Career Consultation, Counseling Today

Internalizing Our Authority

January 11, 2024

Stack of papers with a question mark on a table

Credit: Brian A Jackson/Shutterstock.com

Every issue we ask a counseling student or new professional to pose a career-related question to another counseling professional who has experience in that topic. This month Claire-Madeline Corso, a resident in counseling in Virginia and registered mental health counseling intern in Florida, asks Laura Smestad, PhD, LMHC, to consider how categories denoting experience level (such as the term “new professional”) affect one’s sense of professional identity. Smestad is the owner of Informed OCD Counseling, a practice based in Seattle, and is an adjunct faculty member at Antioch University Seattle.

Illustrated headshot of Claire-Madeline Corso

Claire-Madeline Corso. Illustration by Sam Kerr.

 

Question:

I’ve been thinking a lot about how new professionals internalize their own authority. What does it mean to be a “new” or “seasoned” professional? And how do these terms affect our sense of authority or belonging throughout our careers?

 

 

Illustration of headshot of Laura Smestad

Laura Smestad, PhD, LMHC. Illustration by Sam Kerr.

Answer:

First, I want to acknowledge that it can be daunting as a brand-new professional entering the field to feel as if you belong or have any sort of expertise or authority, particularly when many clients and counselors explicitly state they are looking for a “seasoned” therapist. Even after 10 years in the field, I still questioned whether I was qualified or “seasoned” enough to participate in this discussion.

Regardless, if we have been practicing for a few months or 20 years, I think it’s important for all of us to maintain a sense of humility in our work and to recognize that length of time in the field does not always equate with stronger clinical skills or best fit for a client. At every stage of development, counselors will consult with others or seek supervision on cases, and no matter how long someone has been practicing, they cannot be equipped to handle every client issue.

Recognizing my own skill set, strengths and scope of practice has been helpful for me to build confidence in my abilities and to also know when I need help from other clinicians. I am a big believer that we are never done learning, and while a newer clinician may need to rely on the guidance of others more frequently, it can help to remember that “seasoned” professionals still seek out consultation with other counselors in order to best serve clients. Getting support from others can be a great way to increase a sense of authority and belonging as a counselor.

When I first started out as a counselor, I remember feeling as if no one would take me seriously, both because of my age (I was 23) and my lack of experience. I tried to change certain aspects of myself to fit what I thought people were looking for in a counselor (e.g., the way I talked, the way I dressed). However, over the course of my career, I have noticed that clients respond better to treatment when I am authentically myself. Once I started embracing who I am as a therapist instead of who I thought I should be, I began to build stronger therapeutic alliances, help clients make more progress and enjoy the work a lot more. I encourage newer counselors to lean into their own authenticity and to not be afraid of being themselves in the therapeutic process.

In the process of internalizing my own authority, I have also found it helpful to establish a niche area of specialty because this has allowed me to focus deeply on a specific population, which, in turn, has increased feelings of self-efficacy and authority. This has also allowed me to find a community of therapists who share my specialty, and with them, I have found a deep sense of belonging.


Opinions expressed and statements made in articles appearing on CT Online should not be assumed to represent the opinions of the editors or policies of the American Counseling Association. 

3 Comments

  1. Joanna Hearst

    Thank you for this discussion. As a counselor in training and as a graduate seeking a post graduate degree, this question stood out to me profoundly. In my current development as a novice to the field, I often times ask myself how might I define my niche? What kind of counselor will I be? What will my career path look like? Most importantly, where do I even begin? As a student, it is easy to place these concerns on the bench until I gave my Master’s. I am beginning to wonder if I can get my foot in the networking circle now to help me answers this questions when necessary. This article helped me to understand the significance of a support system within the field as an on going relationship to, not only my own career but how I might contribute to the assistance of my peers as well.

    Reply
    1. Claire-Madeline Corso

      Joanna! I am SO glad this subject resonated with you. When myself, Lauren, and the Editor in Chief of Counseling Today Magazine were discussing this brand new section to the editorial, I could not be more thrilled to see how the magazine was going to lift the veil on imposter syndrome. When do we get to call ourselves a clinician? What authority do we have, en route to this designation, and how can we discern where our emerging competencies have enough of a foundation to justify our conviction? I love how you ask “I’m beginning to wonder if I can get my foot in the networking circle now” to help you answer some of the questions. My answer is simple – a single word. Yes! I see this section of the magazine as normalizing that this dialogue needs to happen, and demonstrating one way it might look like. In my experience I’ve found that while imposter syndrome tends wants to masquerade itself, if you open the door to conversation about the subject, most everyone is willing to engage it and offer validating insights and helpful re-frames as you clarify your own answers. If you want to be in touch and keep the dialogue going, find me on LinkedIn (linked below) or send me a note in an e-amil.

  2. Claire-Madeline Corso

    I was thrilled to be invited to contribute to this new section of the re-imagined Counseling Today magazine. The preliminary discussions with Editor-In-Chief Lindsey Phillips and my colleague Lauren Smestad to develop the concept for this issue were as validating as I hope this post is for developing clinicians who happen upon it. I SO hope you schedule in time to read the magazine each month and invite you to continue the conversation off line. Did you resonate with something in this article? Tell me! Write me a note at the e-mail address below, or send a connection request to LinkedIn and send me a message with what the thought process this article prompted, and the questions it inspired. I’d be honored to engage a dialogue with you.

    Reply

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