Counseling Today asked Gerald “Jerry” Corey, professor emeritus of human services and counseling at California State University at Fullerton, to share some keys to help beginning counselors establish a strong foundation for their careers. Corey provided the following tips, adapted from his Education Session “Is There Life After Graduate School?” which he presented to graduate students and new professionals at the American Counseling Association Conference in Honolulu in March.
One of the main points I try to leave students with is to have the courage to create a vision of the kind of personal and professional life they would like to have and then to work hard at making this actually happen. I encourage them to trust in themselves and not be derailed by any setback they may encounter, either academically or in their personal life.
Here are some other key points:
- Never let discouragement get the best of you. You may experience setbacks and you may doubt in your own ability to become an effective counselor. However, do not let these negative thoughts get the best of you. Look at obstacles as challenges to be overcome and the building blocks you can use to get to where you want to be. You can ask others for support and encouragement when you feel like giving up.
- Seek out at least one mentor. Take the initiative to talk with some of your professors and see how you can get involved in projects with them. You might be able to assist in their research projects, assist them in some way in their teaching or participate in writing a journal article. Ask them about professional conventions they might be attending. See if there is a way that you might present with them on a conference program.
- Learn the art of networking. Build alliances with your peers and with students who have recently graduated from your program. Ask them for suggestions of how to get involved in a career.
- Look for ways to get involved in volunteer work in the area of your interests. You might be able to link your volunteering efforts with a fieldwork placement in a school or agency setting. Many students have secured their first full-time positions in mental health through their volunteer work or their fieldwork placement. Even if you do not get a job as a result of your volunteering or placement, the chances are good that you will discover if a particular line of work is suitable for you.
- Attend local, state, regional and national professional conferences. At most of these conferences, you will have opportunities to talk with people who are employing recent graduates. On your campus, the chances are that there is a career day where you can meet people who are hiring counselors in a community agency. Be sure to take advantage of this kind of resource on your campus.
- Don’t interpret making mistakes as failure. Understand that your learning will be limited if you are not open to making mistakes. Do your best to learn from mistakes. Be open to talking about your perceived mistakes during your supervision sessions or with your professor or trusted peers.
- Seek out a variety of self-exploration experiences, especially individual and group therapy, for these experiences can enable you to make significant changes in your life. Your own therapy can be your best teacher in learning how to effectively counsel clients. Remember that it is not the big changes that are necessarily significant. Instead, it is your willingness to take small steps that will lead to continued growth. Only you can change your own ways of thinking, feeling and doing.
- Make the time to read books that will broaden your academic understanding and enrich you personally. Along with your reading, keep a personal journal. This will be a good way to keep track of what you are doing and where you are going.
- Establish long-term goals and shorter-term goals, along with a timeline for accomplishing specific tasks. Learn time management and apply these skills to meeting your projects.
- Reflect on ways that you can make a difference in the lives of others and what special talents you have that you can put to the service of others.
- Learn to establish good professional boundaries with your clients, coworkers and administrators. In your profession, many demands may be made of you. What is important is to keep focused on your own priorities. It will be important to say “no” to requests at times if you are to keep from being spread too thin. If you are able to establish appropriate boundaries in your personal life, you are more likely to maintain appropriate boundaries as a professional.
- Take care of yourself in all ways. If you do not learn and practice self-care, you will not last long in the counseling profession. If you find yourself saying you don’t have time to take care of yourself, then re-evaluate your priorities and determine the direction your behavior is taking you.
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