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Counselor uses past experiences to connect counseling interns

Heather Rudow July 31, 2013

Me 1American Counseling Association member Karen Swanson Taheri is aiming to make the internship experience and the process afterward easier for counselors with the creation of the Counselor Intern Association of Louisiana (CIAL).

CIAL is a division within the Louisiana Counseling Association (LCA) dedicated to serving and connecting counselors-in-training who are working toward licensure, and it offers its members the following benefits:

  • Networking opportunities with students, peers and other professionals
  • Quarterly updates on employment availabilities across the state
  • Regularly scheduled self-care opportunities
  • Professional presentation opportunities

CIAL is also in the midst of initiating a mentorship program where counselor interns can mentor graduate students, and licensed professional counselors and supervisors can mentor counselor interns.

“In short, CIAL allows the voices of counselor interns to be heard and then advocates for their needs individually and collectively,” says Taheri, founder and president of CIAL.

CIAL also offers counselor interns a discounted rate for membership in LCA, as well as a discounted rate to attend LCA’s annual conference.

The idea to create CIAL came about during Taheri’s own experience as a counselor intern during the fall of 2010.

“I had recently relocated to Baton Rouge from Texas and was having a difficult time finding work that allowed me to continue adequately training for licensure while simultaneously getting paid,” recalls Taheri, now a licensed professional counselor and doctoral student at the University of New Orleans. “I also felt disconnected and isolated, as my first job did not have other counselor interns on staff.”

It was then that Taheri realized “that post-master’s counselors-in-training across the state may benefit from connecting with one another, as well as having access to knowledge of employment opportunities they qualify for.”

The idea continued to grow as she noticed other needs of counselor interns in the area.

“One of the issues in Louisiana is the registered counselor intern credential,” Taheri says. “I have heard firsthand accounts of employers passing over resumes because they saw the ‘counselor intern’ credential and thought the applicant was still a student and therefore not qualified for the position.”

One of Taheri’s goals for CIAL is to change the “counselor intern” credential to one that she believes “more adequately portrays post-master’s counselors’ capabilities.”

By 2012, Taheri’s plans to create CIAL and, thereby, a proactive, positive space for counselor interns in Louisiana were set in motion.

“I thought that it would be wonderful for counselor interns to be able to have an association to advocate for their needs and thought that it would be easiest to contact [interns or master’s students] through the statewide division of LCA,” Taheri explains. “I emailed Diane Austin, [executive director] of LCA, to find out what I needed to do in order to begin the process of creating such an association.”

Taheri was then put in contact with Paul “Buddy” Ceasar, a past president of LCA, who asked her to serve as chair of the first Counselor Intern Committee of LCA, which he created.

“I was ecstatic and, of course, accepted,” Taheri says. “At the first LCA Executive Board meeting that I attended, I had a petition ready and gained more than the required number of signers to create a provisional division within LCA. At the next board meeting, the motion to create CIAL was moved and seconded, and the rest is history, so to speak.”

As of June, CIAL had an executive board, official by-laws and approximately 180 members.

Taheri believes the more developed that CIAL becomes, “the more benefits counselor interns will have within the state of Louisiana. Since the initial development of CIAL, counselor interns are more easily able to connect with one another, have access to employment opportunities they are qualified for across the state and have a support system for voicing their concerns.” 

The need is certainly there for an organization like this, as Taheri says she notices many interns struggling to find jobs that offer continued training as well as a salary on which they can comfortably live.

“The more I communicate with counselor interns across the state, the more passionate I become in hearing about their needs and advocating to have those needs met,” Taheri says. “It is my hope that other states will begin working toward developing divisions for their post-master’s counselors-in-training. The more unified and connected counselor interns are within each state, the more we can work toward creating a national advocating presence for post-master’s counselors-in-training. The more connected we all are as counselors, the more we can advocate for one another.”

If you are interested in learning more about CIAL, email Taheri at kswanson@uno.edu.

 Heather Rudow is a staff writer for Counseling Today. Contact her at hrudow@counseling.org.

Letters to the editor: ct@counseling.org

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