**Warning: the following contains mentions of sexual assault and partner violence**
In most states, in order to become a domestic violence or sexual assault crisis counselor, you have to undergo forty hours of intensive training on crisis de-escalation, mental illness, homelessness, the dynamics of the cycle of partner violence, medical and legal discourse on sexual assault, and a variety of other topics that allow you to best address the needs of your clients in the limited amount of time you spend with them. Needless to say, it is a punishing forty hours. There are awkward silences, there are tears, there are personal trauma disclosures, and there is an immediate bond between the counselors in training and the counselors giving the training. It is a powerful trust between the people going to help victims in their most vulnerable moments, and the people giving them the tools to address every survivor’s needs, no matter how dire the situation or how bleak the available resources seem.
I have been a student of such trainings several times in order to work across state lines, and I have been positioned as a teacher in such training many more times. In each forty hour period, new models of care emerge, new standards of inclusivity are implemented, and new best practices are established. Stories are rehashed among the old pros in an effort to communally process secondary trauma, while simultaneously preparing the new advocates for the brutal realities of the task they have shouldered. Police officers, social workers, therapists, and emergency room nurses all come to share their expertise. Every training I’ve had the privilege of participating in, in any capacity, has shed new light into the unique and myriad needs of intimate partner survivors.
Of all of these trainings, one moment has planted itself more deeply in my mind than any other. On the first day of my first training, before ever seeing a client, going to the hospital or court, or answering a hotline call, my supervisor said to my group of trainees: “Remember: you can only assume one thing about your clients; and that is that they are doing their best. There are days where their best might not be as good as the day before. There are days where their best is less than you would have hoped. There are days when their best will look nothing like your best. But know that no matter what, every day, they are doing as best they can with what they have. And you must make yourself accept that now.”
The idea of a personal “best” not being immutable, but being a fluid force subject to change based on internal and external factors, never occurred to me before that moment. Since that day, I try to approach each client trusting they are honestly and authentically trying their hardest. In so doing, it is easier for me to be gentler with myself when my best is not what I hoped it would be.