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Embracing the Beauty and the Beast in an Examined Life

By Jodi L. Bartley
Plymouth State University

Socrates once stated famously that, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” I have come to believe that the unexamined counselor is not worth counseling. Self-awareness is surely one of the fundamental ingredients of the effective counselor, and I have discovered that delving into one’s inner psyche is quite a courageous endeavor! 

I remember a year ago when I walked into my first class—Foundations of the Counseling Profession with Gail Mears, PsyD, LPC—we were asked to answer a few questions about ourselves. This proved to be the launching pad for a year of intensive self-examination. At the time, I remember thinking, “Oh, sure, I know myself.” 

Well, I may have understood a bit of the surface, but the process since that day has been like exploring the nooks and crannies of a deep cave … a cave that seems endless!

Within a few weeks of that first exercise, Dr. Mears introduced us to the famous Johari Window and explained that there are parts of ourselves that are known to others, but not known to ourselves. Immediately, my inner spelunker quipped, “Wait, what?” From there, we were asked to engage in intense feedback exercises with our peers. Squirming in my seat, I realized, “I’m not sure that I know what they are going to tell me …” 

A month or two later, Dr. Mears encouraged us all to rate ourselves on a rubric of related personal and professional characteristics (such as openness to new ideas, flexibility, and awareness of our impact on others). At this point, I found myself wandering around in my dark metaphorical cave, wondering which way was up and which way was down. This feeling only deepened when I enrolled in Counseling Skills and Group Counseling—to the point where I titled my final paper for Group Counseling, “Who Am I?” 

While parts of my journey have not been positive, my exploration has revealed some incredibly affirming treasures as well. In Crisis Counseling, for example, it dawned on me, “Maybe I’m calmer during crisis situations than I thought I was!” Similarly, during Counseling Youth, I realized that a soft, gentle approach seems to suit me best.

If I were a writer of fairy tales, I would end this article with something along the lines of finding my inner self and gallantly navigating my way to the light of true self-awareness. Or at least the light at the opening to the cave. 

The truth is, though, that I’m still spelunking, and I believe that if I want to become an effective counselor, I always will be. Rather than fearing the process, as I once did, though, I embrace it! 

Where else in our lives do we get the incredible opportunity to delve into our inner psyche and try to make sense of all of those nooks and crannies buried within? So, to my professors, my colleagues, and my inner spelunker—thanks for the journey! And may I always embrace the beauty and the beast of a truly examined life.