PARALLEL PROCESS


I have found that one of the most challenging things about being a supervisor is that sometimes we have to lead an individual down a path that we have not yet come to the end of ourselves.

There is an old folklore tale:

A mother brought her young son to talk to a devoted monk. She asked the monk to tell her son to stop eating sugar.

The monk told the mother to take her son away and come back in a week.

She did so and when she returned the monk again told her to leave and come back in a week.

The third time the mother and the son met with the monk the monk looked at the young boy and said, “Stop eating sugar.”

The mother looked at the monk and asked him why he sent her away the two previous times.

The monk said, “I could not tell the young child to stop doing something that I myself was doing.”

I often feel this way as a supervisor, however, in real life, we do not have the ability to ask our staff or our clients to go away and come back in a week. The technical term that we throw at this experience is “parallel process.”

Parallel process is our ability to continue to show up, know that we are not perfect and that we have our own road to walk, and to also know that we still have the ability to guide and teach and role model. Parallel process is both the most challenging thing about being a supervisor and the most freeing.

THE LEARNING


I have come to realize in my career and my life that I have the opportunity to learn from everyone who crosses my path, even those who I am supposed to be teaching. Throughout this academic year, I have had an undergraduate intern who has worked in my programs and for whom I have provided supervision. I want to share with all of you a lesson that she has taught me.

We have talked many times about the nature of this work and how one day we may hear the most heart-wrenching stories of trauma from a youth, and at the end of the day, they walk out the door not sure where they are going to sleep that night. Or we see a youth three days in a row, and then they don’t come in for days or even weeks. I believe everyone in this field has stories like that – stories that are not quite complete but that we have no control over their continuing; stories of those for whom we wonder what the next chapter looks like because our services have ended and we do not get to see it play out.

My intern struggled with this at the beginning and worried about these youth – where they were, if they were safe, and if they knew that they mattered and had value. As part of supervision we talked about techniques to utilize in order to leave the work at work so that it does not start taking the space in her personal life. None of the techniques really did the job until she came up with one of her own.

This intern spends a lot of time outside in nature so anytime she thought about a youth and found herself worrying, she looked around for a bird. She would give the youth to the bird – speaking the name of the youth into the wind towards the bird. Then she would watch the bird fly away and would allow herself to breathe and to let go of that youth as the bird flew further and further. For that moment, she was entrusting the youth to the universe. There is something that feels so peaceful and so real about this exercise. I encourage you to try it.

FAIRY TALES

When I was little I often fell asleep listening to my dad reading my sister and me fairy tales. We believed in the magic of those stories. We listened to those stories imagining the fairies that could turn pumpkins into carriages and the giants who lived in the clouds at the top of a bean stalk. As we grow older we often trade fairy tales for reality and forget that we once believed that magic could be real.

There is one fairy tale that I have held onto throughout my life and carried with me into adulthood. This fairy tale is not one that my dad ever read or that you would find in a book. This fairy tale is one that I created when I was a teenager, stuck in the awkwardness that is adolescence, and needed to believe that magic existed somewhere in the world.

There is a place called Tory Island that is nine miles off the north-west coast of Donegal County, Ireland. It is the most remote of Ireland’s islands and is full of history, mythology, folklore, and artists. If you search the internet for this little island you can watch videos that showcase the beautiful beaches and rocky coasts and introduce you to a few of the island’s 130 residents. Let me make it clear, I have never been to Tory yet I feel as though I know the ins and outs of the island, from the bell tower to the lighthouse, to the small cottages that dart the coast. I have spent many hours imagining myself walking on the beaches and listening to the native Irish music.

When the days have been hard and I feel as though I am carrying a little bit more than my fair share of the world’s weight on my shoulders, I imagine myself biking around the island with the wind in my hair. I use Tory the same way that many use guided meditation or guided imagery. Tory is my fairy tale; the place where magic is real. And somehow when I come back to the world after a meditation to Tory, things don’t seem so heavy or so hard.

So, I encourage you to believe in magic and not to leave all the fairy tales to the children.

WHAT'S MY MOTIVATION?


In a recent post I told you all that I was going to have coffee with my “work crush” (who I will now be referring to as my mentor). First, let me start by saying that I have no idea why I waited so long to invite her to coffee. Actually, I do. I waited because I was afraid that I was not worthy of her time and that maybe she would not see my potential to become a leader like her. I encourage you--- no urge you, not to let your fear stand in your way. If you have someone in your life that you believe you can learn from, reach out and begin building a relationship with them because you can’t even imagine what is possible.

My work crush was just this because as I saw her and observed her work in professional settings over a period of time, I grew to respect her humility and the grace with which she leads. When I think about my growth and my professional future I aim to be a leader like this – a leader who has a mission, is laser focused on that mission and quietly moves that mission forward every day. She was a role model to me long before she knew that I was watching. 

In our first get together, she challenged me to think about why I do this work and why it matters so much to me. She is able to see my spirit and that my heart is in this work, but challenged me to think about why, where the passion and heart come from in my own life.

Many professionals in this field can look at their own life and see obvious answers based on the fact that they grew up in foster care or experienced poverty or trauma. For some of us who grew up in what are considered “normal” families and who didn’t experience obvious trauma, figuring out what led us into this field to do this work is sometimes more difficult, but I think just as important. For a long time I really just thought that I followed in my mother’s footsteps and that I was lucky enough to have been taught from a young age that there are always individuals who need assistance and that if we can provide it, we should.

My mentor has challenged me to think more deeply about this, and as I do, I realize that it is such an important thing for all of us to think about. No matter what path you took to get to this field, do the work to know WHY. The WHY is what drives the mission.

WHAT'S MY MOTIVATION?


In a recent post I told you all that I was going to have coffee with my “work crush” (who I will now be referring to as my mentor). First, let me start by saying that I have no idea why I waited so long to invite her to coffee. Actually, I do. I waited because I was afraid that I was not worthy of her time and that maybe she would not see my potential to become a leader like her. I encourage you--- no urge you, not to let your fear stand in your way. If you have someone in your life that you believe you can learn from, reach out and begin building a relationship with them because you can’t even imagine what is possible.

My work crush was just this because as I saw her and observed her work in professional settings over a period of time, I grew to respect her humility and the grace with which she leads. When I think about my growth and my professional future I aim to be a leader like this – a leader who has a mission, is laser focused on that mission and quietly moves that mission forward every day. She was a role model to me long before she knew that I was watching. 

In our first get together, she challenged me to think about why I do this work and why it matters so much to me. She is able to see my spirit and that my heart is in this work, but challenged me to think about why, where the passion and heart come from in my own life.

Many professionals in this field can look at their own life and see obvious answers based on the fact that they grew up in foster care or experienced poverty or trauma. For some of us who grew up in what are considered “normal” families and who didn’t experience obvious trauma, figuring out what led us into this field to do this work is sometimes more difficult, but I think just as important. For a long time I really just thought that I followed in my mother’s footsteps and that I was lucky enough to have been taught from a young age that there are always individuals who need assistance and that if we can provide it, we should.

My mentor has challenged me to think more deeply about this, and as I do, I realize that it is such an important thing for all of us to think about. No matter what path you took to get to this field, do the work to know WHY. The WHY is what drives the mission.

About the Author...

EKleftside-street Webfade



I’m Erin, and I’ve used my 15+ years of human services experience working to understand youth who are on the fringes as an attempt to create services that have the potential to change their life trajectory. I get out of bed each morning with a renewed sense of purpose, and I go off to work to play my part. I believe that if we each do our small part, that collectively we have the potential to change the big picture.

To me, this is more than a job; it’s a journey, a mission, a calling, and an honor.

I don’t believe that I have all the answers, but with some regular meditation, a solid support network, and a commitment to this work--no matter how hard it gets, I believe that much can be accomplished.

I invite you along on this journey. Share what you have learned, what keeps you going, and what makes you crazy. None of us are in this world alone and I am grateful that we can walk beside each other even if only for a few moments.

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