What my psychologist taught me about the Writing Center…

Sam Bowles, Consultant

I recently had an encounter that really helped me understand and appreciate the experience clients visiting the Writing Center often have.

I have always been a student looking to take advantage of the full range of services offered on a college campus. I always get my flu shots. I have participated in group exercise classes and in fitness assessment and planning programs. I have even regularly scheduled massages when they are being offered through campus health services. So when I was starting to get stressed out a few months ago, signing up for an appointment with a psychologist (another free service provided to students) made perfect sense.

I went into my first 50 minute session (coincidentally the exact length of the sessions we offer in our Writing Center), fully expecting that I would lay out my problems, the things that were causing me to stress or worry, and then I could sit back and let the psychologist—the professional—do the rest. He would identify my problems, the root of them in particular, and then tell me the fixes for them. I was in for a surprise, though. The session didn’t exactly go as I had planned.

He asked a lot of questions. It seemed as though every time I presented something I thought needed work, every time I laid something out wanting him to tell me the solution, he responded by asking more questions of me. “Well, what do you think?” “Why do you think that makes you feel that way?” “How do you think you could make that part of your life less stressful and therefore more enjoyable?”

In all honesty, I started to get a little frustrated. This session was requiring a lot more thinking and work on MY part than I had expected. After all, HE was the professional, not me. It was in the middle of that first session that I had an epiphany: I looked up at my psychologist and said, “Oh my gosh, this is like the Writing Center for my life.” He was a little confused at first, but I explained.

I ultimately came to thoroughly appreciate the methods of my psychologist and found our sessions to be very valuable. He equipped me and empowered me to identify and deal with the stressors my life. But that initial session finally enabled me to fully empathize with the experience of many writers when they visit the Writing Center for the first time.

All of us who work in the Writing Center have observed the frustration of clients who come in with expectations and pre-conceived notions of what they think we do and how they think we do it. It’s not at all unusual for clients to think they will present their papers, and we—the professionals—will fix them while they sit back and watch. It’s not at all unusual for clients to become frustrated when, instead, they are met with probing questions and challenges to think deeper. However, just as my psychologist demonstrated patience with me as I came to understand the process, I often have to be patient with clients as they wrap their minds around our methods. We want, as our mantra goes, not only to fix a given paper but to improve the individual writers with whom we work, but we cannot forget to empathize with clients as we help them understand not just how we do what we do but also why we do it that way.

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