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Peer Counseling

By David Wasielewski

 

Dilemma: Wisdom vs. Experience

 

As a Peer Counselor and Stroke Group Facilitator I get to see the whole variety of stroke circumstances. Stroke affects individuals in different ways. Individuals react in different ways to their stroke. There is huge variety of social and medical support that each individual has as they manage through their recovery.

 

Each requires the counselor to listen carefully to the survivor’s story, ask appropriate questions and, when possible, observe the social support and caregiver situation. In many of these encounters it becomes routine to maintain a sense of objectivity with the survivor, to collect and analyze information before dispensing advice or guidance. In some circumstances this becomes more of a challenge. Our last stroke group meeting presented such a challenge.

 

A middle aged woman was introduced to the group by her speech therapist. Many of her stroke symptoms were obvious as she sat and told her story. She was fairly young, late 40’s, had some significant speech difficulties but could communicate and be understood. She was hemiplegic, walking with a pronounced limp and had severely limited use of her left arm. She was forced to retire from her job and lost the ability to pursue her hobbies, playing a variety of musical instruments.

 

Her circumstances were very much like mine when I joined the group almost ten years ago. She had many of the same questions I had when I arrived, along with the frustration and anger with which many of us are familiar. Over time my recovery experience has provided me with answers to my many questions. When would the use of my arm return? When should I be able to return to work? Will I be able to return to the hobbies and activities I enjoyed?

 

As she posed the all too familiar questions I flashed back to my first support group visit. How would I have reacted if someone had provided the answers for which I was looking? I would not return to work, or my favorite activities. Would this advice have been helpful, or not? I hesitated as I watched the conversation unfold. Was anything I was about to say be helpful? Could I simply give her the benefit of my experience and ‘wisdom’ about stroke recovery and be satisfied that I had ‘done my job.’

 

As I thought back I remembered that I especially did not or could not have dealt with answers that didn’t match my expectations for a full recovery. I also recall the wisdom of the folks in the support group that prevented them from giving me what might be termed the bad news about a full recovery. They allowed me to vent my anger and frustration while they patiently listened to the angry rants of this new survivor. This was the best thing they could do and they already knew that.

 

As I recall my days in early recovery I am reminded how angry I was and how patient these wise folks must have been. The wisdom in the situation was to simply listen and offer support, not provide answers. The reality is that with stroke there are no sure answers. Does telling someone with severe hemiplegia that they might not expect to play the piano or flute again lessen their distress? Probably not. In some cases it can even have the opposite effect. It could cause the survivor to lose hope of a significant recovery. They might simply give up on any improvement.

 

I realized that, even with all my recovery experience my ‘wisdom’ in this situation was to simply listen. Many recent survivors search frantically for answers to their questions. The wisdom of the peer counselor is to realize that the answers, in most cases, do not exist. The most difficult notion in this situation is to realize that the best thing a counselor can do is support the new survivor as they make their own journey through their recovery and that no matter where their journey ends they will have support from their counselors and support group friends.

 

 

 

Copyright @September 2014

The Stroke Network, Inc.

P.O. Box 492 Abingdon, Maryland 21009

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