Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Is This You, Beginning Counselor?

Do you know you're meant to be a counselor, but can't yet see what exactly that means for you?

Are you working in a sub-specialty of counseling that you thought you'd love, and are finding it's not really for you?

Is there something you want to focus on in the field, but you're not sure you can?

Welcome to a problem EVERY new counselor has: What kind of counselor can I/should I be?

I entered the counseling field via a hard right turn from family law (which I didn't realize would be mainly divorce) into family counseling. In fact, my undergraduate major was family psychology. I started the counseling program at Dallas Baptist University certain I would be taking some extra classes to earn my MFT.


I started my practicum and realized one thing very quickly. I didn't love working with couples.

I could work with them. I was capable at it, and there were certainly some couples that I grew particularly attached to and really wanted to help.

But overall, I didn't love it.

So what, I asked myself, was I supposed to do NOW!?

You may be going through the same thing. You came in all gung-ho on play therapy, or REBT or something else, and are discovering with time that it's just not your cup of tea. Or maybe you still love it, but it's requiring far more time, energy and money to get certified than you are ready and willing to offer. So what do you do about it?

Buzz: "This is no time to panic."

Woody: "This is the PERFECT time to panic!"

1. First of all, don't panic! You still had this desire in your heart to be a counselor for a reason. It will pay off. There is an answer out there. 

2. Next, ask yourself, what don't you love about it? Is it just not as fulfilling as you thought it would be? Do you need more training? Is there some other block to success?

3. Then, get better or get out. It is okay to change your mind. If this part of counseling is not what you thought it would be, it's okay to explore a different side. I know you may have already invested a great deal of time or money in developing this area of counseling, and I understand how hard it can be to let that go. But don't think about it as wasted time or money. Think about it as an investment in learning where your place in counseling ultimately is.

If you do still love it, but don't feel good about it, it's time to get better! That may mean certification or additional training that does cost money. It's our responsibility as counselors to be competent in what we practice. But there may be some disciplines that you can develop your skills in without a hefty sum. Have you thought about going to someone who works in your area and seeing if you can sit in with them as they provide counseling services? Beginning the self-study by purchasing a textbook from Amazon, like this one on online counseling I bought when I started practicing online, or this one from experts DeeAnna Merz Nagel and Kate Anthony? It may not make you "competent" to the level you can hang your shingle on it, but it will help you determine whether this is a path you want to pursue and prepare you to sail through further certification with ease!

You don't need a certification for every specialty. For example, I learned I loved working with teenagers alone, as well as teenagers with their parents. My certification in that area became my experience, and my age, which I'll just say is currently between teenagers and their parents' ages.

I worked for the last year as a rape crisis counselor, and discovered quite by accident that I loved the work. My competency in that comes from experience, but in the future I plan to develop further competency in seeking training in TF-CBT (Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy.) As I transition to a new area of Texas, and likely by necessity a new career, I keep up my skills by blogging at Survivor Is A Verb: Letters of Hope and Encouragement for Survivors of Sexual Assault.

What about you? Click here to comment on what challenges you've encountered in finding your niche, and how you've overcome them. Or are you currently stuck on what to do about it? Let us help!