On Being a New Counselor

“We think that by protecting ourselves from suffering we are being kind to ourselves. The truth is, we only become more fearful, more hardened, and more alienated. We experience ourselves as being separate from the whole. This separateness becomes like a prison for us, a prison that restricts us to our personal hopes and fears and to caring only for the people nearest to us. Curiously enough, if we primarily try to shield ourselves from discomfort, we suffer. Yet when we don’t close off and we let our hearts break, we discover our kinship with all beings.” 

Pema Chodren

Counselling-or-Psychotherapy

Being a new counselor means you never know what the client will be coming in with. Greeting them for the first time, you have no idea what disappointments they carry with them, what unrealized dreams they had to let go of, what heartaches they have endured, what abuses they have survived, what self-destructive habits they have picked up along the way. Clients could be survivors of childhood trauma that has gone untreated for decades then show up for therapy with anxiety, depression, low self-esteem, loneliness and alienation, problems with anger, impulsivity and acting out. They may have acute expectations of danger, hypervigilance, self-hatred, chronic shame, hopelessness and helplessness, fear of abandonment, numbing or disconnection from their feelings, sensing the worst is always about to happen–or their “worst” has actually happened and they are left to pick up the pieces. They could have an undiagnosed mental health disorder that is wreaking havoc on their personal life and their family’s sanity. Or they may show up in your office as a last resort because they are losing a battle against addiction, self-harming impulses, eating disorders, or a longing or determination to die.

Preparing for a new client means you have to be ready for anything and everything. I am fully aware that I cannot help a client with a lifetime of troubles in the first 60 minutes; but what I can do is be prepared, emotionally centered, psychologically present, have a posture of openness and engagement, be flexible with my approach, be willing to act on the client’s behalf, listen intently for the golden nuggets of wisdom they possess, and always understand that we are social and bonding animals who long for connection and inclusion.

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“We need the eyes of others to form and hold ourselves together.” 

Daniel N. Stern

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Therapy is about discovery by the client and counselor–it’s a co-creative process. I am so passionate about this profession and I am humbled to be in the trenches with my clients, working together towards a better future for them.

Even though the client may not see it, my job as counselor is to see the best in every individual. Carl Rogers, a humanistic psychologist, is famous for his “unconditional positive regard” that he had for every client. I wholeheartedly agree with his approach and strive to do the same. If you have ever had a less-than-stellar experience with a counselor, I apologize. There are times when a client and counselor simply don’t mesh well–I let people know all the time that counseling is entirely about the client and they have the right to shop around. Seeing a counselor who you connect with, feel cared for, and who compassionately calls you out when needed is vital.

Being a new counselor means accepting I have no control over anything. Some techniques work well with many clients but fall flat with others. Some theoretical approaches are perfectly aligned with a client’s presenting problem while others take creativity and research to have an impact. Being an effective counselor takes wisdom, creativity, intuition, and the willingness to be wrong about your initial assumptions.

Being a new counselor means the six-and-a-half years of schooling was just the beginning of my studies. Instead of cramming for tests and finals, now I fervently study the newest techniques to help my clients, read the latest research about my profession, and learn myriads of mental disorders I may be called to treat. In my spare time I work on my own mental health, make sure I am taking care of myself properly, and maintain healthy boundaries when necessary. More than anything, I work on staying present–in the NOW–and letting go of what I cannot control.

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If you are struggling with something–anything–consider seeing a counselor. We are real people with real problems of our own, but we are passionate about making a difference and we’re here to help you on your journey.

 

Peace my Friends,

 

~Travis

 

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