48

I am a suspended student and I have been getting counseling for three months. During those three months, I have noticed extremely unprofessional behavior from my counselor.

When I started counseling, he was late each time. The first time he was late 10 minutes, the next 20 minutes and the third time 30 minutes.

Last week I had a counseling appointment and I drove 35 minutes to get on campus only to find out that the counselor was absent. He didn't email me or tell me not to come, nothing.

After my suspension period ends, the counselor has to decide whether I am fit to come back to the university or not, and many times I get literally threatened with not coming back - if for example I do this or that behavior. I literally get told "then, you're not coming back to the university".

Often, I see the counselor is eating while with me and he has no respect for the appointments for other students as well. Phone calls aren't answered. Emails aren't often answered except some few after three or four days.

There was couple of times when our counseling session was about literally 5 minutes. I came in, he asked me what I did in the week, then he said "Okay, I'll see you next time". And, he went on to work on the computer.

Additional Information: My counseling session was in the morning around 9:00AM every Tuesday. Suddenly, once day, without even taking my opinion, he says that someone else took the appointment at 9:00AM. He switched my appointment till 5:00PM. I objected. He said he had an emergency and it was more important than me. He said he had no other time than this time, at 5:00PM. I found out later that the person who took my appoitment was a customer for him, who is not a student.

What should I do? On one side, I can't ditch the counselor since that would jeopardize my coming to the university. On another side, I do not want a counselor to help me deal with another counselor.

For those who are asking, my suspension is behavioral suspension and not academic suspension, and the counselor stated that I suffer from depression based on tests that I took.

  • 44
    Eating while in session — by client or therapist — is never appropriate (it’s therapy, not mealtime). And asking, “Do you mind if I finish my lunch while we get started?” is inappropriate — clients don’t always feel comfortable enough with expressing their true feelings. psychcentral.com/blog/archives/2009/03/08/… – user23292 Apr 8 '16 at 12:46
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    Out of curiosity: Why does one get suspended from university? Please don't get me wrong: I just never heard of that possibility, probably because of different cultural background. Are you from US? Please excuse if my question is too personal; feel free to ignore it if it is. – Daniel Jour Apr 8 '16 at 14:12
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    Is this part of the university's counseling service? In most cases, these services have many counselors on staff - have you considered simply asking the counseling service if you can switch to a different counselor? – Nate Eldredge Apr 8 '16 at 14:27
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    I disagree that eating "is never appropriate". This is a cultural thing. In some cultures it is appropriate. I think it is an exaggeration to complain about this. If the OP can't stand this because of some personal reason, I would suggest to talk about this with the counselor himself/herself. – Dilworth Apr 8 '16 at 23:57
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    If your appointments were at 9am, then the counselor being late at 9am may mean that this person isn't showing up to work on time (a bad idea in most jobs). Is that true, or are you just made to wait while the counselor is "busy"? If they're not even in the office, then you should be asking the [head secretary / "the boss"] where your counselor is. Mentioning that they've been late on dates x,y,z and asking for another counselor right then may be a good idea too - if you think a different counselor will help, is their goal to get you off suspension, or something else? – Xen2050 Apr 9 '16 at 15:47
55

I suggest getting another counselor, not to help you cope with the first one, but to help you with the issues that got you suspended in the first place.

The combination of counselor and gatekeeper for your return to the university seems to me to be an inherent problem. It would be difficult to be really frank with the gatekeeper.

  • That sounds like a very reasonable suggestion to me. – xLeitix Apr 8 '16 at 14:51
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    Great point. they may call this guy a counsellor, but his position is closer to a parole officer. If you get lucky a parole officer may be nice and genuinely try to help you. You did not get lucky. So try as best you can to show this guy that you have a handle on whatever behaviour got you suspended, and seek a proper counsellor you trust somewhere else. – Peter Apr 9 '16 at 15:09
  • @Peter Yes, in my answer below I was also assuming that this guys isn't really on the OP's side. The parole officer was also an analogy that I had in mind. – xLeitix Apr 10 '16 at 7:16
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    @xLeitix I don't think the college counselor's intentions matter. They could be the most wonderful counselor in the world, dedicated to helping the OP. The very fact of being the gatekeeper would prevent frank and open communication. – Patricia Shanahan Apr 10 '16 at 13:13
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To be completely honest, the most productive tip you can likely get in this situation is to, well, suck it up. On the one hand, you say that the counselor is ultimately responsible for deciding whether you can go back or remain suspended. On the other hand, while his behavior is certainly annoying and unprofessional, is it really damaging enough to you that you would want to get into a fight with him about it that can very easily end with you remaining suspended? Is the counselor's unprofessional behavior really a hill that you wish to (academically) die on?

Considering these two points, it seems to me that the rational answer to

What should I do?

would be to hold still and wait until your suspension is over, and then being happy to (presumably) never having to deal with the obnoxious counselor again.

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    It may help to identify what the suspension is for. Rubbing in that others are unprofessional is, at the least, diplomatically unwise. However (without knowing where the OP's situation arose from) I experienced more often than not that it was those students that complained about other people's unprofessionality who themselves had quite some major shortcomings to answer for. The rule of thumb is, one gets out of a system what one puts into it. Of course, it's not always true, mileage can vary. But, if you count late minutes for the counsellor, your behaviour'd better be absolutely flawless. – Captain Emacs Apr 8 '16 at 12:39
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    I disagree. Unprofessional service that risks the OP's academic career is not part of his suspension. The OP should document these events and present them as evidence of unfair and unprofessional treatment by the councilor if the councilor says the OP cant come back for an egregious reason – David Grinberg Apr 8 '16 at 13:48
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    @DavidGrinberg If by "documenting" you mean anything that the counselor would be aware of, then I think this is a horrible idea that can backfire so much more easily than do the OP any good. Also, I have a super hard time imagining a scenario where the OP is negatively evaluated, he counters with "But I can document that the counselor was often late and ate in my sessions!", and the decision is then reverted. – xLeitix Apr 8 '16 at 13:56
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    Look, I understand the urge to fight the good fight and don't let the obnoxious counselor get away, but I feel it is important to recognize that the OP is not exactly in a good position to begin with. We don't know what he got suspended for, but it is fair to assume that accusations from his side, ones that will almost certainly end in a "he-said-she-said" discussion without any hard proof either way, would likely be met with a certain level of suspicion. – xLeitix Apr 8 '16 at 13:58
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    @xLeitix Documenting obviously shouldn't be getting a written signed statement from the councilor saying he was late. If you take a picture of yourself in his waiting room 30 minutes after he was suppose to show up its pretty clear whats going on without rubbing it in the councilors face. If you show a consistent pattern of this and show it to admins at the end, it becomes much easier to say 'I was not fairly evaluated' – David Grinberg Apr 8 '16 at 14:04
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His behaviour does seem to be unprofessional. However, like some of the other answers, I would advise you to just keep your head down. Why?

If you are on suspension, you must have done something wrong. Therefore, whatever you say now - especially if it is criticising an university employee's work ethic - will have, at best, very little value to whomever you talk to. At worst, this might work against you ("This student even has trouble getting along with his counselor").

Again, I'm not saying you are wrong but with your current status, it is more likely than someone with authority will side with a fellow university employee than a suspended student.

12

I must oppose the just keep your head down point of view.

This is the same coping mechanism battered wives and hostages resort to. It's not healthy.

You are not in a position of authority but that doesn't mean you are powerless. You will lose what little power you have if you respond by acting unprofessional yourself.

The counselor has a supervisor and peers. They are the checks on his power. It's up to them to decide if the counselor is acting unprofessional. It's up to you to convince them to either do something about him or at least find another accommodation for you.

he has no respect for the appointments for other students

Then talk to the other students. Go complain together. A mass of complaints is more convincing than one disgruntled student.

Lets look at your complaints:

  • late
  • absent
  • eats during sessions
  • often unresponsive when contacted
  • slow to respond
  • changes appointments unilaterally

The problem here is even if every one of these were provably true there isn't much here to say it's shockingly bad. It's really how much each is done that makes them truly bad. Consider: how many have you ever been guilty of?

That means you have to document this. You can't just show what. You have to show how much. How often.

Start taking notes on it. Get other students to corroborate your notes. Dates, times, everything.

Armed with that you can go talk to other counselors and ask them if they can help you. You can make a formal complaint to his supervisor.

Go to them with one simple question. Is this behavior acceptable?

That is, if your goal is to get him in trouble.

If you just want to get a different counselor go ask for one.

For those who are asking, my suspension is behavioral suspension and not academic suspension, and the counselor stated that I suffer from depression based on tests that I took.

School counselors can't treat you for clinical depression. Talk to a real doctor. Other than that don't let them use it as an excuse to dismiss you. Don't let anyone with an adversarial relationship with you try to talk you through it. Talk to someone who's only goal is to help you. Depressed students have rights too.

If this works out and you get your way, I do hope you are kind.

  • 5
    One criticism of your battered wife / hostage analogy: the person asking the question here is in this situation for a limited duration of time, and is in this situation as a (somewhat) righteous punishment for their actions. None of those apply for hostages. With this in mind I'd say an analogy with e.g. being in prison for three months is much closer. Yes, the prison guards might be a**holes, but as long as they're not causing you serious physical or mental harm, complaining is unlikely to help you. – semi-extrinsic Apr 10 '16 at 12:25
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    Staying quiet is more likely to make you a victim than any other behavior. It's extremely dangerous to recommend keeping quiet to anyone. It's the reason 2 year olds tell you everything. It keeps them safe. He may be overreacting. He may not. It is much safer if someone else judges that. We certainly don't have enough information here to judge so I'm recommending he gather enough information and take it to someone who can do something. If nothing comes of it fine. But the potential blow back is completely outweighed by the possible abuse. Just staying quiet is not safe. Talk to people. – candied_orange Apr 10 '16 at 15:40
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    -1: the analogy to battered spouses is inapt to the point of being disrespectful both to the OP and victims of domestic abuse. I find your suggestion that a counselor who sometimes arrives late, eats during sessions and cancels appointments with no notice makes the OP "not safe" rather addle-pated: you need to make a distinction between "unprofessional" and "abusive" in order to be helpful to anyone. – Pete L. Clark Apr 10 '16 at 20:17
  • "If you just want to get a different counselor go ask for one." Much better advice. It is very reasonable for the OP to ask for a different counselor. If they ask why, he should say "Because my current one sometimes arrives late and sometimes misses our appointments." That's what the OP needs most of all: to fix the situation and get back on academic track. If after he has gotten the best revenge (i.e., living well as a student in good standing) he still wants to pursue a complaint, he can do so then. – Pete L. Clark Apr 10 '16 at 20:21
  • @PeteL.Clark you're right of course but the school may refuse to provide another one. So it's wise to be prepared to make a case against him. Plan for the worst. Hope for the best. – candied_orange Apr 11 '16 at 4:06
5

Power corrupts. Absolute power corrupts absolutely. I for one am not surprised that a counselor, with power over his clients, could behave unprofessionally.

That being said, be careful as to the stories you tell yourself about this guy.

Additional Information: My counseling session was in the morning around 9:00AM every Tuesday. Suddenly, once day, without even taking my opinion, he says that someone else took the appointment at 9:00AM. He switched my appointment till 5:00PM. I objected. He said he had an emergency and it was more important than me. He said she had no other time than this time, at 5:00PM. I found out later that the person who took my appointment was a customer for him, who is not a student.

It doesn't matter if the customer was a student or not, if that customer had new suicidal thoughts, or dealing with a relative who was at risk of killing himself/herself, or at risk of hurting others, the counselor would be obligated to talk to that person.

And unless you're a mind-reader, there is no way you could know for sure why that person was given your slot since your counselor is under the strict ethical and legal obligation not to share private information about his other patients with you.

Phone calls aren't answered. Emails aren't often answered except some few after three or four days.

This can be especially tricky, because I don't know the full story.

It could be that he's incompetent, or that he doesn't care, but it could also be that some patients expect counseling sessions over the phone and over email, and that he doesn't get paid for doing that. Chances are, the first thing his voice mail says is to hang up and call 911 if it's in an emergency, because his University clinic probably doesn't have the extra staff, the extra budget, or the extra insurance in place to handle emergency calls and emergency emails 24 hours a day or 7 days a week.

Often, I see the counselor is eating while with me and he has no respect for the appointments for other students as well.

This part, I agree. Because he has power over you (and over other students), he probably doesn't care about eating in front of you (or in front of those other students).

The same goes for his absence and late arrivals. Unfortunately, most of your sessions seem to be at 9 AM, so you're one of his patients who's probably the most affected when he's late.

In these cases, I do hope that you're already asking other staff members what is going on when you've showed up and the counselor is nowhere to be found. And this is also the time to ask if there is any other counselor you could be transferring to in the future because of his repeated actions.

That should be your primary objective, either to change counselors, or to schedule a time slot in which he is more likely to show up in. Focus on feasible and concrete outcomes for yourself. You could try getting your counselor in trouble for the purpose of retribution, or you could try getting your counselor in trouble to make sure he is never late for any other patient/student (not just for yourself), but if you ever feel that is your motivation, stop yourself before you overextend yourself.

Try to switch counselors, do not try to change him. If switching is not possible. Learn to let go of the things that you don't control. It's really not the end of the world if he ends up eating during your sessions, or if you miss a counseling session (as long as you're not the one who gets blamed for it). And I'd recommend you listen to audiobooks or youtube videos from Byron Katie. She is very good and all of her work is about the topic of letting go.

  • 2
    Just realized that being late at 9am probably means that this person isn't showing up to work on time at all in the morning. That's a pretty serious error in any job where you're supposed to actually show up on time. – Xen2050 Apr 9 '16 at 15:36
2

The counselor's conduct here is egregious. For a counselor, being 10-30 min late to appointments, ENDING SESSIONS AFTER 5 MINUTES, and regularly eating during appointments is completely unacceptable. He is taking advantage of a vulnerable patient. He should be providing you with mental health care and instead he's taking a paid lunch break.

I'm not sure what your particular situation is, but when universities require suspended students undergo counseling and then get cleared by the therapist, they often offer—but not require—a school therapist. If you use an independent therapist, their focus is what's best for you. They will advocate for you. If you use a school therapist, especially one that works closely with admin, they are often also concerned with what's best for the school. For example, occasional marijuana use is not going to concern a normal therapist re: your ability to return to school (unless they've been specifically asked to evaluate your drug use). A school therapist might feel differently.

And sometimes stuff like this happens. Ugh.

If you have the option to switch to an independent therapist and have enough time left (at least a few months), do that. You were flagged for depression, and you owe it to yourself to take that seriously. This guy is not providing you with actual mental health care.

If you can switch, I wouldn't consider it jeopardizing your return. There's some risk, but getting someone that will actually advocate for you is worth it.

Finding the right therapist involves finding someone you get along with. This is true for everyone. It is completely normal to switch therapists because it's just not a good fit. If you need to talk to the admin about switching, I would just say that it's not a good fit. You could elaborate by saying that he is often late or cuts appointments off early and you would like to find someone who can spend more time with you. Until you're reinstated, you don't want to come off as though you're blaming him, but you can explain why you'd like to switch without being blameful.

  • Completely disagree. The counseling is probably mandatory for the OP. The OP's interest is not to get psychological help from the counseling but to simply attend these meetings so to "punch a card" and return to his university program as quickly as possible. Having a five minute session is then optimal in this sense. Unless of course the OP is sincerely interested in a thorough psychological treatment (but we have no indication this is the case). – Dilworth Apr 11 '16 at 14:36
  • OP obviously does not consider this situation optimal. I think I was clear about why I think switching is in OP's interest. To add to that, though, if the requirement is to get cleared as mentally healthy enough to return to school, a normal therapist will have no problem doing that unless OP is having a mental health crisis. None of this "you're not coming back if you don't do X" he's currently getting. If OP is having a mental health crisis, he needs mental health care, not this guy. – Hungry Apr 11 '16 at 15:33
  • Also, if he just needs to meet with a counselor however often is recommended by the counselor, someone independent is unlikely to recommend meeting weekly unless he's having an acute issue. – Hungry Apr 11 '16 at 15:42
  • I did not get the impression that the OP searches for psychological treatment. He seems to complain about "extreme unprofessionalism" of the counselor but did not indicate in any way what is his, that is, the OP, interest. Though he did say that he is forced to do the counseling, indicating that his interest is to meet this (or any other) counselor as less as possible. – Dilworth Apr 11 '16 at 22:17
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    If he just wants to check the box, going to an independent therapist is the better way to check it. If he wants therapy, going to an independent therapist is the better way to get that too. I would recommend OP take his mental health seriously and take advantage of the required counseling, but the recommendation is the same either way. – Hungry Apr 11 '16 at 23:54
1

Document everything and give it to their supervisor once the decision about your suspension is made.

  • 6
    Perhaps you could expand a bit and give your reasoning and justification? – jakebeal Apr 8 '16 at 21:14
  • @jakebeal feedback and accountability? Seemed axiomatic to me. – codemonkeyliketab Apr 11 '16 at 13:07
0

I'm going to slightly disagree with the OP, and others here. I also understand that not everyone will agree with me.

Basically, I don't see the "extremely unprofessional" behavior you describe as completely horrific, or even actually unprofessional. It's annoying or a bit selfish, at most, but I wouldn't even call it "unprofessional". Being late a couple of times is annoying, it's only very mildly unprofessional, but we don't know precisely the situation. Maybe the counselor had some justification. Eating in the session---well, that's actually legitimate in many cases. This is not a psychotherapy session, this is university counseling (you can't expect 5 stars hotel standards if you go to a 1 star hotel!).

Overall, the counselor didn't, e.g., ask you for money, or god forbid sexually harassed you, or cursed you, or done things that are grossly unprofessional. He is being informal, not unprofessional. There's a fine line here between informality and unprofessionalism, but it is not clear that he/she crossed the line.


Let me explain again: I argue that "extreme unprofessional" behavior, as you describe it, should be stated only for behaviors that interfere critically with the cause of the profession (in this case counseling). Eating in a a meeting does not interfere in the counseling process. The same with being late.

I believe that complaining about "extreme unprofessional behavior" when someone eats in a meeting is a bit petty. I would agree if you say that e.g. "the counselor is a bit clumsy and slightly unprofessional". But to actually complain about this, and describe it as "extreme" unprofessional behavior, is not correct, in my opinion.

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    What industry do you work in that not showing up to an appointment (or even being 30 minutes late) with no effort to communicate that is acceptable? No, it's not horrific, but it is unprofessional in my opinion, and I don't think the fact he works in academia should excuse that type of behavior. – Sam Apr 8 '16 at 17:22
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    Eating during a counselling appointment with someone is rude and unprofessional, not informal. – Massimo Ortolano Apr 8 '16 at 20:14
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    @Massimo, I disagree. Eating is not rude at all. It is a matter of culture whether it is in bad taste or not. But to categorically and universally say it is rude is false. – Dilworth Apr 8 '16 at 23:39
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    @Sam, I do not work in industry. I'm a university professor. Almost all of us have been late to some meetings, and had been waiting to someone who was late. This certainly does not qualify as being "extremely unprofessional". See above my argument. – Dilworth Apr 8 '16 at 23:42
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    @Dilworth A counseling appointment is not comparable with a research group meeting. It is not friends meeting up. It's more like saying your doctor or bank manager started eating in your meeting. At the absolute least they should ask permission first. Showing up late without any acknowledgement that this this is not good is also very poor behaviour in such a context. It is not just being rude, it is failing to do their job. – Jessica B Apr 9 '16 at 6:54
-1

You got suspended for a reason, you need to focus on that and make adjustments to never put yourself in this situation.

It is your responsibility to keep yourself out of trouble, take it as a life lesson and avoid this type of situation.

He's unprofessional with you but you are dealing with a suspension so it is not in your favor.

You put yourself in this situation.

They have lost some respect for you.

To earn respect you have to give respect.

If you have to be angry, be angry at yourself.

Take this anger and turn it into positivity.

Be accountable and just focus on making positive changes.

  • 8
    I disagree. First the OP didn't specify why they have been suspended. Based on needing to see a councilor it seems likely to be a mental health event, which if managed as well as possible is 100% not the OP's "fault". For whatever reason, the OP could not perform their duties, but they were given a chance to work with a councilor to get to the point of coming back. The councilor's unprofessional behavior towards someone who's future depends on them (and may have a mental health problem) is frankly inexcusable. They are there to get better, unreliability and dismissiveness do not help at all. – kleineg Apr 8 '16 at 14:40
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    To add to what @kleineg said (not in the same content sense, but in the sense of questioning the suggestions), I think "They have lost some respect for you" is likely to be a bit of a stretch unless this is a VERY SMALL college/university. In every college/university I've been associated with, either as student or faculty (a total of 9), it would be ludicrous to identify all the various stakeholders (faculty adviser, professors for courses taken, department chair, college Dean, counseling center, admissions staff, etc.) as having a unified "they" voice. – Dave L Renfro Apr 8 '16 at 15:30
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    There is a psychology at play here. Banks exploit it all the time. 'You've done something wrong, now you have to make us happy'. Every time you pay a fee out of guilt rather than thinking of it as the cost of a service rendered you're falling into it. Do not let guilt drive you. The university exists to help students. – candied_orange Apr 9 '16 at 18:15

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