Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Your First Blog, or, Beginning Counselor Goes Meta

1. (of a creative work) referring to itself or the to the conventions of its genre; self-referential.

This will be a blog about blogging.

But not just any blogging - the Beginning Counselor's First Blog. Prepare for the meta-strophe. 


We'll work on that.

That, in itself, represents one of my first tips about blogging today. Draw the reader in by an unexpected set of images or ideas, questions, or a personal story. Why?

Why would anyone want to keep reading after a question is posed?

Why would one want to save the "meat" of the blog for later and keep the engaging stuff up front?

I think you've just experienced my answer. 

Questions beg to be answered. Stories plead to be finished. Oddities need to be explained.

It's why people keep reading.

After this is the time when you can get into the main part of the blog, like answering the question, why would a beginning counselor need a blog post about blogging just for them?

We hear all the time how important blogging is - it tells Google your website isn't dead and abandoned, for one, so that Google keeps sending people your way. 

For another, it's a way for clients to 'sample' your work before coming into session with you. Do you know how many people read my blog before deciding to become my client? (I don't. Would you tell me if you figure it out?) It's safe to say, though, it's a lot. 

Because blogging gives clients a sample of who you are, it's important for our profession that you give them an accurate sample of who you are. In real life, I do not talk to people in an opening paragraph, three middle paragraphs, and a concluding summarization. 

So why would I write a blog that way?

I also do not speak in a teeny tiny little voice that no one can hear or try to blend in my voice with the ambient noise in the room. 

So why would I make my print teeny-tiny or blend the colors of my words in with the background of my blog? Wouldn't it be better if instead I made them stand out? 

Do I start every counseling relationship with an introduction to myself and my counseling philosophy? 

Then why would my first blog post be about, "This is my first blog post I decided to write because I offer cognitive-behavioral therapy to people with blah blah blah blah blah..."

What, you didn't want to finish that sentence either?

There's no need to write an introductory blog post for the first time. That's what the about page is for. Just like if clients care how you practice therapy, they will ask about it, if blog readers care about why you do what you do they will go to your bio page. Trying to write that will just bore you to death. Focus on content instead.

Do you know who you're writing to when you write a blog post? If you don't, that's probably why you can't write one. Part of the reason I have one...two...three....four? Four and a half? other blogs is that a) I'm probably a little ADHD and b) each blog is to a different person. 

You're reading this blog because you're a new counselor.

You might appreciate, but would not connect with, my blog for survivors of sexual assault & abuse

That's okay. That's why it's on a different blog. 

It can really help to picture a person you're writing to and/or answering a question for when you're writing a blog post. That helps it be written more quickly, because it's like you're writing them an email. But because you're focused on a question, you don't go all off-base or emo. Most of the time. 

Just like you wouldn't come to your session with a client in your pajamas with broccoli in your teeth, it's important to present a good image of yourself in your blog. Get a good image....

like so
and it can really stick in your reader's mind more than any individual word or phrase has done. In fact, it can be a tool later on to help them find that blog post they liked.

I have searched through blog archives more than once for "that blog that was so good with the picture of the man frowning on it." 

And just as you wouldn't tell your client all about yourself and then say, "oh, well, that was the end of our session today, see you never," you don't want to ignore the comments section of your blog if you can help it. People are nice enough to talk to you, you want to talk back! It's what gets people from thinking, "that therapist sounds kind of smart, maybe I should employ him/her" to "I need to call them, because they like me, they really, really like me!"

Comments are the lifeblood of a blog post. You know how "good" a post is by the number of comments, in many cases. (Sometimes with us this isn't true because of the sensitive nature of our posts. See my other blog for an example. If there's another good reason why people wouldn't post a comment, this rule doesn't apply.)

So, to get comments going, you can try one or two things:

You can say something about what's coming next, like:

Since April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month, look ahead for a special series next month, Treating Survivors of Sexual Violence: Topics for Therapists. 

April 2: Your Sexual Trauma Client: The Reality of Their Experience. 
April 9: Words That Oppress, Words That Heal: The Power of Language in Sexual Trauma Therapy
April 16: To Tell The Story or Not To Tell The Story? The Question of Uncovering the Abuse Story in Sexual Trauma Therapy.
April 23: Goals of Sexual Trauma Therapy: When Are You "Done?"

(Yes, this is actually coming in April. Stay tuned.)

Telling people about what's coming next can prompt excited comments, like: 

"Oh my goodness that series sounds amazing!"

"Can't wait to learn more about providing trauma therapy!"

Go ahead and add your excited comments to this post now. I'll wait.

You can also end a blog post with a question hanging in the air. That's almost guaranteed to provoke a comment or two. No need to keep going afterwards or provide a wrap-up sentence. Not really. People are scanning these things anyway. They'll only go back and read in more detail if what you said really resonates with them. Instead, just drop the question and leave. Let the question do its' work, like so:

"After reading this blog post, what questions do you still have about writing an amazing blog post that will give clients a realistic picture of the services you have to offer?"

Comment below! 

Thursday, March 20, 2014

What's Your Dream?

One of my favorite things about Beginning Counselor is that we support each others' dreams. This is something I wanted for us from the beginning, but it hasn't come about due to me - it's something you guys have done completely on your own. And I love it!

Now, you can find that kind of support on Pinterest. I've created a secret board just for Beginning Counselors to share their dreams, inspiration, and support for one another. 

This secret board will be a place for all of us to share things like:

  • Trainings & certifications we want to pursue.
  • Office setup & decor ideas for our future workplaces!
  • Projects & charities we want to support.
  • Counseling-related changes we want to support.
  • Inspirational quotes we believe in.
  • Goals we want accountability on.
  • Blog posts that teach us creative techniques.
  • Resources for future practice.

In other words, it's a place where you share your dreams for the future!

If dreaming is a step in planning, the more we share with one another - in a safe, private, encouraging environment - the more likely we are to see our dreams realized.

Here's an example of my dream pins for you to take inspiration from.

This article discusses the two remaining “building blocks to counselor license portability" and what needs to happen to remove them. Dream: Common licensure title, scope of practice, and education requirements.

This is what keeps me going as a counselor. Dream: To focus my practice on helping people avoid giving up on their dreams!

Dream: Inspirational office decor!

I can't wait to see what kinds of pins you share that inspire you! 

Here's how you get started:

[A note before beginning: Every Beginning Counselor is welcome, but since it's a secret board (so we can all feel safe to share our hopes and dreams) there is a bit of a process to joining! But hey, it wouldn't be special and exclusive if it was totally easy to join....]

Joining the BeginningCounselor Dream Board
 on Pinterest.

The first step is to follow me on Pinterest. This isn't just a cheap way for me to increase my followers, but also makes it easier when it comes to inviting you to join our board. 

Second, comment on the blog below (if you're reading this in your email, just click here to go to the main blog page) and say "add me!" If you've done the first step correctly, I will be connected to your name on Pinterest already and be able to easily add you. 

This is me typing in Tamara's name to add her to the board. This is what I will do for you after you comment.

PLEASE NOTE: If your name is not included in your Pinterest account, for whatever reason, you will need to let me know the name of your Pinterest account in your "add me" comment. 

To reiterate: 1) Follow me. 2) Comment on this post: "add me" plus your name if not in your Pinterest account. 

Let the pinning begin!

P.S. Have questions about secret boards? Pinterest has written a post with all the answers!
P.P.S. This board will remain secret at all times so that it is exclusive to us. New pinners will have to follow the same procedure as you to join us.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Do Counselor Regulations Promote Client Abandonment?

Does this sound familiar to you? Your practicum is complete. You graduate and take the NCE/NCMHCE or take the NCE/NCMHCE and then graduate. But then everything stops when you've graduated until your paperwork is approved by the state board to obtain your temporary license to practice. A period of time which can take 2-4 months, depending on when you are allowed to take your exam. (In my case, I graduated May 15, took my exam first week in July, then got my LPC-I in late August.) 

2-4 months at a time in which most experts agree you cannot legally be allowed to see clients.

So if you're continuing at your practicum site into your internship, that means you're in essence abandoning clients for that period of time - no matter their situation - and then may or may not be able to work with them again in the future. 

That means they have to be shuffled to someone else or simply wait on that work until you come back. If (as is true for many practicum sites) they are clients who have suffered trauma and abandonment many times over, they may assume that this is a "sign" that they don't deserve help and should sign off from seeking it ever again. 

Think I'm exaggerating? I can't count the number of people I've heard that from when something goes wrong with a counseling appointment. That might be a situation in which insurance coverage is denied, appointment times are miscommunicated, the counselor or client moves, or the student counselor enters the dead zone between graduation and temporary licensure. These are clients hanging on by a thread to the idea that they can get help, and it doesn't take much to let it snap.


Legally, all that is required to avoid "client abandonment" is that you help make arrangements for the client to see another competent counselor when you are unable to provide those services. So it isn't that you are legally abandoning a client when you take off after graduation. 

It also isn't as if we can never promise a client there won't be circumstances in which we can't see them - we will have to relocate sometimes, or we need to take a vacation or take maternity leave, or we face an illness - but these are life interruptions, not institutional interruptions.

This is an interruption in care that can be avoided. 

How? Well, what if, instead of creating an unnecessary gap in care, as a profession we created a legal solution that is safe for both clients and more consistent with the needs of graduating therapists? I'm not claiming by any means to have all the answers, but I do have a few ideas...

  • Allow for a provisional application to temporary licensing status, i.e. the student counselor approaching graduation can apply based on plans to graduate, and plans to pass the state exam. A time period could be set within which the counselor MUST meet these requirements or have their provisional license revoked along with any accompanying hours. A supervisor agreement would be required so that under no circumstances would a student counselor be practicing without proper guidance. In order to qualify, student counselors would have to have satisfactory performance in practicum classes and obtain the recommendation of leadership in their graduate programs. 
  • In keeping with the current system, students could continue to apply for assessment and/or temporary licensing after graduation. But state counseling boards could implement an automatic extension of 3-4 months after graduation in which counselors can count hours and more importantly be allowed to continue relationships with existing clients. Again, a supervisor agreement would be required, and if the exam wasn't passed or graduation could not be substantiated, the counselor would be subject to having licensure revoked, along with hours. 
  • Improvements could be made to the licensing application process, allowing electronic submission of applications and application components to the state board, along with automatic reporting of passing test scores to the state board. (They report GRE scores to graduate schools...why not this?)
I am all for accountability. In fact, it would be good to enact strong penalties in a situation like this for noncompliance, so as to discourage the abuse of such a provision. But if we are truly committed to client welfare, as an organization of professionals, I would argue that we need to seriously consider changing situations like this one. 

In this case, and in others, current regulation is out of touch with the needs of the average client. An example of this was the recent proposed revision to the Texas LPC rules requiring that online counseling clients first be required to meet in person with a client, a proposition that would have created unnecessary roadblocks to some client groups. Thankfully, the LPC board graciously listened to the state counselors when we rose together to vote against what we felt was an issue of mental health parity. 

What else could we accomplish if we simply let more people in authority know what we see as important in the practice of our profession?

One definition of abandonment is to leave and never return to someone who needs help. If our leaving the client is due to a situation that could be avoided, like this one, isn't that a kind of systematic sanction of abandonment? Please understand, I do not think this is the way anyone intends it to be. But if we let it go unrecognized, it seems we are sanctioning it by default.

I am not strong on the process it would take to reform a rule like this one. I do not know if it would need to be addressed state by individual state or at a level such as the American Counseling Association or American Mental Health Counselor Association. It is also my understanding that the same rules affect marriage and family therapists, who follow a different but similar path to licensure. Regulation changes made only at the state mental health counselor level would not help LMFTs, as it's a separate licensing track. 

Though I do not know any of this, I do think I know the next step. And that is simply to see if I am the only one who is bothered by this state of affairs. Because if so, than I can deal. It actually no longer affects me personally, since I have my LPC license. 

But it does bother me on your behalf. And on behalf of the clients you see. 

If you feel the same way, then we can find together a way to start getting the issue noticed. The ACA offers an action center at which to contact our officials regarding important issues. We could draft a letter to our state licensure boards. We could also seek advice from social and nonprofit organizations who have successfully petitioned for changes before. 

We could do it.

I can't. 

So what do you want to happen next? 

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Top 5 Ways NOT To Find a Quality Supervisory Relationship

We recently discussed "7 Ways To Start The Search For The Perfect Clinical Supervisor." (Looking now? Email me about supervisors accepting applications in Richardson & Arlington, TX.) 

But finding names to call is only the start. After that, you have to contact them, follow up, hopefully gain an interview and then secure the job. These goals will be seriously compromised if you give this process anything less than your best. 

That's why we're taking today to talk about what not to do if you're hoping to find that awesome, positive, and professional successful partnership with a quality supervisor. 

I bring these up because unfortunately, I've seen people making these mistakes a time or two, and even done some of them myself. Some of the items on this list represent actual errors that cost a student counselor their opportunity to work with the supervisor they applied to. 

I don't want that to be you. So for each "do not" on the list, I've included a special simple solution - a quick and easy fix that anyone can use to overcome an accidental blunder like this.

Here's your list of what NOT to do if you want to find a quality supervisory relationship. 
  1. First, do not wait too long to contact a potential supervisor after you locate a likely prospect. Windows of opportunity open and close very quickly in this arena. An intern may be accepted in a matter of weeks and then the position's no longer available. Good news for that intern, not so great for you if you thought you had more time. Simple Solution: If you see someone who is advertising for an opening now, jump on it! 
  2. Second, do not NOT do your research. If a supervisor is stating they're only seeking play therapy trainees on their website and you don't do play therapy, you will only annoy them. And that reputation can get around. Simple Solution: Google, LinkedIn, Psychology Today and the supervisor's website. You can do a quick survey of all of those in 20 minutes or less and it will usually tell you all you need to know.
  3. Three, do not send a mass cover letter. People can always tell it's generic. Like those auto-LinkedIn or Twitter messages that go out when you connect or follow someone. I can tell in the first few words whether it's a real person writing to me or an auto response. Simple Solution: Create a few stock paragraphs that you can reuse, such as what kind of therapy you do and what makes you different. But tailor the opening and closing to the particular recipient. 
  4. Four, do not have spelling mistakes in your mass-covr leter. (That you shouldn't be sending anyway.) Sprvisors will notice this and it makes you look badlee. Simple Solution: Have 2-3 people read a letter and/or resume before you send it out.
  5. Five, do not make the mistake of thinking you have nothing to offer if you don't have counseling experience already. Potential supervisors can't see your value if you don't first know your value for yourself. Simple Solution: Make a list of transferrable skills and similar experiences you have, and practice talking about them. 
What do you think about these 5 do nots? If you are a supervisor, is there anything you'd add to this to help other student counselors have better success in securing the right supervisory relationship?