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!