Tag Archives: Students Audience (Grad/post-grad)

Students Audience

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. 

The Fraud Factor

By Christine Yu  January 9, 2024

headshot of a woman with a neutral face and then a shadowed version behind with her hand touching her forward and a concerned look

Illustration by Stefania Infante

When Ayanna Harley, PLPC, started her master’s degree in clinical rehabilitation and counseling at Louisiana State University, it had been 10 years since she had last been in the classroom, as an undergraduate student. She was also the oldest person in her program and the only person of color.  

Despite having similar credentials as her classmates, Harley doubted herself and whether she was qualified for her graduate program: “Is this the right career choice for me? Am I too old for this? Do I belong here?” As the doubts chipped away at her self-confidence, she felt she had to work harder, overprepare and excel in her courses to prove she deserved her spot in the program. 

Looking back, Harley recognizes that she was experiencing imposter syndrome, that pervasive feeling of being a fraud. “None of the other students were concerned that I was the eldest or the only person of color,” she says. “These were things that I was questioning and thinking about. I was in competition with myself.” Even now, as a new professional practicing in Louisiana, Harley still finds herself doubting her abilities as a counselor. “These are real human beings seeking help,” she says. “Sometimes I don’t know what to do.” 

Harley is hardly alone in second-guessing herself and her abilities. “It’s part of the human experience,” says Francisca Mix, LPC, CEO and founder of Francisca Consulting and Counseling in Colorado. “There’s a negative core belief that gets triggered — the question of ‘Am I enough? Is this good enough?’ — especially when we’re learning something new.” 

 The Fraud Police 

While it’s not listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, imposter syndrome is a common phenomenon. “It is self-doubt ramped up,” says Laura Smestad, PhD, LMHC, who’s based in Washington. “It boils down to this fear that I’m not actually enough as I am, that I’m going to fail, that I have somehow convinced everyone that I’m competent, but they don’t know the truth and I’m afraid people are going to find out.”  

This critical voice surfaces despite a track record of accomplishments. “Imposter syndrome distorts your perception of reality and how you’re doing. You don’t see your own achievements,” explains Michael Drane, PhD, LMHC, whose doctoral dissertation examined the experience of imposter syndrome among counselor education and supervision students.  

The term “imposter syndrome” was first coined in 1978 as “the imposter phenomenon” by psychologists Pauline Rose Clance, PhD, and Suzanne Imes, PhD. Their research focused on the experience of high-achieving women. They found that the imposter feeling can be caused by family dynamics such as when women were compared to a sibling who was considered smarter. 

“That inferiority in childhood causes you to overcompensate and develop unrealistically high expectations of yourself. You’re trying to outrun that feeling of incompetence,” Drane says. In other cases, women who their parents deemed as the exceptional one in the family felt like a fraud. They didn’t necessarily trust their parents’ steadfast belief in them.  

Clance and Imes’ seminal study led to research with additional populations. Soon, others found evidence that the crippling sense of self-doubt wasn’t unique to women. Men experienced it too, and it was found in people across disciplines, including health care, STEM, education and business. A 2020 systematic review, published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine, found the prevalence of imposter syndrome as high as 82%. “It can affect anyone stepping into a new role or who has new responsibilities,” Drane says. This includes counseling students and new counselors.  

And that feeling of being an imposter doesn’t disappear once you gain more experience. While it makes sense to feel unsure when you’re starting your practicum, for example, the feeling doesn’t always dissipate as you rack up achievements.  

“I had imposter syndrome about this interview,” admits Smestad, who has been practicing for 10 years. “My immediate reaction was ‘Why me? I better prepare because otherwise they’re going to find out I don’t know anything about imposter syndrome,’ even though I’m actually qualified. I’ve presented on this. I’ve done a podcast on this.” 

The Impact of Imposter Syndrome 

The feeling of constantly being on the lookout for the fraud police can be exhausting. It can lead to experiences of anxiety, depression, exhaustion, perfectionism and procrastination. But more than that, imposter syndrome can have a real impact on personal and professional development and career opportunities.  

Imposter syndrome can stunt skill development. Students end up turning down new opportunities because of the perceived risk of failing when stepping outside their comfort zone. Anna Flores Locke, PhD, LPC, owner and mental health and infertility counselor at Charlandra Consulting and Counseling Services in New Jersey, sees how some students choose not to pursue research and writing because they don’t believe they’re good enough. Locke says that can snowball into turning down opportunities to present at conferences and shying away from networking and leadership opportunities, ultimately slowing their academic and professional growth.  

Similarly, when new counselors don’t acknowledge areas where they might be struggling, it can hinder counseling skill development. “You can’t be a counselor without competencies in your skills. You have to practice those skills,” says Locke, an approved clinical supervisor. 

There’s also a connection between imposter syndrome and burnout. When people feel like a fraud, they may work overtime to prove they are qualified, both to themselves and those around them. As a result, students and new counselors can deplete their emotional, mental and physical reserves in ways that can affect not only their well-being but their work with clients. “It’s compassion fatigue. It’s a lower self-concept. All those things will lead to burnout,” Harley says. In some cases, people have dropped out of graduate programs or have left the profession. 

The Role of Supervisors and Mentors 

One critical area where imposter syndrome shows up is in clinical supervision. It makes sense: New counselors want their supervisor to see them as competent. They may also compare their skills and abilities to their supervisor, whether consciously or subconsciously, despite their supervisor’s longer tenure in the field. Plus, there’s a power differential between supervisors and those starting off in the profession. How can new counselors have an open dialogue with their supervisor about the challenges they face when they’re being evaluated? 

man standing behind large mask, hiding in the shadows, while two people stand looking at the large mask

“Clinical supervision is powerful, and it really is on the supervisor to nurture trainees and co-create a container where it’s normal to feel these feelings,” says Mix, an approved clinical supervisor and board-certified dance/movement therapist. “How a supervisor speaks to this point directly truly does soften the pressure and the fear of ‘I’m being evaluated and I can’t be honest.’ It supports their process of finding the courage to speak to the more challenging topics while stepping further into the shoe of a clinician.”  

It’s through this supervisor-supervisee relationship that new counselors can begin to move through their feelings of unease and intentionally develop self-confidence. Supervisors and mentors can help new counselors reflect back their experiences and flush out their doubt. “You help them work that edge and intentionally develop self-confidence,” Mix says. 

Mix says her role is also to highlight the predictable experiences new counselors can expect in the first three months, six months, nine months and beyond. “Orienting new trainees to potential experiences allows for a more open conversation about their self-doubt and struggles in those experiences,” she says. In doing so, supervisors reassure their supervisees that they are on track and there is a path forward.  

Reframing Imposter Syndrome 

While imposter syndrome can be a universal experience, who does — or doesn’t — second-guess their abilities is more than a matter of self-confidence. “It’s part of the systemic oppression and living in a racist society. To maintain racism is to make one group feel inferior,” Locke says. 

Research suggests that people from marginalized groups experience imposter syndrome at higher rates. Locke says imposter syndrome is especially common among colonized ethnic groups because they’ve been taught to be submissive. “There’s an element of: ‘You’re not entitled’ or ‘You should be grateful to have a seat because someone else can take it from you if you make a mistake,’” she says. It can feel particularly acute if no one else in the room looks like you or you’ve experienced microaggressions, which sends the subconscious message that you’re not good enough.  

For instance, growing up Puerto Rican in a working-class home, Locke, who is an award-winning author, never believed she could be a writer. “Puerto Ricans are a colonized ethnic group. Because of that, we were limited in the education we received. There were language barriers and a generational belief that we were inferior, which carried over into my upbringing,” she says. She, in turn, developed an internal belief system that told her writing wasn’t for her. It was a luxury afforded to other people. “It wasn’t for us,” she says.  

Locke felt that straying outside of her culture’s norms would be a betrayal of her family and disrupt the status quo. “For me, it created a sense of shame,” she says, which then fueled her imposter syndrome. 

When Locke contextualizes imposter system as a systemic issue, it helps her students and supervisees understand that their experience isn’t unique to them. “It’s something that happens across the board in our communities because of how we’ve been colonized, oppressed and told we’re inferior,” she says. “That helps them a lot.” 

Quieting the Imposter Voice 

Humans tend to focus on the negative, which only feeds the imposter within. But there are strategies that can help reframe the inner critic. 

Rather than focus on the bad, Harley makes a point to look for evidence of success and keep track of it. Then, when the next bout of imposter syndrome strikes, she’s armed with examples of how she’s succeeded in the past. It also allows her to be more transparent with herself about her own journey from graduate student to practicing counselor and ultimately to licensed professional counselor.  

Locke has cultivated her own personal “dream team,” trusted people in her life who can be a sounding board and offer support when doubt strikes.  

When confronted with feelings of being an imposter, Smestad reminds herself that it’s a fear-based response. Instead of making a decision based on fear, she considers whether her reactions and decisions align with her values. For instance, if she’s asked to present at a conference and notices that she’s shying away from the opportunity, she asks herself if she genuinely isn’t interested or if she’s afraid she’s going to mess up. “Doing it from that lens takes it one step deeper,” she says. 

Drane believes that graduate programs should incorporate discussions about imposter syndrome during orientation. “Normalize that you’re not supposed to know what you’re talking about yet. Have the professors, the ones who are supposed to be the experts, share what they’ve been through,” he says.  

“The No. 1 thing we can do is recognize it and normalize it,” he says. Through his doctoral studies, Drane realized that the colleagues he was intimidated by felt the same way he did. “If we had just had a conversation about this in the beginning, we could have supported each other this whole time instead of being intimidated by each other.” 

 


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. 

 

What I’ve learned as a new professional counselor

By Wallace K. Pond October 23, 2023

At the age of 55, I found myself facing a mental health crisis. I had spent the previous 35 years of my life focused on achieving career success while I worked in educational and corporate settings, both in the United States and abroad. This success often came at the cost of my own needs. In addition, I was also experiencing a late midlife crisis. So, although I was already working on an exit strategy from my career, it was too late to prevent this mental health crisis. When the dam broke, I wasn’t prepared.

On the one hand, being broken open, as Elizabeth Lesser describes in her book Broken Open: How Difficult Times Can Help Us Grow, was a blessing because it forced a full, painfully humbling reckoning. A half century of denial and repression came tumbling down. On the other hand, my crisis led me to the path I’m on now. I discovered that sometimes our denial and dysfunction are so profound that only by being truly broken can we learn to start again.

About a year into my healing journey, I started to think seriously about becoming a counselor. This career choice was not something I had considered before, but after I found myself in need of and benefiting from psychotherapy, I wanted to help others who found themselves in similar situations. I asked my own therapist, Ron Andes, if he thought I was too damaged to be a good clinician. In his usual brilliant but understated way, he replied, “No, you’re damaged just enough.” That simple but profound answer gave me both the permission and the confidence to pursue a new focus in life. And I’m happy to report that I recently graduated from a clinical mental health program, and I have about 800 hours of counseling under my belt, including practicum, internship and my supervised work as a licensed professional counselor candidate in Colorado.

I wasn’t a typical intern. I was 57 years old when I saw my first client. My master’s in clinical mental health is my third graduate degree and fourth college degree. I’ve run corporations and universities and spent 12 years in K-12 and higher education classrooms. But, most importantly, I’ve been part of a 33-year-long team with my wife, Natalie, having raised three adult children and, in later years, an adult niece. I also have my own addiction history.

two books stacked on top of each other with the words "lessons" and "learned" written on top of the

Dmitry Demidovich/Shutterstock.com

Transitioning into counseling work later in my career has given me a unique perspective and insights, which I want to share in the hope that it will help others who are considering becoming a counselor, those just starting out as interns and even counselors who have been in the field for a while. Here are the most important lessons I have learned as an intern and new counseling professional:

A counselor’s life experience can be more valuable for clients than their counseling experience (or even their technical skills). Regardless of how old an intern or newly licensed therapist is, everyone brings critical life experience and insights to their practice. One’s personal challenges, failures, victories, insights and own mental health journey are powerful and can be every bit as essential as one’s clinical experience to both the therapeutic alliance and client outcomes.

It’s OK to be a beginner. One of the hardest things for me during practicum was being a beginner again. I had built expertise and competence in my previous jobs, and while some of that transferred into counseling, much of it was still new. Whether you’re in your 50s or 20s, when you first start seeing clients, you will be a beginner, and in some ways that can facilitate curiosity and humility that will actually help you be a better clinician. A corollary to accepting that you’re a novice is admitting it and asking for help when you need it.

When in doubt, just be there for the client. As a counseling intern, I found myself often doubting or being unsure of what was happening or what to do in sessions. The reality is that interns and new professionals are just learning how to be in a room (or video conference) with someone for an hour. They are figuring out how to be present, engaged and empathetic and how to embody unconditional positive regard even in difficult situations. I discovered that counseling isn’t about solving your client’s problems; it’s just about showing up and being there for the client. Once I accepted that, things got a lot easier, and I became a better counselor.

Learn more than you have to. For students who are going to graduate school, working with clients and living the rest of their lives, which likely includes both work and family obligations, doing anything else may seem like a tall order. However, I’ve found that it is possible to build clinical knowledge and skills via online courses, videos, seminars, workshops, magazine and journal articles, or a certification program in far fewer hours than one might think. I studied several counseling modalities, including cognitive behavior therapy (CBT), eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR), internal family systems (IFS) and dialectical behavior therapy (DBT). I have earned about a dozen continuing education credits and obtained a basic CBT certification, and after going through EMDR training, I am practicing as an EMDR therapist — all of which I did while I was a counseling student. Dedicating a few hours per month to continuing education is a great investment and will build good habits for the future.

Every counseling student should leave school with some expertise in at least a couple go-to modalities. Although graduate counseling programs usually provide good surveys of theories and modalities, I think they fall short in terms of helping interns develop at least a couple go-to interventions that they can use while learning to just be there for the client. CBT, IFS and trauma-focused interventions would be helpful to know as a beginning clinician because those modalities have application in multiple contexts for a broad range of client symptoms. I sought additional training outside of my counseling courses to help me develop these skills, but it would have been nice to have the counseling curriculum focus less on theoretical and historical criteria and more on applied skills and interventions. For example, the curriculum at my program required us to take an introduction to research course, but it did not offer an elective in CBT or IFS. I would also like to see sexuality counseling and grief and loss courses become requirements, rather than electives.

Being able to treat trauma may be the most important skill a counselor can have. Whether you are an intern, a counselor practicing under supervision or a licensed clinician, you will see clients with trauma issues, and often some with severe trauma histories. Early in my internship, I discovered that most of my clients either had trauma or their presenting symptoms could be traced to earlier trauma, so I began studying trauma and shame treatment, especially EMDR and IFS. I would strongly recommend that any new therapist read Bessel van der Kolk’s The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma (a book that has been life-changing in my own mental health journey) and Gabor Maté’s The Myth of Normal: Trauma, Illness, and Healing in a Toxic Culture. I consider both books to be “trauma bibles” and indispensable in becoming trauma informed. In fact, I would argue that these books are more valuable than all the textbooks I read during my counseling program.

Different therapeutic choices can all be valid. While it’s true that evidence-based approaches tend to make sense under certain circumstances, I’ve also learned that if a solid, trust-based relationship exists between client and therapist, many modalities can support positive clinical outcomes. In other words, a strong therapeutic alliance is often more valuable than an evidence-based intervention. Relatedly, I’m learning that an integrated approach is often more powerful than any one intervention in isolation, and as a client progresses, it’s helpful to modify treatment choices. For example, I might start with a person-centered philosophy, then use mindfulness to reduce anxiety so that a more cognitive behavioral approach can be effective with specific symptoms. Then I may incorporate direct trauma work with EMDR or IFS, and if appropriate, I may also use a feminist perspective to provide social context and even engage in direct advocacy for the client.

Just because someone has a lot of experience doesn’t mean they always give good advice. While I’m grateful to the people who have helped me so far in my counseling career, I’ve also received advice that I genuinely believe was not helpful. For example, I had a university-based supervisor suggest that I stop leading a DBT group because I cared too much about the group members. The problem, however, wasn’t that I cared too much but that as an early practicum student, I was simply learning boundaries. Leading DBT groups is now one of my most rewarding activities and I’ve become good at it. It would have been a terrible mistake to follow that initial advice.

I also had a site-based supervisor suggest that I was being too directive with a client. Of course, that is a potential concern, but in the case in question, I had been working with the client for months and used my emerging clinical judgment, which told me that under the circumstances, the client’s instability was compromising their ability to see connections and make choices in their best interest. Ironically, the client later thanked me for “keeping them on track.”

Sometimes a situation is beyond your scope of practice. Occasionally a client presents with something that is simply beyond our scope of practice, and I have been told this happens no matter how long someone has been practicing. If a client needs help outside the counselor’s area of competency, then the danger is not in listening to and validating the client but in “guessing” about which interventions to use or trying things we just don’t know how to do.

I once worked with a client whose long-term relationship no longer included sexual intimacy with her partner. Since this isn’t my area of expertise, I consulted with an experienced sex therapist, which ended up being invaluable. In another case, I referred a client to a neuropsychologist who ended up effectively treating the client with neurofeedback. These situations taught me two things: It’s OK not to know everything, and it’s OK to reach out for consultation or make a referral.

Learn to practice self-care early. It is truly an honor to have others share their deepest concerns, fears, aspirations and problems with us as counselors. It reflects a kind of trust and vulnerability that is rare in life. It can also be overwhelming at times. At the extreme, we can experience secondary trauma, but it also just takes a lot of energy and empathy to be there for others in their time of need and that often comes at a cost to the therapist. I’ve learned that some basic self-care techniques can make a big difference. For example, I allow myself a few minutes between sessions to reflect and reset by engaging in grounding breathing and visualization, and I schedule downtime where I can just read, hike and recharge. Making time for self-care is critical, and it’s important to learn early in the process so that it becomes habitual.

Clients are often profound teachers. I am grateful to my clients, many of whom have bravely asserted themselves and their needs in session. I have been questioned, corrected, redirected and challenged in numerous ways. I am a devotee of person-centered approaches because I’ve learned that clients are almost always capable of figuring things out, leading their own healing and offering profound insights into their own realities as well as into life in general.

I recently told my adult son that although I’ve been alive for a long time and studied a lot of things, I’ve learned more in the past couple of years as a counselor-in-training than I have in any other period in my life. Learning new approaches and skills, combined with my own personal growth and self-discovery, has been transformational. I’m a better listener and more authentic, and I’ve learned to honor a huge variety of human experiences with curiosity and without judgment.

I am truly grateful for the opportunity I’ve had to pursue this later-life career change and to get closer to achieving some of the goals in my personal vision. As I begin the work of building my own practice, I have no doubt that the learning will continue. In fact, my therapist reassured me that the learning never stops, which is exciting.

 


headshot of Wallace K. Pond

Wallace K. Pond is a licensed professional counselor candidate pursuing full licensure. He also holds a doctorate in education and has been fortunate to have served in various roles from bilingual kindergarten teacher to university president and corporate CEO. He has traveled to 39 countries and lived in five, while raising three, now adult, children. He currently resides with his wife of 33 years in the mountains of Colorado. Contact him at wallacekpond.com.

Counseling Today reviews unsolicited articles written by American Counseling Association members. Learn more about our writing guidelines and submission process at ct.counseling.org/author-guidelines.


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.

Learning to be fierce in the face of intraprofessional challenges

By Emily St. Amant October 5, 2022

I started my counseling program in 2007, so after working 15 years in the field, I have … thoughts. One of the most difficult things for me along my career journey has hands-down been dealing with other people. And I am not talking about my clients; I’m referring to other professional behavioral health providers. Looking back, I’ve had some truly memorable encounters that taught me what no book, class or training ever could. 

I want to preface this with the acknowledgment that the people whose actions I’m discussing here aren’t all good or bad. There’s a spectrum ranging from having a bad day to having a bad character, and we all bounce around on that to some extent. I’m sure others could reflect on some of my less-than-stellar moments, where I was acting out of a bruised ego or was simply hungry, and I took out my own stuff on others. We all have a shadow side. Pretending we don’t is what gets us into trouble and what causes real harm to others.

In general, I do not feel we are preparing counselors to work in an agency or organization with other types of treatment providers, other types of professionals and even our fellow professional counselors. I don’t have time to address all of that in this article, so I’ll focus on one key area I personally wasn’t adequately prepared to navigate: my working relationships with others. This is especially true in times when there was a value or priority conflict between me and the other person. There is a certain idealism that plagues training programs, including ones in the counseling field.

I have learned a lot from my experiences working in various agencies and organizations over the years. I’ve encountered people who were exceptionally kind, generous, compassionate, patient and wise. And I’ve also encountered people who shocked and angered me with the lack of empathy and respect they showed to myself and others. Later, I realized I was more disappointed and hurt than surprised or angry. I have encountered several individuals in the workplace who, if nothing else, clearly demonstrated the kind of person I do not ever want to be.

With this article, my goal is to empower other clinicians to protect themselves and be better prepared to effectively manage difficult situations in the workplace. At the same time, I hope that we will all do a better job of ensuring we are not acting in such a way that others need to protect themselves from us. Let us never be cut off from hearing what others have to say — whether it’s about our attitude, work performance and quality, or the way our behaviors affect others. And we need to stay open-minded about what others know that we do not yet understand. I admit I have failed in this endeavor in the past and will certainly fail in the future, but I think the key is to be sincere and genuinely not want to. I never want to be remembered by others as someone who hurt them or let them down.

For me to be the best counselor I can be, I can’t stop reflecting on my own personal and professional demons, deficits and errors. I can’t stop being open to feedback and seeking out opportunities for growth. Being a counselor isn’t just a professional identity or set of skills to master; it is a way of being. Who I am as a human being is shaped and molded by the values of the counseling profession. We counselors all in turn shape and mold what it means to be a counselor. Who we are as counselors not only impacts the care we provide our clients but also shapes our experiences in the workplace, the broader health care field and our world.

Learning the hard way 

Something I wish I’d been explicitly told is just because you work in mental health doesn’t mean that everyone you encounter in the workplace will care about you. In fact, if you work with enough people for enough time, you are guaranteed to cross paths with someone who does not have your best interest in mind. They will not care about your success, well-being, and physical and mental health if it gets in the way of their agenda or bottom line. Even in a nonprofit setting, people still report outcomes of some kind to their managers, financers and stakeholders, no matter what impact this has on you. Even if you play a vital role on a team that collaborates on initiatives and projects, that doesn’t always mean you will be given credit or that the workload will be distributed equally. There will always be people who are willing to sacrifice your health and career for their own benefit. They may use you to build themselves up while also holding you back or to avoid having to do the work themselves or face the consequences of their own actions. Some will see you only through the lens of what you can do for them. It’s almost as if they’re asking, “How can I use your labor, skills and expertise to shape my own reputation? How can you make me look good?” People in more powerful positions and people who hold greater influence will essentially ask you, “How can you help me?” I have had almost that exact question directed at me explicitly, but more often that intention goes unspoken. We should be cautious to avoid creating exploitative and harmful power dynamics. We should be asking those we supervise, manage and work alongside, “How can I best serve and uplift you? How can we work together toward the greater good?”

Ego is a thing. You will work with people who lack awareness of or concern for how their own behaviors impact others around them. Some therapists I’ve worked with have appeared to be two separate people: They act one way in front of management and their clients and a completely different way with their peers or subordinates. Some people will be averse to any feedback, act spitefully or haughty, or seem to be easily threatened for no clear or rational reason. I’ve encountered other clinicians whose behaviors and/or explicit statements communicate they think they are superior because of their training, education, theoretical orientation, clinical focus or specific profession. Egos are walls. They get in the way of us being able to engage with others productively and deeply. One thing I’ve realized is that if you’re dealing with someone’s ego, you’re more than likely fighting a losing battle.

You will also encounter co-workers, managers, supervisors and directors who have poor boundaries. You may witness workaholism be glorified and rewarded, and you may have unrealistic performance expectations placed on you. People are routinely punished and shamed for attempting to strike a healthy work-life balance. This can happen directly; for example, I had a past manager say to me that if I didn’t work 60 hours in a week (without overtime pay, mind you), I “didn’t care about the kids.” The retaliation for boundary setting can also happen indirectly with people being fired for “not being a good fit” or being passed over for promotions if they don’t routinely work overtime. You will also see firsthand why ethical codes are necessary regarding boundaries with clients. There’s a reason codes explicitly state not to do something: Counselors are really doing those things. 

You will meet other mental health providers who plain and simple are not healthy themselves. There is a level of gatekeeping that should happen within the mental health professions, but the gray area between observably impaired and functionally problematic is inadequately addressed in practice. There is a difference between being a “wounded healer” and not being on a healing path at all. I often use the metaphor of a “healing train.” None of us will ever get to the destination of being completely healed and perfect; what matters is staying on that train and resetting ourselves when we veer off track. Yes, practitioners are trained and have skills that are helpful to their clients even if they have never experienced a specific clinical concern themselves, but this is not the same as a counselor who believes they can be an effective provider without doing their own personal work. We all have our “stuff,” and many of us are drawn to the helping field because of our own personal experiences. No matter how much training and education we receive, if we aren’t doing the deep and difficult work of examining our own weaknesses and healing from our traumas and pain points, then we put our efficacy as a clinician at risk. This is why self-care is an ethical imperative for counselors. We can’t lead others somewhere we’ve never been before.

Truths that guide me 

These lessons have taught me a few truths along the way — ones I wish I had known from the start because they could have guided me as I managed difficult interactions or situations.

The first and most important truth is that most of the time how other people treat me has nothing to do with me. We are all working out our own “stuff” in the best ways we can, and we often experience someone wrestling with themselves as they impact us negatively. Just because someone is educated, charming, brilliant, credentialed, licensed, published or highly renowned doesn’t mean they are immune to the human experience.

You will never know everything, and that is OK. It is genuinely OK that you can’t be the best at everything. This should be obvious, but I think this is at the heart of a lot of defensiveness and problematic interpersonal behavior. Everyone turns to counselors and therapists for answers and solutions, but we ourselves are fallible, limited human beings. That is not just OK — it’s why we are so good at what we do in the first place. Because we are imperfect human beings, we can help other imperfect human beings find meaning, purpose, joy and peace. So it’s OK to not have a perfect answer to why things are the way they are and how to best live, change and cope. When we refuse this truth and believe that someway, somehow we have managed to be special and the exception, then, of course, it will be uncomfortable and painful to be confronted with the reality that implies otherwise because we will always fail at perfection. If it feels unbearably embarrassing and shameful when others find us out, which will happen, then that is something to carefully examine and reflect on. We are setting ourselves up for failure if we place unrealistic expectations on ourselves, and in turn, we are also setting those around us up for failure because this will without a doubt morph into unrealistic or even exploitative expectations of other people. This shame can lead us to act out and engage with others in harmful ways. The work of being a counselor calls for radical self-compassion, but this is impossible without also reflecting on who we are in relationships and how we are extending that compassion to others.

Success is collective. By lifting others up and supporting them, we ourselves benefit. By sabotaging or disenfranchising others, we hurt ourselves as well. I need to make sure I am doing my best to live this truth by how I engage with others, and I need to be prepared to set boundaries and make needed changes if others in my life are not. I would have left some relationships and jobs much sooner than I did if I had only believed in myself and my intentions more. Do not trust anyone who acts in a way that pushes others down in any way; just because you aren’t their current target doesn’t mean you never will be. If someone doesn’t give credit where credit is due, they are a selfish person who will never be your true ally or partner. If someone seems frequently jealous and doesn’t get excited about the success of others, they may very well be more likely to try to hold you down and sabotage your health and success. Collective action is required for success, and this has to include communities holding people accountable for their actions and inactions when needed. We should all aim to align ourselves with people and organizations that are doing the work to uplift those around them and to stand up for others as well.  

Boundaries are everything. Boundaries help us navigate the reality that we are responsible for both ourselves and each other. Yes, the adage “with great power comes great responsibility” is true, but any level of influence comes with responsibility, no matter how small or insignificant it may seem. All too often we do not acknowledge the real impact we have on each other as humans, possibly to assuage our guilt and enable our avoidance of this burden of responsibility. Any encounter between two people is an opportunity for either healing and growth or, alternatively, harm and suffering.  

Personal relationships, workplaces and workplace relationships are all vital parts of our lives that have the potential for great positive impact as well as negative or harmful consequences. I like to think of the range in terms of spice levels:

  • Mild: unhealthy
  • Medium: toxic
  • Hot: abusive
  • Scorching: violent

Anyone in a mild to moderate situation has the choice to stay and accept things as they are or work for positive change. If it’s hot or scorching, the only real way to get relief is to get away and seek emotional “burn” care.

Not all “defensiveness” is bad. It’s unacceptable how a lot of us are taught to “manage” our defensive behavior. It’s upsetting when you are confronted with someone pointing out how sensitive you are to constructive feedback, but early in our counseling careers, we need to know that our internal emotional protective system isn’t our enemy. We need to be taught to trust ourselves, to listen to how we feel and to know that sometimes defending ourselves and others is what we absolutely need to do. By not teaching this balance of managing unhealthy defensiveness, that’s often ego-driven, with the reality that there are other people who can and will harm us if we don’t protect ourselves, we set a lot of people up to essentially be conditioned to be complicit in their own abuse or oppression. Yes, we need to remain open to feedback that’s constructive and comes from someone who genuinely cares about us, but we also need to have discernment and the wisdom to know what feedback we should absorb and what we should shield ourselves from.

We must take responsibility for setting our boundaries, and we must allow others to do the same. Remember the only thing you can really control are your own words, actions and reactions, including how much you tolerate other people and situations. Emotional responses are automatic and unconscious, and although we have influence over these responses, we can’t expect ourselves to have complete control over them. They exist for a reason, and one of the main reasons we have intense emotions and anxiety is to protect ourselves. 

I’ve had clients who have asked me to help them “just deal with” the situation that’s causing them harm, but as the saying goes, “You can’t heal in the same environment that is making you sick.” Leaving is often the best solution in relationships that cause us harm, be it with an intimate partner or an employer. I now realize that when I stayed in an unhealthy or harmful situation, I was not taking responsibility to care for myself or to consider how I was affecting the other person or environment. I am not referring to what could amount to blaming the victim of abuse or the recipient of boundary violations for another’s action; it is absolutely inappropriate to place any level of responsibility on the receiver of another’s behavior. However, by staying in an unhealthy environment or indirectly enabling unhealthy behaviors, I was essentially teaching that person that what they were doing was acceptable because I stayed put and tolerated it. I was not doing my part to stop them from not only harming me but also negatively affecting others. Oof! 

It’s important to know where the line is between what you are responsible for and what the other person is responsible for. Without this line, it can be a slippery slope toward excusing, enabling and even rewarding unhealthy behaviors in the workplace and our personal lives. 

If you set enough boundaries, you are guaranteed to get pushback. And it will be uncomfortable. To take a lesson from Nedra Glover Tawwab’s book, Set Boundaries, Find Peace: A Guide to Reclaiming Yourself, the only people who have a problem with others setting boundaries are the people who are benefiting from another’s lack of boundaries. We need to be prepared for how others may react when we stand up for ourselves and refuse to be taken advantage of or treated poorly. 

People who see relationships as only transactional or who want to use you for their own purposes will absolutely get irritated or angry for your refusal to comply with their attempts at control or manipulation. Often to further manipulate the situation in their favor, they label the boundary setting or the accompanying response as the problem. This allows them to preserve their reputation at the further expense of the other person being harmed. 

All too often, we blame the person reacting to another’s behavior instead of addressing the source. This criticism, invalidation and punishment of the reaction to abuse is what is called “reactive abuse.” This line of reasoning can also be taken to its logical conclusion and turn into excusing and enabling harmful or outright criminal behavior (for example, blaming the victim of assault for what they were wearing). This is commonly discussed in the context of abusive intimate partner relationships. However, I’ve seen this play out in the workplace, and it can lead to ruptures in trust and morale and causes real psychological harm. 

Abusive behavior is always the fault of the person doing the abuse. Unhealthy behaviors are always the responsibility of the person acting inappropriately. How we manage these encounters to protect ourselves and others are, in fact, our responsibility. By standing up for ourselves, setting boundaries, and leaving harmful and abusive situations, we are also helping others. We are teaching others what’s right and what’s wrong and what they can and cannot get away with.

Not everyone deserves access to your softness. Too often I believe counselors and healers of all kinds are expected to be “nice” and to be available for everyone for anything all the time. This is far from what’s healthy, sustainable or realistic. Just because we’ve chosen a helping profession doesn’t mean we have to sacrifice our own well-being, safety or sanity. It’s taken me years to learn and truly believe that yes, I am kind and sweet and silly, but I am not “nice.” I am fierce. And that fierceness is not a flaw; it is one of my most valuable strengths.

A part of who we really are is defined by how we meet life’s most uncomfortable and distressing challenges. As counselors, we will experience some of these challenges in the workplace, so we need to be prepared to navigate these and to support others as they navigate them as well. We need more humanity, compassion and humility built into the systems that train and cultivate providers whose very effectiveness depends on their own humanity, compassion and humility.

I leave you with these three reminders: You are not a leader if you don’t build up those around you, those coming up behind you or those who are in your charge. You are not successful if you hinder the success of others. You are not a healer if you are not allowing yourself healing.

 

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Keep pushing to be better

I’ve learned so much from people who have shown me grace and patience. They showed me what’s possible and what I want to be. And I’ve also realized what I do not want to be from those who were self-focused, judgmental, and, to be perfectly blunt, haughty and elitist.

Some of my most painful and anxiety-filled moments with managers, co-workers and educators in the mental health field have taught me that I never want to:

  • Be someone who can’t be taught something new and is unable to value perspectives that differ from my own.
  • Advocate for “the way things have always been.”
  • Argue that “it’s really not that bad so nothing needs to change.”
  • Support something because “I made it through it, so everyone else should have to also.”
  • Hire people who are experts at something I am not and then fail to listen to or consider their input and feedback.
  • Assume I know what is best for another person.
  • Manipulate or coerce others into doing something against their will.
  • Use an offer of “feedback” or an explanation that I’m “just trying to help” as a way to rationalize violating someone’s boundaries.
  • Forget we all carry unseen burdens.
  • Doubt the validity of anyone else’s sincere effort or report of emotional pain.
  • Yell at a colleague. (Yes, really.)
  • Expect those I manage or supervise to meet my social and emotional needs.
  • Jump to conclusions and assume I’ve been told the whole story.
  • Throw someone else under the bus to make myself look good.
  • Make promises I can’t keep or say yes when my actions say no.
  • Disregard the needs of others and forcefully try to get my way.
  • Punish or delegitimize someone because they defend themself when they have been wronged or harmed.
  • Publicly call out people for what they’ve done wrong or criticize others in front of colleagues.
  • Tell someone else they are providing inadequate or subpar care or work because they aren’t doing things my way.
  • Look down on other helping professionals in the field who provide services to people in other ways aside from psychotherapy.
  • Consider myself a superior clinician because “I do a deeper, more meaningful and more important” type of therapy.
  • Promote the further disenfranchisement and oppression of already marginalized people.
  • Fail to look at the whole person and their situation.
  • Cause someone more harm because they were already struggling.
  • Put my own pride and ego ahead of anyone else’s health, success or well-being.
  • Fail to use my power to stop someone from hurting or mistreating others and enable them to continue perpetrating harm.
  • Allow unsupportive, counterproductive and inadequate people to persist without consequences or be rewarded.
  • Make others work harder and longer hours to pick up my slack, or if I’m their manager, tolerate someone being ineffective and causing an inequitable workload to be placed on others.
  • Offer mentorship but fail to mentor and focus on my own advancement instead.

I’ve also had the privilege to work with some from truly inspiring and wonderful people. I’ve witnessed many examples of bold and commendable actions that have left me amazed, and looking back, there have been so many seemingly quiet and mundane encounters that really were so important and affected me more than I realized at the time. These encounters taught me that I always want to strive to:

  • Give credit where credit is due.
  • Help others network and introduce people who may share common interests or support each other professionally.
  • Show others how much they mean to me.
  • Be there for others when they need it most.
  • Genuinely care about others, not just their work performance but their humanity.
  • Listen with patience and kindness when others express their concerns and how their work environment is making them feel.
  • Ensure others feel connected and that they know they belong.
  • Tell people you see how hard they are working.
  • Praise in public. Offer constructive feedback and conduct disciplinary actions in private.
  • Show up and be present during meetings.
  • Keep my word and do what I’ve said I’ll do when I’ve said I’ll do it.
  • Recognize if the success and/or advancement of others depends on me in any way, and if it does, then act accordingly and timely.
  • Remind people to care for themselves and encourage them to do things they enjoy outside of work.
  • Set boundaries and have a life. Log off on time, take time off, etc.
  • Stand up for myself and others.
  • Speak the truth to those who have more power than I do.
  • Make work fun and connect meaningfully with those around me.
  • Push back against things that are unethical or fraudulent.
  • Leave relationships and jobs that I’ve outgrown or those that are toxic and harmful.
  • Trust that others are doing the best they can.
  • Give support when it’s asked for and when it is not.
  • Take responsibility for my actions.
  • Be true to myself. By letting my playfulness, weirdness, creativity and passion be seen, I give others permission to be true to themselves as well.

Becoming the best version of yourself requires work and self-reflection. Here are some reflection questions I offer specifically related to the topic of hand:

  • What would it be like if I let go of my need to be perfect?
  • What would change if l gave myself permission to get things wrong while I am trying to get things right?
  • Am I living out my values in all my relationships?
  • How do I impact my clients, peers, mentees, co-workers and supervisees?
  • How do I see those I serve, manage and supervise? Am I seeing them as individuals I have responsibility for, or do I only see them for what they can do for me or how they reflect on my personal reputation?
  • How am I supporting and building up those I counsel, manage, supervise and work with?
  • Do I really have this person’s best interests at heart? If I do not, what am I willing to do about that?
  • What am I doing to ensure my clients, co-workers, peers, supervisees, mentees and others feel truly safe, valued and uplifted?
  • What boundaries do I need to strengthen?
  • Am I taking on anything that is actually someone else’s responsibility?
  • How can I be fierce and brave? Am I ready to take on the challenge of being assertive?
  • How can I prepare myself in case I experience pushback and negative consequences when setting boundaries and speaking truth to power?
  • Am I doing my part to take responsibility for how I impact others?
  • Am I open to receiving feedback? No, really, am I?
  • Are my own needs met? How am I ensuring I am getting my needs met and in a way that is healthy?
  • What am I doing to care for my own mental health, physical well-being and overall life satisfaction?
  • What priorities do I need to shift? What do I need to do more of? What do I need to distance myself from or let go of?

 

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Emily St. Amant is a licensed professional counselor and board approved clinical supervisor (in Tennessee). She serves as the counseling resources and continuing education specialist in the Center for Counseling Policy, Practice and Research at the American Counseling Association. Contact her at estamant@counseling.org. 

 

Counseling Today reviews unsolicited articles written by American Counseling Association members. To access writing guidelines and tips for having an article accepted for publication, visit ct.counseling.org/feedback.

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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.

Behind the scenes with a counselor-in-training

By Allison Hauser June 2, 2022

I put my phone down then put my hands on my head. What wasn’t my loved one getting about me being too drained to listen or utter a reply, much less give my input?

I sighed, resourced and breathed. Then, I put those same hands on the keyboard. In the engine I searched, “What it’s like to be a therapist-in-training.”

No results.

OK, “graduate student therapist … what to expect?”

Nothing.

OK, how about, “day in the life of a therapist … real experience.”

Nothing.

Oh, come on.

The resounding collective silence made my internal ruckus clang that much louder.

I had spent my entire day attuned to clients’ emotional, physical and spiritual mise-en-scènes, translating their output through my being to churn out guidance. I was out of processing. Feedback loops fried. I really needed someone else to come through for me. Please, just take one look at me and paraphrase my inner experience in a simple way. Show me you understand that I come as I am and, oh, while we’re here, if you don’t mind telling me where it is that I am …

But who will “therapize” the therapist? Typically, it’s another therapist (and then that therapist sees their therapist, who sees their therapist, and so on, until maybe that therapist sees the original and the ouroboros ingests its tail).

But my therapy appointment was on Friday. Plus, therapy requires talking, feeling and thinking, and like I said, I’m fresh out of all of that.

So, where was that quick listicle online that I could point to like, “Yes, that. That’s what’s going on”?

No processing. Just a gentle whoosh of the paper plane “Share” button and I could go night-night.

That listicle wasn’t anywhere to be found. No whoosh. (I went night-night anyway.)

The next morning, sheer frustration, chutzpah and divine guidance kicked in and wrote that article for me … and for you.

If you’re a counselor-in-training, licensed clinician or healer looking for an article to share when you’re too tired to explain to a loved one what’s going on for you, here’s that link.

If you’re a client, future counselor or that loved one … maybe this will provide insight into what’s going on for us behind the scenes.

I’m a year and a half into my master’s in counseling training. Here’s what it’s really like to be a counselor-in-training.

 

1) It really is training. Consider graduate school an initiation. I have sat in Indigenous, shamanic ceremonies and heard stories of their rigorous apprenticeships. It’s like that, but a Western version. You will be matched with a site supervisor, a school supervisor and many other supervisors as your guides. You will attend your own therapy. You will sit present with clients for hundreds of hours. You will have to sit with yourself for thousands.

2) There will never be any real “time off.” Even in the moments in which you say, “All right, this is it! My day to relax! Time to chill …” you will notice with keen sensitivity all the ways in which you can’t relax and don’t know how. Then you will process this, deep dive into your family of origin and cultural programming, and before you know it, instead of watching a dumb show on Netflix (nothing emotional, please!), you will find yourself Googling the unconscious mechanisms that fostered your patterns. Super relaxing.

Seahorse Vector/Shutterstock.com

You will finally log off of Zoom client calls for the day, only to start analyzing your housemate’s behavior based on a theoretical orientation you just learned. This will be hard to turn off and will be discomforting. I can’t unsee it, but am I really seeing what I think I am? Try on a different lens and the story changes … can’t unsee that either.

You will crave turning off your emotions. You will see all the ways in which you try to escape them. You will long for an hour of laughing with people who do their own inner work and won’t tell you anything that they need or are working on emotionally.

You will shudder when someone randomly approaches you for “free therapy.” Please, no, anything but that! You will be taken aback when you understand a friend’s patterns with greater insight yet incur mental jet lag when you’re still not quite sure what to do with said insight.

3) Be prepared to be called out. Confronted. Often. All the time. By supervisors, clients, textbooks, yourself — and then in relationship with partners, the earth, the cosmos. As you learn to deeply listen without reacting, you will become like an empty vessel. You will become detached from the self to observe You. You will assess yourself as if you were a case conceptualization. Am I, too, a clinical summary? Who is this captured on the page? This will feel dissociative and healing all at once.

Be prepared to knock your ego down by all of the notches. You will undergo ego death often, in the psychological and spiritual senses. Your core beliefs of who you are will be revealed to be an illusion, a veil you picked up somewhere but to which you have no authentic attachment. What even is this belief, and why is it in the back of my psychic closet?

There will be periods of absolutely no connection to something bigger, then times in which you can understand it all. Then, times in which you understand absolutely nothing again. If you can laugh at this, good.

You will begin to find ways to surrender — and see all the ways in which you don’t. You will question how you do everything. And I mean everything. How you react, communicate, talk, move, why you give, why you resent. Anything you do can and will be used (by you) to analyze you.

4) Relationships may require adaptation. You will sometimes log off of client calls and not be able to make eye contact with your family. You will need to learn to take a walk after work to clear your head and, realistically, sometimes you won’t be able to. Hi, uh, does my soul still shine through my bleary eyes?

Your loved ones may not understand why you can’t take their calls. Ugh. Or why you’re cold. Oof. Or why you’re tired beyond measure. Oh my. This can be isolating, but you also have such a deep understanding of others that you empathize with them too. Sure thing. Yet you can’t reach over that gap and extend yourself any further. You may feel powerless to show love when your cups (your capacities) are not filled. I’m sorry, not right now. We are experiencing an unusually high call volume. Please leave a message.

You will sometimes not have time for other relationships. You will think you have to focus on work and clients, but then you realize you can take clients only as far as you have gone. Your breakthroughs personally will carry over to your work professionally. The only way out is through — with everyone.

You will suddenly have very little capacity to hear of toxicity in others’ relationships. You will also stop coaching them through it and tell it to them straight or nod and stay in your lane. You’ll discover your limits and an enormous amount of reserve you didn’t know you had.

You will crave non-counselor-client interactions. You will cling to anyone with a light energy. You will want so badly to be friends with nontherapists, yet therapists will be the only ones who understand you in a certain way. This will be confusing and bittersweet and insular, but brilliant.

5) You will need to find new, stronger ways to self-care. You will feel frustrated when you rigorously tend to your cups and yet another client, assignment or shadow pings you into another learning lesson. You will feel like you can never fill your cups back up. This will feel daunting.

Sometimes you won’t be able to laugh or cry or respond to text messages. You’ll crave the simple things — being barefoot in dirt, the wind of spring, the blooms on the tree outside. Mother blooms, good day to you. You will stare and talk to the flowers and water the bushes. Nurture me as I nurture you. You will deepen your sense of connection to Source (God, Higher Power). Thank you.

You will have to learn what it’s like in your body to feel infiltrated by unfamiliar energies — those emanating from others both past and present, and from their past and present. You’ll have to learn how to clear those energies out of your system daily or hourly. You’ll have to remember what it’s like to feel your own energy and not get swept away in others’ emotions and stories. You’ll have to come back to yourself before you can approach friends, family and partners or you will transfer that energy onto them unwittingly. I won’t be perfect, as this is a practice.

6) Expect transformation and lots of it. If you used to undergo spiritual ceremonies, you will realize that you may no longer “need” this in the way you once thought. Every day will be a journey. Every moment carries potency and preciousness. You will also realize that I am the medicine. As you move through your own stuff, your desire for duty will expand. It is time to pay it forward — and backward.

Your grittiest shadows will emerge with a vengeance. This will be a daily confrontation, and you will need to learn to perceive this activation and flooding as “grist for the mill.” You will need to befriend any and all parts of you so that you can show up with minimal reaction and bias. Hello, demons, my old friends!

Sometimes you will fail at this and react “at” a client. Prepare to fail often. Practice being comfortable with failure. Perk up your ears the way you would with a client when your reactions to failure arise. As you evolve, listen for how these reactions change over time from hissing to droning to cooing.

They will tell you to trust the process, but the process will feel long and harrowing and may grow darker before lighter. You will cling to your faith, self-resourcing and anything that gives you center. Sometimes those things will stop soothing, and you will feel lost. Time to find other ways to come back to my inner home. There will be times when you no longer have any pacifier to ease the fuss. I accept everything I am feeling, including the lack of any current or future promise of relief. I am here with me, with it all. If you let it, this is where your power emerges in full.

There will be moments of immense breakthrough. This can be just as overwhelming as the breakdowns. You will find a newfound sense of joy, hope, peace and contentedness within. You may also suddenly see all the ways in which you were previously stuck for so long and mourn that. But then you will be filled with an immense pride for your commitment to tread and gratitude for all of your teachers, including the so-called stuckness. Sometimes you will go through periods of breakdown and breakthrough 10 times in the same day. This vacillation will ooze into your dreams, which you will record and analyze to the nth degree before reaching a point of humorous acceptance. Maybe there’s no meaning to those burnt pieces of toast I forgot to put jelly on before high school math class in space after all.

7) There will be times where you want to quit — don’t. This would be doing you a disservice. You know too much now about how and when and why you wish to quit. Learning to sabotage the self-sabotage will be next level. No subterfuge permitted within the self. This will make you impermeable to any kind of manipulation. Yet you will have to watch that you are too good at seeing, and sometimes (rarely) you will see things that aren’t there. A mirage or my intuition? You will have to remain flexible to understand that not everything is a pattern or a pattern that you have seen before. In yourself included. Wise, yet wise enough to be open to the new.

You will have periods of feeling inside-out. You will have moments where you absolutely cannot under any circumstances go any further. You will have crushing days yet accept that this is your path regardless of the weight. There will be days of endless criticism and then days of affirming gratitude for your skills. There will be days where your clients cling to you, or hate you, or make you the villain in their story. Go ahead and do what you need to do. You will feel invincible when you understand that it’s not about you and terrible when you take it to heart when you know that you “shouldn’t.” You will find compassion for yourself in all moments, the same way you do for clients.

You will start to see this work pay off in your own relationships. You will carry yourself with a more confident, happier energy. You will heal yourself and others. This is the work, and the work will ripple onto itself. You will feel a sense of mastery in “moving through” in all your messy glory. I know with my entire being who I am and what I am capable of. Always have and always will be. You will integrate this grace. I trust that I can navigate all types of waters.

You will feel freer than you did before you came here to training. You will understand that you have always, already been on this path. You will understand that there is no deviating from destiny.

As healers, we heal ourselves, but we also heal each other, together. The “You” here is really me. And the me, you.

Whoosh.

 

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Allison Hauser (she/they) is a graduate student in clinical mental health counseling with Northwestern University. At the time of writing this, they are completing their master’s-level internship and are set to graduate in 2023. In addition to being a counselor-in-training, consultant, speaker and writer, Allison walks the lifelong paths of professional international artist, healer, spiritualist, activist and musician. Find their work at allisonhauser.com, connect with them on LinkedIn, Instagram, Twitter or YouTube, and contact them at allisonhauser2023@u.northwestern.edu.

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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.