Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Guess What? Nobody Gets You.

At least this is what you might feel like from time to time as you begin to integrate into a graduate or intern community counseling position. (And regardless of what kind of counselor you call yourself, you are a community counselor as long as you work in a community.)

As counselors, we get referrals from doctors, hospitals, schools, law enforcement, churches, and more. Many, if not most of these groups will support us. But if asked, very few of them might be able to understand what it is you do.

Part of that is our own fault. In counseling, we tend to like the mystical and abstruse (ten points if you can define the word without looking it up) nature of our profession. It makes us feel special. But it's no good feeling special if no one really understands what you do.

When your community doesn't understand what you do, they might refer other people to you. But they can't SELL other people on what you do. I'm not talking about selling in the purely monetary sense, although that's nice too. I'm talking about turning referrals into bona fide converts. If they get can have that.

So, how do you get people to get you?

Know what you do.
Have you ever tried to define your work? Just because you can do a lot doesn't mean that that's what people want to hear when they ask you, "so, what do you do?" If you don't prepare, you'll be faced with a lot of "hrm...umm..." moments while trying to form a response. Not inspiring.

Break down what you know. What do you do best? What's the most important part of the counseling process to you? What's unique to your area? Take the whole, and look at the parts.

Prioritize what you broke down.
Say you're a play therapist answering the previous question. Maybe you say to potential referral sources: "My favorite thing about play therapy is first, giving the kids a voice to share what happened to them. After that, I enjoy helping give them words for their feelings." Simple and effective.

Find out what others do, and they will find out what you do. Alison Cohn of Brazos Valley Counseling Services was the only counselor to respond to my hello and take a meeting with me when I moved into the area and began looking to connect with other counselors. And because of that, I've been sending her agency referrals monthly (and some months, weekly) for over two years. Though the market for online counselors is somewhat smaller, when she finds someone who needs it, she does the same for me.

You are not only a counselor, you're also an ambassador for the counseling field. And you are well-equipped for the job!

What's one way you could explain your field to someone else (a potential referral source, a client, a newspaper reporter)? Write it down below, and we can learn from each other!