For the past several months, I have been thinking about the word resilience. This past fall, I had the fortune of attending the Illinois Counseling Association’s conference, where the theme was resilience. And at the upcoming American Counseling Association Annual Conference & Exposition in Pittsburgh later this month, we have at least six Education Sessions or Learning Institutes that focus on client resilience. Professional journals often look at the role of the counselor in helping to facilitate resilience in clients. In fact, an article in this issue of Counseling Today discusses how school counselors can collaborate with teachers and other school personnel to strengthen the resilience of students (see page 44).
We know professional counselors must develop resilience themselves because of the many situations, incidents and issues faced by the clients they serve. In all honesty, the ability to continue functioning as a mental health professional can be challenging at times, regardless of work setting. To constantly hear about a student’s or a client’s life challenges, obstacles and, sometimes, cruelties can wear on a professional counselor.
But what happens when the challenges, obstacles or cruelties are even more personal? What if the situation is something that impacts you directly — not as a counselor, but in your everyday, nonprofessional life? How do counselors react? I should clarify that when using the word resilience, I am not speaking of someone who quickly recovers from something and returns to “normal.” I am talking about making adjustments, finding ways to cope, moving through life and trying to find something positive to hold onto after a critical incident or crisis.
Let me share an example with you. In the summer of 2008 as ACA prepared to bring all of its division and region leaders together for a meeting, I was responding to various inquiries from those who would be attending. One of these e-mail exchanges was with Vicki Sardi, who at that time was the president of the American Mental Health Counselors Association, one of our largest divisions. We discussed the location of the meeting and where she could park her car. Then I received another e-mail in which Vicki explained that she would not be attending the meeting because she had just found out that her son, Mattie, then 6 years old, had a serious illness. As it turns out, Mattie had osteosarcoma, a cancer of the bone that is quite lethal. Treatment began immediately.
For various reasons, Vicki and her terrific husband, Peter, started a blog in which she described the various issues they were facing in their efforts to find a cure for Mattie. Along the way, we learned about the uniqueness, courage and joy that this young boy possessed. We learned about Mattie’s disease, and we also learned how both Vicki and Peter became incredible advocates for their son and his care. Vicki was religious in her postings despite the trials and tribulations that she, Peter and Mattie faced. And during all of this, we read about those who provided care and support to the Sardi-Brown family.
Unfortunately, this past September, young Mattie lost his battle, but not before he and his parents put up one hell of a fight. You can read more at mattiebear.blogspot.com/. Earlier in this column, I asked what counselors do after experiencing a very personal and traumatic incident. I want to tell you about an extraordinary endeavor that Vicki and Peter have undertaken in the wake of Mattie’s death. Despite all they went through between Mattie’s diagnosis back in July 2008 and his passing in September 2009, they have established a foundation dedicated to “finding better treatments and a cure to Osteosarcoma and Pediatric Cancers.”
The Mattie Miracle Cancer Foundation is an amazing tribute to this very brave, very talented, Lego-loving boy. But beyond being a fitting tribute to Mattie, I think this effort is a way to try and funnel what Vicki and Peter experienced this past year into something that might one day help others avoid such pain and trauma. I have made a contribution to the Mattie Miracle Cancer Foundation, and I hope you will consider doing so as well. For more information, including ways in which you can make a tax-deductible contribution, please go to mattiemiracle.com.
Please contact me with any comments, questions or suggestions that you might have via e-mail at email@example.com or by phone at 800.347.6647 ext. 231.
Thanks and be well.