Sunday, April 11, 2010


I've been thinking a lot about change this week. This is a word that is battered around the counseling community with endless repetition. What is change? How does it happen? Are humans really capable of change? Are societies capable of change? I've had a couple of really difficult counseling sessions with clients lately...the kinds of sessions that leave me despairing about the condition of the human race. I walk with my clients into wounds so deep that it seems like there can never be light at the end of the tunnel. Situations seem infinitely hopeless. Escape is impossible. It's my job to find hope, to have vision for a better future for my clients. So what happens when I don't see any hope? Do I revert to a simplistic method of behavioral counseling where I try to help them fix the crumbling blocks of their life by giving them a few helpful study tools without looking at the foundations that are giving way? If I help them to dig into those foundations, if we uncover what is festering below and we can't find a way to walk through it, then is there hope? In the unique confines of this culture and this place, I can't just tell my clients to leave, to walk away, to start fresh. I am forced to work within family systems that are untenable. Young people don't move out of their parents' homes. They stay and stay and stay. Here in Kuwait, there are still areas of the desert that are filled with landmines from the Gulf War. Many of those areas have been marked as dangerous...flags and signs denoting the fact that if you walk in that area, you might go boom. It happens on a regular basis...ooh, what's that funny looking rock? Boom. I feel like counseling in this context is like walking through a field of landmines. Careful step, shift your weight, see what happens. And so often it feels hopeless. Do the hours that I spend with my clients really make any difference?

In this part of the world, there is a high value placed on image. Look good, smile, everything is fine. Making sure that everyone thinks you're fine takes its's exhausting. And there comes a point where your body can't physically hold it in anymore...the tears start leaking out at the most inopportune times. The rage is unleashed. The depression takes hold. We all have problems...every human, every society. I'm not saying that these things are unique to this part of the world. But I often wonder if my counseling model holds true in this place. What works in the west doesn't always work here. Often, the counseling room is a place where someone is free to fall apart- to let the cracks in the armor sever. And we sit in the pain, in the wounds, in the anger. And we look at the ways we have been hurt. And over time, we heal and we begin to look at our own responsibility. We take ownership and begin to move toward a new model of relationships in this world. That works in the west...I've seen it work and I believe that it's a healthy godly model of counseling. But I'm not convinced that it works here. And so I go back to my first question- what is change? What is my vision for my clients? Where do I find hope for my clients? And I hold up the mirror and look at my self. And I feel the weight of life here. And I struggle with the culture and knowing when to accept, and when to fight back. What is different and what is just wrong. And sometimes I freeze in the midst of the field of landmines, losing my footing and just wanting to sit down and wait it out. Sometimes the struggle is just too much, too confusing, too hopeless. But for this moment in time, I am here. And I have the privilege of sitting with a young generation of people who are struggling and hurting. And so I look to the one who provides all hope, and I ask for wisdom, and for eyes to walk tall and straight and hopefully through the field of landmines.


uncle yale said...

Hi Amy, very good entry. Wow, I pray for wisdom for you. Love you, dad

Danica said...

Thanks so much for writing your thoughts. I don't really know how to respond to such heavy things but I will also be praying for wisdom from the Lord who truly is the giver of ALL hope. I will pray that in the midst of all of these conflicting feelings and thoughts, God will give you peace and a special insight to know how to process the things that you are hearing and experiencing. Love you.

Anonymous said...


Interesting post. Are you referring to clients such as the runaway domestic workers? Or regular clients at the university you work at (students)? In any case, I think that working within family systems isn't a drawback, but rather a lifestyle that perhaps Western methods of counselling cannot grasp. Or maybe they can? Western tradition (the US, UK etc.) sees kids who leave their homes at the age of 18 and never move back in - and in a lot of cases a lot of problems ensue. I think the family unit in this part of the world, as well as in others, such as India and the Far East is what reinforces the strength of such a culture. It's definitely a plus. Furthermore, the idea of a 'high value placed on image' is a universal concept. It might vary from place to place, but overall it's the same wherever you go. I think what you're trying to articulate here is that in Kuwait (and again this goes for similar countries with similar cultures), people like to keep their problems to themselves but to a certain extent. Generally, people don't want the world to know their innermost problems just because we value privacy. It doesn't mean that we keep quiet and don't consult others and ask for help - and this is where the family unit comes in. The beauty about a society such as ours is the extended family - we don't only have a support system that simply consists of parents and siblings but uncles, aunts, grandparents, cousins etc. and of course friends. When people keep things to themselves here, it's not that they don't "express" how they feel, they just don't have to let the whole world know how they feel. I think in the United States, there's this tendency to always fixate on emotions, and try to explain how you feel all the time, and to validate those emotions all the time - if anything, I find that exhausting.

I think, and at the risk of sounding stereotypical, Americans tend to overexagerrate, especially when it comes to how they feel. This comes from my experience from living in the United States as well as from Americans who I encounter outside of the US anywhere else in the world. Sometimes its good to just go with the flow, relax, chill, and just plain get over it. I think the reason you find trouble with your counselling methods here is simply because people in Kuwait, Muslims in general, have a very powerful faith in Allah and so don't necessarily feel the need to constantly assess their 'emotional' selves.

Obviously, I'm not applying my opinions to people living destitute lives of poverty, abuse, etc. I'm talking about your everyday people who are in good health for the most part, and lead normal well to-do lives but for some reason just like to have things to whine and complain about.

Donna Kushner said...

Amy, this is powerful stuff. I hope you are getting to process this with someone there. I am sure that those you are working with ARE finding hope on some level because you are showing love and concern for them! thanks for all you do! love, mom