Monthly Archives: October 2006

What I’ve learned along the way

By Angela Kennedy October 7, 2006

Counseling Today asked several American Counseling Association leaders what advice they would share with new professionals and graduate students. Here’s what they had to say.

 

Jane Goodman
ACA Foundation chair; professor emerita of counseling at Oakland University

As a new counselor starting out, what was the hardest lesson you had to learn?

Like so many “helpers,” I wanted to fix things and make people feel better. Allowing clients to struggle and suffer was really a challenge. There was always the desire to reassure, suggest a solution or comfort. I do believe that these desires are sometimes OK, but the trick was to recognize whose needs I was meeting — mine or theirs.

What was the best piece of advice you received as a student or new professional?

Trust the process, trust yourself, trust your clients.

What advice would you like to share with students or new professionals today?

First, the advice I received: Trust the process, trust yourself, trust your clients. Second, learn as much as you can always and as long as you live. Third, ask for help and support when you need it; self-sufficiency is not a sign of strength! Fourth, take care of yourself so you will have the energy and strength to help others take care of themselves.

 

Patricia Arredondo
Immediate past president of ACA; dean of student affairs and professor, Division of Psychology in Education at Arizona State University

As a new counselor starting out, what was the hardest lesson you had to learn?

That working with real clients was a lot harder than clients in practicum and that as much as I wanted to make a difference on behalf of clients, everyone’s life was far more complicated. Beginning to counsel clients is a lesson in humility.

What was the best piece of advice you received as a student or new professional?

Not to personalize clients’ responses or decisions to not return for counseling.

What advice would you like to share with students or new professionals today?

It is a privilege to work with clients because we are sharing “intimacies” that perhaps have not been shared with others. Remember, we are facilitators and conduits to problem-solving, new resources, etc. We are working with “collaborators.”

 

Fred Bemak
Member of the ACA Human Rights Committee; professor of counseling and director of the Diversity Research and Action Center at George Mason University

As a new counselor starting out, what was the hardest lesson you had to learn?

As a new counselor, I was working in low-income, culturally diverse communities and schools with students and families identified as being at high levels of risk. I had to figure out how to transpose my graduate courses to the “real” work that I was doing daily with clients and students who were dealing with racism, poverty, substance abuse, school failure, discrimination, juvenile delinquency and crime, teenage pregnancy, community and domestic violence, etc. Since the majority of my training did not focus on poverty, racism, social justice, discrimination or multicultural counseling, it was important to figure out which theories and skills to apply and which to discard in “real world,” everyday situations.

What was the best piece of advice you received as a student or new professional?

“Write and publish. Write and publish. Write and publish.” I was told this by one of the greats in the field who talked about scholarship as the key to influencing the field and advancing creative ideas and unique new conceptual models and research. This was particularly important since my work emphasized social justice and multicultural counseling — areas during my early days that were far less advanced and recognized in the counseling field.

What advice would you like to share with students or new professionals today?

A few things come to mind. First of all, always be yourself and keep on the path that allows you to maintain your self-respect and integrity. Stay the high road, even in those more confusing and highly charged situations, and at the end of the day you will be able to live with yourself and your loved ones and subsequently be a far better person and professional. Stay honest, strive for clarity, help and give back where you can, take risks, laugh and enjoy the ride, love fully, don’t let fear drive your personal and professional life and decisions, and work toward letting go of ego.

 

Sam Gladding
Past president of ACA (2004-2005); chair, Department of Counseling, Wake Forest University

As a new counselor starting out, what was the hardest lesson you had to learn?

I had to learn that no one theory of counseling works for all clients. I had been steeped in one approach, and it was an eye-opener to discover that some clients do best when you use another theory. Counseling is not like tube socks. One size — and one theory — does not fit all. I also had to learn not to take my clients home with me metaphorically and not to be too serious. In addition, I had to learn to be creative and innovative because counseling is not a mechanical or by-the-numbers profession.

What was the best piece of advice you received as a student or new professional?

Trust your client to let you know how you are doing and trust yourself. Be a professional, but at the same time be a learner. If you listen to your client, he or she will usually let you know if you are getting off track and not being helpful. Through listening it will become clear how much good you are doing in the session. Listen also for the voice within you. It will tell you the direction in which you should go.

What advice would you like to share with students or new professionals today?

Be humble. Even when you have done an excellent job, be humble. You need to always consider yourself as one who is becoming, not one who has arrived. A little hubris goes a long way in getting you into trouble. If you can keep your modesty, you have the means to keep your honesty — with yourself and others — and you will keep developing in a healthy way personally and professionally.

 

Brian S. Canfield
ACA president-elect; professor and associate dean, School of Leadership and Education Sciences at the University of San Diego

As a new counselor starting out, what was the hardest lesson you had to learn?

Realizing that, due to the politics of job competition with other professional groups, counselors did not have access to many jobs for which they were well-qualified. This situation has improved in many states, but more work is needed in order for counselors to practice on parity with other professional groups.

What was the best piece of advice you received as a student or new professional?

Remember that it is our job to “help,” not attempt to control or impose unsolicited change on others. When faced with any moral, legal or ethical dilemma, always base decisions and actions on what is in the best interest of the client. Adherence to this principle will forgive an array of technical and procedural “sins.”

What advice would you like to share with students or new professionals today?

Join and become active in ACA, your state branch and one or more of the divisions of ACA which align with your professional role and interests. These organizations shape the future of the counseling profession and have a direct impact on every counselor’s ability to practice. As members of the counseling profession, membership in these organizations is not just a privilege, it is a responsibility.

 

Wendy K. Enochs
President, Association for Adult Development and Aging; assistant professor and director of the community counseling program, Department of Human Services at Stephen F. Austin State University

As a new counselor starting out, what was the hardest lesson you had to learn?

The hardest lesson for me to learn was that not everyone who voluntarily enters a counseling office really wants to make changes. There may be hidden motives behind their stated objectives. The need for change has to be something the client sees and wants in order for it to be effective and lasting. And while it was hard at first, it is true that sometimes clients only share part of the truth based upon their perceptions or what they believe a counselor wants to hear. In some cases, they will flat out lie, which in and of itself is indicative of an issue.

What was the best piece of advice you received as a student or new professional?

The best piece of advice I received was that a counselor has to care enough to want to make a difference but not so much that one always takes cases home. There are times when one feels helpless, but this is just part of the process. Even small steps can set the stage for large changes in a client’s life later down the road. Ultimately, making changes is the responsibility of the client. Boundary setting is crucial for counselors to maintain their own emotional wellness. Ideally, one should also have a strong support system and friends outside the counseling field as well.

What advice would you like to share with students or new professionals today?

For students, it is important to learn all you can from your classes because you never know when you may need that information. For new professionals, networking through professional organizations is a lifesaver and critical if you want to avoid burnout and stay up-to-date on the most recent developments in the field. Networking also allows one to meet others in the profession and to grow both professionally and personally.

 

Thelma Duffy
Founding president, Association for Creativity in Counseling; associate professor and counseling program director, the University of Texas at San Antonio

As a new counselor starting out, what was the hardest lesson you had to learn?

We have a myriad of roles to negotiate as we begin our work as counselors and counselor educators. As rewarding and fulfilling as they can be, there are times when these roles are also conflicting and confusing. Finding mentors whose values we share, whose actions we hope to emulate and whose visions are inspiring help us clarify our roles and the responsibilities that come with them. One of my hardest lessons in academia was to clarify the style of mentoring that would best foster my growth, and one of my greatest privileges came in securing the mentorship of individuals such as Dr. Lesley Jones who helped me navigate the lessons that are a natural by-product of the work we do.

What was the best piece of advice you received as a student or new professional?

Dr. Jones encouraged me to follow my passion and to trust myself. She had unfailing faith in her mentees and encouraged us to set our sights on professional activities that would inspire us and that would provide us with the relational opportunities we so enjoyed. Although she was a team player who enjoyed compromise and collaboration, she was also resolute in her position that we not compromise our integrity or our values in the service of conformity or ease. She modeled ways of doing the “hard thing” in ways that promoted courage, confidence and the greater good.

What advice would you like to share with students or new professionals today?

Connect with others, access your creativity, assume risks and invest with your heart. We belong to a profession that can bring with it immeasurable experiences of joy, meaning and satisfaction. Love what you do. This is a wonderful profession! With others, we have the potential to co-create dreams that promote good will, mutual understanding and shared passion. By working together, we have an opportunity to create our unique vision for the profession — one that builds community and opportunities for the clients we serve. No doubt, it is in relation to others that we take our vision to a place of action.