know you had to go back to school to get your undergraduate degree first. What made you actually see that through?
MB: I realized I was not the “arrest them all and throw away the key” type of cop. I wanted to get more knowledge on recidivism. I wanted to know how to reduce the potential for harm. I majored in criminology and got lots of information on those topics. I then thought I might go on to law school. A friend of mine said, “You don’t want to be a lawyer. They are always in a fight. You don’t like fighting. You like to resolve things and you like to help people.” I knew this guy was right, so I applied for a graduate program in counseling and got in.
RDB: So you were working full time and getting your master’s. What kept you going? What was your motivation?
MB: The thing that kept me going in graduate school was the interest of the other students. They kept telling me they never envisioned that a police officer would be like me. It kept me going. I wanted them to know that we cops were more than just tough guys.
RDB: So now you are an LPC. You have a private practice during the day and work as a police sergeant at night. Tell me a bit about your counseling practice.
MB: Mostly I am drawn to (Carl) Rogers and to solution-focused counseling. I am somewhat cognitive, as I often look at classical conditioning versus operant conditioning with a client.
RDB: How did you determine what area of counseling you were passionate about?
MB: I fell in love with the theories of Carl Rogers. The Rogerian counselor-client relationship is the cornerstone of healing. I have a lot of clients with alcohol and drug recovery issues. I use my knowledge of the 12-step program with them. Mostly though, I engage in empathic listening and show unconditional positive regard to the client.
RDB: What mistakes have you made, and what lessons did you learn from those mistakes?
MB: My biggest mistake is that I expect change to occur quickly. My lesson is in patience. My clients have taught me to trust the process and accept that, for some, it takes more time. There is an unraveling with a client that takes place over time. I have to be patient with that process.
RDB: Was there someone who saw something special in you early on in your life?
MB: I was in the senior year religion class in the Catholic high school I attended. I was an average student and I didn’t party. I worked at a fast food joint nights and weekends. I had fun with the other kids who worked there by throwing the Frisbee after work in the parking lot. I worked, studied and went to school.
Father Zinn was giving his goodbye to the senior religion class, and someone asked him what was a memorable thing about our class. He said there was this big kid who always sat in the front row and always had a smile on his face. He said he would see that kid’s smile and he would know his day was going to be all right. I was that kid. That meant something to me.
Another person who saw something in me was Dick Zembron, the social worker I already spoke of. I remember asking him what his secret was to helping people. He drew a picture of a face. He said, “You see one mouth and two ears. That means we need to listen at least twice as much as we talk.” He died a while back, but his work goes on in me.
RDB: Do you have a theoretical hero, a theorist who inspires you?
MB: Rogers’ techniques open the door. You can’t go wrong by deeply listening to your client. I also like Linda Seligman and her work on borderline personality disorder.
RDB: So many counselors dislike working with clients diagnosed with borderline personality disorder.
MB: I agree, but Linda Seligman says there is a reason for that. She said the risk of the client with borderline personality disorder is they are experts in finding flaws. She said that at some point, a counselor has to come to terms with the fact that the client with a borderline personality disorder will find your flaw and point it out to you.
RDB: Is there anything I have not asked that you want readers to know about your career story?
MB: Yes, I want to say that my career doesn’t define me. My career allows me to be who I am. That is what counseling is about — finding who you are and then being who you are. My calling is to learn, practice and give back. The next generation will take it from there.
The American Counseling Association values the opportunity to honor the career paths of working counselors with Counselor Career Stories. The hope is that the career lessons these counselors share each month will be very helpful to working counselors and students alike as they seek employment. For additional assistance with career and employment issues, visit the ACA Career Center at counseling.org/CareerCenter/, which also includes current online job listings.
Rebecca Daniel-Burke is the director of the ACA Career Center. She was a working counselor for many years and went on to oversee, interview and hire counselors in various settings. Contact her at RDanielBurke@counseing.org if you have questions, feedback or suggestions for future columns.
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