Thursday, January 30, 2014

Who Are You? Part One.

Have you ever felt afraid that when you start your first counseling gig, that you won't have enough clients? Have you worried about your clients coming to appointments with you and then deciding your work "wasn't worth it?" 

The way I always pictured these scenarios in my head was a bit like Mean Girls. I'd be the new girl trying too hard to impress, and the clients would take one look at me, sigh in disgust, and then show me the hand as they walk out the door. 

When I sit down and spell it out like that, it seems ridiculous! But I'm betting I'm not the only one who has ever felt that way. 

The more I coach Beginning Counselors, the more I'm convinced there a single underlying issue to all Beginning Counselor concerns. Identity.

Whether it's a question of, 'how do I talk to a client who thinks I'm too young,' or 'what do I charge for sessions,' or 'how do I get on EAPs,' what you're all asking underneath that is 'what kind of a counselor am I going to be?'

Each little piece - and there's SO many of them - makes up a small bit of you the practitioner. 

Entering any new career is a point at which a reconstruction has to begin, of yourself as the individual to yourself as the professional. But what is unique to the counseling profession is the very personal nature of our work. 

When a client rejects what you have to offer, it feels like they're rejecting you. 

When they don't complete their homework, you wonder how you could have been more compelling.

When you can't answer a question, you feel like you've let them down.

This is very different from the kind of job in which you only have to communicate that "we're out of the special sauce." That's not to say those kinds of jobs aren't just as hard in a different way, but it's not something you're going to take personally. When you can't offer someone something they want from counseling, however, you take it very personally indeed. 

You feel like you've failed, because you've wrapped up so much of your identity in a multitude of things that change from day to day. How you feel that morning. How a client acts. Whether you keep things on a tight timetable, or know the right words to say. It's exhausting. If your identity as a counselor is in external results then you will be tossed around by the events of the day. 

But many counselors set themselves up this way without even realizing it...especially the new ones. When we're new, we're searching for feedback constantly on how we're doing. And because we don't have the experience yet to balance negative feedback with the bigger picture, we tend to take the worst perspective when it's presented to us.

When a client doesn't come back, we think, "Of course not. I completely screwed up when they dropped that big bombshell. Why would they come back?"

When we list our brand-new practice on Psychology Today, and don't get a single call for a few weeks, we think, "Of course not. Who would want to get help from me?"

Please tell me I'm not the only one who's ever had those dark thoughts. Though thankfully they grow more rare the longer I work in this field, I have to say I thought things like this quite frequently during my early days. 

It sucks to feel that way. This is your dream, and instead of feeling hopeful and useful, you feel like you've made a big mistake thinking you were good enough to enter this field.

Here's the thing. With time, you will see this is not the case. You will see how you were needed and meant to share what you have to offer. 

But that doesn't really help when you're feeling it right now.

Now you just think you're someone who makes idiotic mistakes and you blame yourself for everything that can possibly go wrong in a counseling session.

So how can you help yourself with these feelings right now?

The answer is the same as the problem. Identity.

If you don't know who you are as a counselor, you have nothing to combat the self-doubt that comes. 

When you know who you are and why you're here, though. That's when you're unstoppable. 

Fortunately, you don't have to wait several years to develop this on your own. There is something for you, right now, that helps you move from self-doubt into secure self-confidence.

You're not going to believe what it is.

Tune in next week for the answer....

In the meantime, share with us: have you ever felt doubt in your professional abilities? What did you to that helped it?