Jude and Julius Austin seek to demystify the counseling process in their new book Doing Counseling: Developing Your Clinical Skills and Style. This book aims to help counselors, especially graduate students and new professionals, learn to put counselor training into practice.
Counseling Today spoke with the authors to learn more about their motivation behind writing the book and the practical advice it offers counselors. Jude Austin is a licensed professional counselor and an assistant professor and clinical coordinator in the professional counseling program at the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor. Julius Austin is a licensed professional counselor and a clinical therapist and coordinator for the Office of Substance Abuse and Recovery at Tulane University.
“We wanted to write this book because it’s the one we wish we had growing up as counselors,” the authors said during the interview. “This is a book that says, ‘Hey, it’s OK to be you, we just need to figure out what is it about you that is therapeutic.’”
How does Doing Counseling help students put counseling theory into practice?
It does this through dialogue. The book is a conversation that acts like a bridge. We are not wizened tenured professors or big-time therapists telling readers how to be a successful and effective counselor. The book is a conversation about how to apply theory in practical ways. We work and talk through how theoretical aspects such as vulnerability in session, awareness, genuineness, annoyance, countertransference, differentiation and transparency apply to our work with clients. Admittedly, half the time, we are just trying to make each other snort milk out our noses from laughing when reading the chapters. The other half, we are using stories from our clinical experiences and lessons taught to us by our grandpa and parents to break down thick theoretical concepts and ground counseling theory into application.
You said a big motivation behind your book is to push back against “the invisible culture of whiteness.” What is this invisible culture and how does it hurt counselors?
When thinking about what a counselor looks like, most people don’t imagine them wearing Jordans or having J Dilla playing in the background of a session. The more we matriculated through graduate school and especially our doctoral program, the more it felt like there was a quiet but dominant and unquestioned norm against which our racial and ethnic identities were judged in session.
Sometimes when counselors, educators and supervisors say “be authentic,” it can feel like what they really mean is, “Make your ‘authentic self’ more like our way of being authentic.”
What are some practical tips for counselors that you discuss in the book?
Our book includes lots of practical advice for counselors to use in session. Some of our favorites are:
- Create a structure so clients feel like you’re leading them the entire way.
- Wear something that makes you feel good.
- Find comfortable chairs for yourself and the client.
- Be technically eclectic and theoretically pure.
- Don’t feel like you have to “vibe” with every client. It’s OK if you don’t.
Vulnerability and authenticity are important aspects to counseling, so we always stress the following advice:
- Vulnerability begets vulnerability.
- It’s best to sacrifice the therapeutic relationship for the sake of authenticity rather than maintain one for the sake of duty.
What does multicultural and antiracist counseling look like in session?
There is no way for counselors to know everything about every culture, but we can be humbly curious about our client’s cultural background. Multicultural and anti-racist counseling looks a lot like effective counseling with the added, intentional focus on cultural and racial themes. These counselors ask uncomfortable questions about society and its impact on the therapeutic environment.
What can supervisees as well as supervisors learn from your book about creating a healthy supervisory relationship?
One big misconception that supervisees have is not taking responsibility for supervision. They often see their supervisor as an educator and supervision as a place for them to learn. But supervisees also need to play an active role in this supervisory process.
In our book, we talk about the ways to take advantage of supervision. For example, after session, supervisees can make note of things they want to discuss in supervision later (leaving out client details, of course). They can include questions and concerns that came up during sessions. It can also be helpful if new professionals and students share what they need or want out of supervision, rather than leaving that up to the supervisor to decide.
How does “doing counseling” virtually differ from in person? What advice do you have for new professionals who are starting their careers in a space where virtual or hybrid sessions are more common?
Well, there are the obvious differences such as ethical concerns, confidentiality and technical issues. But there is not much difference with the actual process and skill of counseling. Some classic ideas of good counseling remain consistent: genuineness, unconditional positive regard, empathy and immediacy.
We have noticed, however, that virtual counseling requires us to be more intentional and curious. In person, some of the client’s experience can be deduced through body language. Remote sessions, especially phone sessions, require us to ask more questions or take chances on reflecting what we are sensing in session.
We have also noticed that sometimes clients are more readily vulnerable during virtual sessions. Virtually, we are in their space, which can add to the deepening of the therapeutic process.
What advice do you have for counseling students and new professionals?
First, we wish we would have known how important and impactful it is to have a good therapeutic process. It creates a sort of built-in trust within the process and the counselor.
Second, we encourage students and new professionals to consider the kind of life they want to have instead of what they want to do for a living. This allows them to focus on how to use their degree and licensure to make that life possible.
Finally, this work is hard — rewarding, but hard. It is essential for us to get real about self-care. Create a self-care plan that works for your life and be willing to flex it as needed.
Order Doing Counseling: Developing Your Clinical Skills and Style from the ACA Store.
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