When A Sustainability Advocate Required Counseling

Ever since I vowed to become a counselor, I also made it clear that I would not be the conventional type. Whenever I talk about “conventional,” I envision someone wearing thick glasses and staying cooped up in their office every day until their retirement. I have nothing against mental health professionals who loved that lifestyle, but that’s not the kind of life I ever wanted for myself. In my book, offering counseling should not mean that I would have to be one of them.

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One way to achieve my goal was to join a humanitarian group that built sustainable houses for less fortunate people. It was not a full-time thing; I still kept an office in the city where I met some clients a few hours a day. But I was in one outreach program after another, especially during the weekends. I would even sometimes go overseas and join their international teams.

What did I do there, you might ask? Of course, among my tasks was still take part in the building process of the houses. They needed all the hands they could get to finish the project early and move on to the following location. Whether they needed someone to push the wheelbarrow, carry sacks of cement, or at least stack up some hollow blocks, I did it.

Nevertheless, my primary goal was to offer counsel to the people who needed help from a humanitarian group to have a roof over their heads. You see, they were the ones who got displaced after hurricanes, floods, and sometimes even forest fires. The natural phenomena took away their possessions and resources, and they might have gone homeless if not for the group that was willing to give them free houses.

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When Helpers Needed Counseling, Too

I had been helping out for a few months already when I met Drake. He was very young; he just had his 18th birthday at the time. However, he had been volunteering with the humanitarian group with his parents since he was 15 years old. His parents were not satisfied with merely giving money to a charity; they wanted to put a lot of effort into helping others. At least, that’s what my friends in the group had told me.

The thing was, Drake was alone that day. The reason was that there was a fire on the side of the mountain where they lived, and his mom and dad did not make it. Drake only survived because he was out playing basketball with his friends. By the time he reached home, there were already many fire trucks and police cars in his neighborhood, and it took more than 24 hours before he found out what happened to his parents. In an instant, the sustainability helper needed help.

As a counselor, I was not supposed to diagnose mental disorders in a patient because that’s a psychologist’s or psychiatrist’s job. However, I knew what grief and a sense of loss looked like, and that’s what I saw in Drake. I knew that the next best thing for him right then was to have someone talk to you about the recent unfortunate incident. So I decided to approach him during one of our short breaks.

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“Hey, Drake,” I started. “I don’t think that we have officially met, but I am technically the resident counselor in our little humanitarian group. I offer mental health services to the people that we build houses for and help them accept and get over the reason why they needed help in the first place so that they could start anew.”

“Yes, I know you. My parents thought you were doing great, considering you never ask for money, even if counseling tends to cost a lot in the outside world,” Drake replied.

I smiled. “Still, my services do not need to end there. In truth, I can offer the same thing to you and the other volunteers here whenever you need it.”

I was mildly surprised when Drake bent his head down and began sobbing. I immediately felt terrible towards this young sustainability advocate. Here he was, practically an orphan and almost a homeless person if his grandparents didn’t take him in, but he continued his parents’ vocation. I asked him to visit me in my office the next day to talk away from the concerned yet prying eyes of the other members.

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That was the beginning of Drake’s counseling journey. It took him some time to get over his parents’ sudden death; he had even been diagnosed with depression not too long after that. But the kid eventually learned how to handle all the emotions hitting him at once.

On one occasion, Drake’s grandparents joined our humanitarian project, and they made a point of thanking me for my work with their grandson. I merely replied that my doors were always open if they needed assistance. That’s especially true since the world needed more kids like Drake, who cared for others and the world in general.

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