Friday, February 27, 2015

SAQ, Part 2: How To Be A "Real-World Authority"

Last week you may remember I wrote about the questions I thought that Beginning Counselors should be asking (SAQ) instead of the questions that are most frequently asked (FAQ.) While I don’t blame you – I certainly didn’t know I needed to ask these questions, I want you to thrive as a Beginning Counselor, not just survive.

This week’s “should-ask” question is “What do I need to do now to become a real-world authority on the needs of my clients?”

What do I mean by Real World Authority”? Well, fresh out of school, we know theory and academia inside and out. We don’t often know, though, what else is going on outside of this. In other words, we don’t know what is going on in the real world.

Our clients will turn to other people and resources outside of our services before coming to us. Sometimes, they will want to use those resources in conjunction with our services as well. If you don’t know what resources they are using, you are putting yourself and your clients at a major disadvantage.

If you don’t know what your clients are reading, who they’re listening to, and what else they’ve already tried to do to help their problem, then you don’t know:
  • What assumptions they’ve taken in about the way things are…some of which may be completely contrary to your methods of counseling or even established scientific facts.
  • What level of knowledge they already have about the subject at hand; they may be more advanced than you are expecting, or perhaps their knowledge is more basic than you've realized.
  • How you can develop the skills and techniques you offer them in contrast to those other resources that they are using, giving them a different value for their time and effort than what they’ve already experienced.
  • Whether you need to warn them about certain choices they are making. (Did you know that taking St. John’s Wort – a common ‘natural’ remedy for mild to moderate depression – in conjunction with other medications, such as birth control, can render them ineffective? That’s certainly valuable to be able to share that information with someone who doesn’t want to get pregnant!)
Every counselor needs to have a strong working knowledge of what resources are available to their clients to solve their problems in addition to their services as a counselor. Pop quiz: would you know what to say in response to any of the following questions?

If you don’t know what quality resources are out there to enhance your therapy work, then you risk:

  • Having both you and your client work harder than would be necessary if they took advantage of some of the other things that are out there for them.
  • Losing valuable talking points that can come from introducing another’s ideas into the therapeutic conversation.
  • Overlooking helpful homework assignments.
  • Providing care in a way you can’t on your own. (Therapeutic tools, alternative methods of healing, and so forth.)

It takes TIME to develop these knowledge bases, however. Which is why the perfect time to start for you is NOW. Here’s how you can start making that happen, today.

First, choose a general area to start researching. If you know who you want to work with specifically, you have a bit of a head start, because you can narrow down your research to that major area or topic. But if you’re not sure which group you want to work with, don’t despair.  You can still do your research, your topic will just be a bit broader.

Then, ask yourself two questions:
  1. How will they look for help?
  2. What will they not know to look for?
Discovering the answers to these questions and compiling a shortlist of recommended resources will be how you can become a real-world authority for your clients. As a result, you'll be a more informed  - and more effective counselor. 

I realize though, that this is easier said than done. Which is why I'm providing a little extra help. I've created a free 2-page worksheet for you that you can use to help you on your way to being a Real World Authority. Click here to instantly download.

Was this second SAQ helpful to you? Do you have any questions about becoming a Real World Authority? Post in the comment section below!


Thursday, February 19, 2015

Not a FAQ...A SAQ!

That is, the questions you should be asking as a beginning counselor.

When you're don't know what you don't know...obviously.

That means, you don't know what questions you SHOULD be asking to get the answers you want or need to thrive as a Beginning Counselor.

Here's one of the questions I wish I'd asked when I started out...and you should start thinking about RIGHT NOW!

What kind of counseling do I want to do?

Preparing for an agency job is different than preparing for a private practice. In the former, you want to start understanding the nuances of nonprofits and social work aspects of agency-style counseling. Things like, how to qualify work you do in terms of a grant proposal. (Unless your organization's grant writer is also a counselor, he or she will be asking you to help them create solutions that can be legitimately covered by grant writing, without sacrificing the integrity of your work.)

For agency work, you also want to prepare how to make your counseling valuable for people who aren't paying for it, or aren't paying very much for it. We will value less what we don't pay for, and if the clients aren't paying for it, they risk not absorbing the full value of counseling. We don't want that! But there are options to increase the client investment in counseling when the counseling is free. Options like: enforcing time boundaries, not rescheduling within 48 hours for last-minute cancels, expecting homework responses, and so on...

If you want to end up in private practice, your time is best spent in learning about the business of private practice. I hear a lot of questions about how to get on insurance panels, but that's not the hard part. The hard part is how to find out which panels are the "good ones" for your area and how to create a billing system that doesn't end up costing you more than it earns you in time and effort.

You also want to invest time in learning about marketing your practice. How do you engage clients in a way that feels non-slimy? What do you do when you "throw a party" and no one shows up? How do you network with referral sources without them shutting you down or hanging up the phone?

In addition to preparing for the different work settings, now is also a great time for you to start figuring out what kind of counseling topics you want to handle and what kinds of clients you want to serve. I can hear you panicking right now...please know, this doesn't mean that you have to make a permanent decision now. Far from it. In fact, your interests and desires will evolve over the course of your career. But you do need to pick SOMETHING and start exploring your interests.

Why? Because there will be other counselors applying for your desired agency job, and the one with specific experience in that agency's area (domestic violence, drug & alcohol, etc.) will likely be the one who gets the job. Another why...if you're marketing yourself in private practice, you need a "hook" to start attracting clients to your door - the right clients. In fact, it is my belief that the counselor who markets to a specific group - no matter WHICH group it is - gets 2-3 times the client referrals of the counselor who markets to everyone.

In summary, ask yourself what kind of counseling you want to do now in regards to:

  • Agency vs. Private Practice
  • Populations You Wish To Serve
  • Types of Mental Health Issues

If you do, you'll:
  • See more clients OR be more likely to get the job.
  • Be able to prepare NOW for your business or future agency career (rather than waiting till you have no free time and desperately need a paycheck to prepare.)
  • Have better skills with your clients from Day One - rather than running into things you didn't expect. 
  • Feel better about yourself. 
That is why I think that this is a "SHOULD-BE-ASKED" question.

What do you think?

Do you think there's value in asking yourself this question now? Would you like to see more "SAQs" in the future? Post your answer below!

Thursday, February 5, 2015

When The Counseling Field Sucks

There are times when I'm just so disappointed in our profession.

Like when an intern tells me that his group steals clients he pays to attract.

Or when supervisors tell student counselors gossip about clients.

Or the fact that we have tons of training and yet might be subject to lawsuits if we practice life coaching over state lines, while untrained, unlicensed life coaches can do the same with much less liability.

I can think of a half-a-dozen more things to complain about in the field of counseling. Legitimate things. The invasion of privacy by insurance companies. The questionable choices made in the DSM-V. The lack of business training in counselor education. The poor compensation offered most counseling interns, after exiting a prohibitively expensive educational path.

You can probably add your own. There's a lot to be frustrated with about this field. I'm sure there are similar frustrations with every field  - but in some ways the injustices and complications are harder to accept within the world of counseling.

Has it ever felt that way to you?

It has to me, because I tend to feel that since we're doing a good thing - helping people heal emotional wounds - we should be supported in that effort.

Even as I write that, I think how entitled that sounds! We should get a break, why, because we're "good people?"

The truth is what we all know but struggle to accept when it applies to us. Life's not fair and sometimes good is not rewarded in the way we expect.

Yep, there's a lot of things that aren't fair about the counseling profession - or counselor training - right now. 

So what are we going to do about it? 

If you agree that this situation isn't where it should be, you have three options (at least the way I see it).
  1. Leave the profession. Sadly, that's what some counselors do. I sympathize - but I hate it!
  2. Stay in the profession and grow bitter. Unfortunately, that's what a lot of you guys tell me in confidence that the older counselors around you have done!
  3. Claim your internal locus of control, and refuse to let the circumstances dictate your ability to do your job as you were called to do it.
    • Lobby for change. 
    • Leave managed care if you can't come to a satisfactory agreement. 
    • Charge no-show rates or private pay alongside more inexpensive options, or instead of those options if that's what you must do to be in business.
    • Hold clients to accountability if that's what's best for them. 
    • And so forth!

Think that's impossible? Honestly, if you lead with your values and your calling it is absolutely possible. Let me give you some examples:
  • Your state suggests a law that potentially reduces access to counseling care in rural or underserved areas. Spread the word and change the law like we as a beginning counselor community did in August 2013.
  • Your managed care company demands that you justify your client's treatment in more detail than you know is ethical to share with the representative. (It happened to me.) Explain to your client the situation and have them reach out to the insurance company to share the info, if they so choose, or offer a reduced rate to forgo managed care altogether. 
  • Your client calls 15 minutes late to cancel for the second time in a row. Add the no-show rate to your bill, explaining, "I understand, but as we discussed that means that the time is still billed to you because we have to have 24 hours notice." Your agency won't let you charge? Wait a few days or a week before you reschedule, so that they client learns to value this time as much as you do. 
I'd guess those last two examples might cause indignation or fear. It seems like we're being mean when we put up boundaries with clients, but unless we're only doing it to be mean, we're not. Ultimately, it's healthier for clients if we have strong boundaries driven by concern for their best. It's not good for a client's secrets to be at the mercy of a managed care corporation. And the client gets nothing out of therapy if they don't show or they don't respect it. And so on...

In my experience, you the interns are the most generous and ethical of all of us. The only thing that you don't realize is that it's okay to ask for what is right on behalf of you, and on behalf of your clients. You don't think you know enough or have enough experience to justify it. 

Maybe you don't. But what would it hurt to ask yourself (the next time you come across a situation that feels odd or unfair, even unethical) "What can I do to make this better for myself and my clients?" 

"What might it help?" 

Have you ever been in a situation where you knew the right thing to do, but lacked confidence in yourself to do it? How did you deal with it? Share with us below!