A few years ago, I applied for the position as director of a student services department at the university where I am employed. I had worked in the department for several years and felt qualified for the position. I prepared for the interview; I had several ideas to enhance student services, stay connected with students, impact retention, and improve processes. I had worked well with students, and really honed my skills as a counselor. I was very disappointed when I was turned down for the promotion. The hiring committee selected an outside person who had more “management experience,” but did not have a counseling background. They wanted someone that was good with numbers, data and documenting results. Although I had a wealth of academic counseling experience, I did not have any management experience on my resume.
Shortly after this setback an assistant registrar position became available on campus. The person in this role would be working behind the scenes on things like the university course schedule, the academic calendar and registration. If I was selected for this position, I would find myself working in-depth with the student information system, but having little interaction with students. However, I would also be managing personnel.
It took me several days to turn in my application, as I was torn. I adored the interaction and work I did with the registrar’s office. They were a great team, and they were wonderful people. It was a great office in which to get that entry-level management experience. Yet I would leave the work I loved, working one-on-one with students, helping them with their career and academic decisions, something I truly loved. On top of that, I was pursuing a doctorate in counselor education. I have hopes of obtaining a faculty position and teaching counseling. If I took this job, I was afraid I would be perceived as not being a counselor or as not using my counseling skills. How would I answer the question, “What can you tell me about your counseling experience?” Would I be able to move back into counseling in a few years and work with people again? I feared this question at future job interviews. On the other hand, I would gain hiring, disciplining, scheduling, budget, and project management experience and be able to document it. These were all the skills I had not been able to offer for the previous position. Therefore, I hemmed and hawed, back and forth, back and forth. In the end, I sat down and reviewed the pros and cons. I discussed my decision with my family. After deliberating at length, I applied for the position, interviewed, and was hired. I transferred to my new post with the potential fear that I would lose my counselor identity.
Over the past three years, I have had many wonderful opportunities in my role as assistant registrar. I’ve been able to act as a change agent. My staff and I have reviewed policies and practices, updated procedures, and have restructured the office to improve work flow and productivity. We have launched new projects and have successfully enhanced the student services we provide. I work with some of the best people in the registrar business. I have gained some very valuable experience as a manager. I have been on committees and subcommittees that have really reshaped the face of the university. I have been involved in some new, exciting projects that moved the school forward. I have gained a greater understanding of how the university works from a different perspective. All this and I have been mentored by some great leaders and supervisors.
However, at times I questioned myself: Am I still a counselor? Often, my position requires me to be frank and directive, not empathic, which is the direct opposite of the core values taught to me in my counseling coursework. In order to maintain my counseling connection, I began to supervise new counseling professionals. I would help out in the student services areas to discuss schooling, career choices, and goals with students in passing and give them words of encouragement. When confronted by others who said that I am not a counselor, I would reply that I use my counseling skills on a daily basis. I listen to faculty express their dismay about room constraints and their unhappiness with structural issues. I help brainstorm solutions with higher administration and offer assistance. I help students that are in a rough situation connect to the resources on campus. I work with departmental administrative assistants to trouble shoot miscommunication between students and university personnel. On any given day I listen, I confront, I gently nudge, I troubleshoot, and I reflect on issues with a variety of people. Although I tell myself, “I am a counselor,” at times I feel like a fake and that everyone else was right. I use the skills, but I’m not counseling. I’m not helping students. I continued to fear that I would not be hired into a faculty position because I didn’t have the right experience.
Recently, the chair of the counseling department asked if I would like to teach a brand new course. The class is an undergraduate counseling course that lets students survey the field. I had helped formulate the course, and would be the first instructor. Again, I found myself in a hemming and hawing situation. This experience would add to my C.V., but I had finally begun to make movement on my dissertation. All through the doctoral program, faculty advised us to eliminate distractions and focus on our dissertation. They stated a completed dissertation is the best dissertation. For me, writing and research were finally coming together. Again, I discussed the decision with family. After a long deliberation, I weighed the pros and cons. I felt this teaching assignment would help me feel like a counselor again. I would also have recent experience when applying for faculty positions. I figured I could lose a little sleep this semester, work my 40 hour per week job, teach a course and work on my dissertation. I agreed to teach the course.
One of my first tasks was to select a textbook. I am not sure I have ever been trained on selecting a textbook. I went to the various publishers’ websites and ordered several textbook samples. I happened to discover Granello and Young’s Counseling Today: Foundations in Professional Identity. The book appeared to be a great fit. The course I was teaching was titled “Foundations of Counseling.” Granello and Young do an exceptional job of showcasing the diversity of the counseling field by providing interviews from professionals in a wide variety of roles. The students would get an inside look as they began to explore what counselors really do for a living.
Before the semester started I began reading the text and preparing lectures and class activities. The initial class went well and I was looking forward to the next. For the second week of class, we studied Chapter 2: What do Counselors Do? Granello and Young provide a list of 20 tasks that counselors do. They start with the typical tasks that students think of when they think of a counselor: therapist, group leader, and diagnostician. They go on from there to list other responsibilities such as consultant, administrator, and record keeper. As we transitioned from the helping roles into the administrative roles, the students interested waned. Yet, my interest peaked as I started to realize, “I am a counselor! I am still a counselor!” Although my title doesn’t reflect counselor, I am still a professional counselor, where I transitioned into an administrative role. It was an overwhelming excitement to see in writing how I still fit within a profession I am passionate about.
On a daily basis I act as a consultant on a variety of topics to a variety of people on campus. I assist in solving student and faculty concerns to help provide a better educational experience. I serve as administrator to the backbone of the institution: the academic schedule. I am also a record keeper. I maintain the records for the university, document proper retention, and ensure all guidelines are followed. Granello and Young state that counselors act as mediators and advocates of social change. I often get called into meetings between departments and serve as a mediator to ensure all parties are provided with the resources they need, particularly when there is a dramatic need for a late room change. I also advocate for students and ensure that those with accessibility concerns can get into the classroom and are provided with the space they need to learn. After reviewing the list with the class, the students stated they did not want to do many of the tasks I enjoy doing every day. As a future counselor educator, I will be able to give a broader insight to this non-typical role that counselors can do.
For the last three years, I have questioned my professional counseling identity. My job title seemed to reflect a very different occupation. It took an introduction to counseling course to remind me of who I am. I am a counselor.
Paul Battle is the assistant registrar of registration and student services, a lecturer in the Department of Counseling and a doctoral candidate at Oakland University in Rochester, Michigan. He is a licensed professional counselor in Michigan. He can be contacted at email@example.com.
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