Tag Archives: Counselor Education & Supervision

Counselor Education & Supervision

Behind the Book: Gatekeeping in the Mental Health Professions

By Bethany Bray September 17, 2018

The academic evaluation of graduate students in counseling education programs is straightforward: Their ability to master the material becomes apparent in grades assigned and credits earned.

“However, evaluating trainee competency in the domains of interpersonal behavior, intrapersonal functioning and professional conduct to determine readiness to practice is much more subjective,” write Alicia M. Homrich and Kathryn L. Henderson in the preface to their book Gatekeeping in the Mental Health Professions, published by the American Counseling Association.

Gatekeeping’s “ethical mandate speaks not only to protecting the clinical professions and the public from harm but also to providing trainees with transparent feedback regarding their competence and their likelihood of success as professional clinicians. During their time of struggle and challenge, effective feedback and remedial support from gatekeepers can offer trainees an opportunity, should they choose to accept it, to achieve success and develop into competent, ethical and professionally effective clinicians.”

An important issue that is sometimes avoided, gatekeeping is of growing interest in the counseling profession and an often-discussed topic at professional conferences, Homrich notes.

Homrich, a professor in the graduate studies in counseling program at Rollins College in Winter Park, Florida, and Henderson, an assistant professor in the Department of Counseling and Applied Behavioral Studies at the University of Saint Joseph in West Hartford, Connecticut, became friends through their mutual interest in the topic. Counseling Today sent the duo some questions to find out more.

 

Q+A: Gatekeeping in the Mental Health Professions

 

You are both counselor educators. How did you become confident and comfortable with the gatekeeping aspect of the job?

Alicia M. Homrich: I don’t think gatekeeping is ever easy or comfortable. Every step of working with a student who is struggling with intrapersonal issues, interpersonal behavior and/or professional conduct concerns needs to be handled delicately and respectfully.

There are criteria that have made the difference in the graduate program where I work: All faculty are in agreement about our ethical and legal obligation to gatekeep to protect future clients and the reputation of our profession. The second is the intentional formulation of strategies that include very clear standards for student behavior and published policies and procedures [which] students are informed of when they enter the program and throughout their enrollment. This ensures that remediation efforts are not a surprise, if they occur, and are intended to help get the student on the right track.

Other than these two important tactics, we work as a team to make decisions on how to go forward. Group consensus and support for each other increase our comfort level so no one faculty member or supervisor is acting alone. We do the same by educating our site supervisors.

Kathryn L. Henderson: Yes, never easy or comfortable. I find it so important and vital that it is a duty and not a choice. That’s what draws me to this topic. Especially when harm to a client is possible or there’s the concern a student might not be successful in the field after graduation. To me, that’s tantamount to lying by omission or false representation if we ignore serious concerns. It also does a great disservice to our students.

Consulting with colleagues and mentors has been central to the development of my gatekeeping abilities. I find not being alone and having support to be essential.

 

Do you believe that the counseling profession, as a whole, does a good job with gatekeeping?

AMH: I believe the counseling profession does more than our allied professions to educate and inform gatekeepers of their roles, remediation strategies, and ethical and legal mandates. However, in terms of actual implementation of gatekeeping strategies, a lot of variation exists across counseling education programs nationwide.

Some programs are diligent about their obligation to gatekeep — implementing policies, engaging in procedures and remediating or dismissing students or supervisees with personal or professional conduct [that is] inconsistent with profession standards. Other programs avoid the gatekeeping process altogether in order to retain students, avoid potential legal action or sidestep the uncomfortable emotional and time-consuming nature of the gatekeeping process.

Despite this range of engagement, the counseling profession is one of two clinical training tracts that consistently takes gatekeeping seriously. Psychologists have paid the most attention to the responsibility of gatekeeping, as evidenced by task force work and literature. Social work comes third in the lineup, and marriage and family therapy appears to be the least attentive of the clinical professions in examining this issue and providing strategies as measured by their professional literature.

Despite this variation, each profession acknowledges the need for a gatekeeping process in their ethics and standards. A continuum exists across professions that includes very conscientious educators and supervisors versus programs that don’t prioritize or are avoidant of the gatekeeping mandate described by their ethical codes.

 

What resources would you recommend for counselor educators or supervisors who aren’t comfortable with gatekeeping and having tough conversations with counselors-in-training?

AMH: Work with your colleagues to design and implement policies and procedures, and don’t go it alone, especially for serious conversations with trainees. Obtain support for decision-making and action-taking from your professional colleagues, including department chairs, deans and administrators, as well as human resources, some of whom you may have to educate about our ethics and licensure obligations. I have also increased my comfort level by going to workshops hosted by ACA and the Association for Counselor Education and Supervision (ACES), as well as reading every professional article I can find on the topic.

The goal of this book [Gatekeeping in the Mental Health Professions] has been to bring all of the knowledge and wisdom generated by the four allied mental health professions, along with strategies that work, together in one resource.

KLH: One thing that helps me when I’m struggling with gatekeeping is to reflect on my own personal process and try to hunt for the source of the discomfort. Is it fear of hurting the student or supervisee? Second-guessing myself? Fear of confrontation or conflict? I find that dealing with my own discomfort head-on helps me to process through it more effectively.

As for those tough conversations, I find empathy goes a long way. It does not mean agreeing with a trainee’s choices or actions, but it helps create a connection at times.

 

Are there any misconceptions on this topic — particularly, ones held by counselors — that you want to clear up?

KLH: One misconception, or perhaps a common fear, is that gatekeeping is always a negative experience — and it can be. However, I’ve had many constructive and positive outcomes from gatekeeping. Students sometimes will express gratitude in that no one has ever been that honest with them or they have not felt as if they mattered in the program but do now.

AMH: I agree with Kathryn. The assumption that engaging in gatekeeping is overwhelming and conflictual is inconsistent with my experience. There are plenty of supervisees and students, whether they are the individuals engaged in remediation or not, who are appreciative that there are standards that protect future clients and the reputation of the profession. They also witness experienced members of the profession engaging in the process of protecting current students and supervisees, vulnerable clients and the reputation of the profession for which they are training. They appreciate the action of supervisors and faculty in gatekeeping efforts and go on to value and fulfill this ethical mandate after graduation.

 

In the book’s preface, you write that evaluating a counselor trainee’s personal and professional conduct is subjective, not clearly defined, and “lacks common agreement within and across the mental health professions.” How can this be remedied, in your opinion? Or is it a concept that can’t be standardized?

AMH: I believe it is a concept that can be standardized, at least in the counseling profession. I would love to see ACES initiate a task force that identifies standards for interpersonal, intrapersonal and professional qualities critical for professional counselors and [then] publish a set of best practice standards or a procedural list for the gatekeeping process that is supported by the division and ACA. This would provide a steppingstone or source of support for counselor educators and supervisors.

I have conducted and published a few research projects on this topic in an effort to get the ball rolling. These studies and resulting lists of suggested standards and procedures are covered in the book.

KLH: Yes, I agree totally. The field of psychology has done much more work through the American Psychological Association and its official task forces than [has] the counseling field, which we discuss in the book. Research is emerging that is promising and could inform any potential professional association task forces.

I would love to see ACES or ACA initiate an effort as well to create best practice norms. A set of official best practice standards could also be a tool to advocate to university or agency administrators who may be wary of provoking unhappy students, similar to how the American School Counselor Association (ASCA) standards serve an important advocacy tool for school counselors.

 

What inspired you to collaborate and create this book?

KLH: Our main goal was to create a sort of one-stop shop for tools and resources on gatekeeping and remediation, which Alicia mentioned earlier. Instead of needing to do extensive research on the many aspects of gatekeeping, which can be overwhelming, the book serves as a thorough resource on how to implement gatekeeping.

We hope, in particular, that it serves as a catalyst for new supervisors and doctoral students to undertake this important ethical task. The opportunity for us to collaborate happened at first by chance: We only know each other through meeting at professional conferences. We both would present on the topic and then attend other presentations on the topic, so we got to know one another over the years. And then we became friends.

AMH: The development of our professional collaboration and resulting friendship has been based on our shared passion to improve our profession, demystify the gatekeeping process and encourage counselor educators and supervisors to engage in this vital professional responsibility. We wanted to provide information, strategies and skills that support the implementation of gatekeeping in training. Our friendship developed as we worked together to achieve these goals and came to know each other better.

 

Why do you feel the book is relevant and needed now?

KLH: The literature in the field has developed to a level where compiling the findings in the form of a book to encourage application of the information was logical. This is something that clinical educators and supervisors are actively trying to understand and implement.

For instance, the topic of gatekeeping is growing in popularity. It was scarcely on the map about a decade ago, and then it exploded and continues to be a common topic at conferences. Because of the many ethical and legal issues attached to gatekeeping, it is important that counselor educators and supervisors practice in an informed and progressive way, for the protection of the field and to strive in the best interests of our students and supervisees.

 

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Gatekeeping in the Mental Health Professions is available both in print and as an e-book from the American Counseling Association bookstore at counseling.org/publications/bookstore or by calling 800-347-6647 ext. 222.

 

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Related reading from Counseling Today

 

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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.

 

 

Graduate counseling students: What makes you different?

By Sarah Fichtner September 3, 2018

As a counselor master’s student approaching graduation in December, a few lessons have become ingrained in my mind: “Always advocate on behalf of your clients”; “engaging in self-care is essential”; and “practice in accordance with the ACA Code of Ethics.” At times, when I am lying in bed after a long day, I find myself reflecting on these tasks and whether I did my best to adhere to them.

Although these lessons are crucial for counselors-in-training, I wish one other lesson had been emphasized earlier in my graduate studies: the importance, essentiality and ultimate difference of putting yourself out there in the counseling world and making a name for yourself.

According to CACREP, there are more than 800 accredited counseling programs across the United States, which means that thousands of counselors will be graduating at the same time and applying for many of the same positions. As a novice counselor, I was naïve to this concept. When I entered my graduate program, I quickly began mirroring my peer’s habits. I focused on earning top grades, copying down important concepts in class, establishing my counseling skills through role-plays and researching internship sites. It was not until I attended the New Jersey Counseling Association conference at the end of my first year of graduate school that I realized just how important a young counselor’s identity is. From that moment on, my graduate mindset changed.

I started to go above and beyond to create my own unique “brand.” I found myself researching current trends in the counseling field, editing and re-editing my resume and cover letter, reading the most up-to-date articles and journals, and consulting with my professors about counseling-related opportunities that I could participate in outside of the classroom. I constantly asked myself, “What can I do to separate myself from every other counseling master’s student graduating from an accredited university? What makes my resume special? What makes me different?”

This pursuit to create my own personal brand eventually led me to the American Counseling Association (ACA) 2018 Conference & Exposition in Atlanta this past April. One of my professors at Kean University in New Jersey spoke to my multicultural counseling class about the ACA graduate student essay contest. She passed around a handout encouraging my class to submit a proposal. Immediately, I knew that this was the perfect opportunity to define my identity and get my name out into the counseling world. After writing and rewriting my proposal, I finally submitted my essay in December. Because the winners would receive complementary registration to the ACA Conference, I could hardly wait for the winning essays to be announced. Finally, on Feb. 28, I received an email asking for my attendance at the ACA National Awards Ceremony; my essay had been chosen as one of the top entries. I was one step closer to becoming a known face in the counseling world.

Upon arriving at the ACA Conference, I prepared myself to get the most out of my experience. I printed out my resume, picked out my best business attire, scheduled an appointment with the ACA Career Center and promised myself that I would speak to as many people as I could. I was a novice counselor who planned to leave the conference educated on the licensure process, the benefits of a doctorate in counselor education, employment trends, who to contact post-graduation regarding approved supervisors and any other helpful information I could soak up.

Having this goal-oriented mindset opened my eyes to the true kindness and genuineness of the counseling community. Within minutes of entering the conference center in Atlanta, my wildest dreams were exceeded. I was engaging in impromptu, inspirational meetings with fellow master’s students, doctoral candidates, counselor educators and authors. I soon learned that the counseling community is a tightknit group of exceptionally talented and personable individuals. During my four days in Atlanta, the connections I made completely changed my personal and professional life.

There are so many people that made my experience worthwhile, but for the sake of time and space, I will mention just a few. Dedicated representatives from Magnolia Ranch, a rehab facility in Tennessee, engaged in personal conversation with me on multiple occasions. I must have stopped by their expo table at least twice per day, and each time they were just as eager to ask about my professional journey, share their insights on the counseling profession, talk about their contributions to mental health and, of course, answer all my questions about their therapy horses. (I, as a horse owner, could talk about equine-therapy for days.)

Gerald Corey, Michelle Muratori, Jude Austin and Julius Austin, co-authors of the book Counselor Self-Care (published by ACA), each connected with me on a personal level. After attending their presentation on self-care, I was determined to purchase a copy of their new book and get it signed. However, with more than 100 people in attendance at their presentation, I overestimated my chances of purchasing a book. It had quickly sold out. As a Type-A individual, self-care was something I had consistently failed at, and I knew this book would assist me in my quest to accomplish a better self-care plan. Thus, I made it my mission to find a copy of their book.

After stopping by the ACA Bookstore at the conference on multiple occasions, speaking with the authors directly and bargaining with the conference staff to sell me the copy in the display window, I started to feel defeated. It was in that moment that I decided to approach the authors one last time and express my appreciation and gratitude for their work (book or not, the information I had gained from their presentation was priceless). Surprisingly, they thanked me for my kind words, interest in their self-care book, and perseverance and commitment as a counselor-in-training. Then Michelle Muratori dug into her purse and handed me her own personal copy of Counselor Self-Care while all the authors smiled.

I spent the next few minutes chatting with her. We discussed her career as a counselor educator and clinician at Johns Hopkins University. She provided me with such valuable insight, motivation and hope for my future as a professional counselor. Additionally, prior to the book signing, I had the privilege of speaking with Julius Austin. We connected on our similar experiences of being Division I college soccer players and the transition into the counseling profession. He empathized with and understood the many emotions I went through as I left the collegiate world behind.

Finally, during one of the keynote speaker presentations, I sat next to Ed Jacobs. I introduced myself and expressed interest in his role as a program director (at the moment, I didn’t know he was a renowned author and educator in the field of counseling and that he had written the group counseling book used in my graduate program). Our conversation flowed as we talked about his position at West Virginia University, my current clinical work with children and my hopes and dreams for the future. Before we parted ways, he encouraged me to attend his group counseling session, where he would be presenting on group counseling techniques to use with children and adolescents. I made it a point to attend his workshop, and I am so happy that I did.

After the session, I went up to him to thank him for taking the time to speak with me earlier in the day. He smiled and said, “You came.” Then he reached into his bag and pulled out a copy of the book he wrote on individual counseling techniques. He handed it to me and said, “I’m really happy you came and hope we stay in touch.” I was so humbled and touched by his kindness and generosity. I, too, hope our paths will cross again.

When I returned home to New Jersey, I was filled with gratitude, warmth and excitement for my future profession. The conference was more than I could have ever imagined. However, I know that my pursuit to establish a unique identity is an evolving journey. I need to build on the connections I have made. I have reached out to Drs. Muratori, Austin and Jacobs and have been overwhelmed with the thoughtful and efficient responses I have received.

For example, Dr. Jacobs stated that one of his greatest joys is mentoring students and that he would be more than willing to guide me in my journey as a novice counselor. Within days, he had connected me with a counselor educator here in New Jersey; my name was quickly spreading throughout the counseling world. My resume was being reviewed by many professionals, my email inbox was filling up with new messages, and my identity as a counselor-in-training was far greater than that of a master’s student graduating from a CACREP-accredited program. There was a face to my name.

Although this idea of networking may seem like common sense, I cannot tell you how many master’s students leave their graduate programs unsure of what to do next. It is not that they failed to study hard, earn good grades and succeed in their clinical settings, but rather that their identity as novice counselors mirrors that of every other newly graduated student.

So, to all my fellow counseling graduate students, if there is one thing I hope you take away from this article, it is this: Go the extra mile; get involved in as many activities and events as you can; submit journal proposals; do not be afraid to introduce yourself and network with as many professionals as you can; and, lastly, create your own unique brand. Be bold. Be brave.

Understanding this concept early on will only help you in the long run. With the complex social challenges faced by the nation and the world, becoming the best counselor one can be is imperative. By celebrating our uniqueness and crafting our professional brand, we will be best positioned to solve the mental health problems and other social ills that we all face.

 

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Sarah Fichtner is a former Division 1 women’s soccer player for the University of Maryland. She is completing her master’s degree in clinical mental health counseling at Kean University in New Jersey and currently works at Hackensack Meridian Behavioral Health as a counselor intern, where she practices from a strengths-based model. Contact her at fichtnes@kean.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.

 

Guiding lights

By Bethany Bray May 30, 2018

Counselor supervision is a rite of passage for professional counselors. Although supervision requirements vary from state to state, the crux of the experience — learning that is based in a relationship between a beginning counselor and an experienced practitioner — is universal. As is the case for any relationship to remain healthy and beneficial, the supervisor–supervisee pairing requires care, hard work, respect and trust from both parties.

Supervision is meant to be “the other half” of counselor education, bridging classroom learning and in-session counseling skills, says Summer Reiner, a licensed mental health counselor (LMHC), clinical supervisor and associate professor and school counseling coordinator at the College of Brockport, State University of New York. “There’s no way you can fully prepare the student in a classroom. Supervision is to fill out your education,” says Reiner, president of the Association for Counselor Education and Supervision, a division of the American Counseling Association.

Supervision begins “a lifelong process of always stepping back and looking at what went well and what didn’t,” she adds. “Supervision is training to be able to do that throughout your career, a constant of thinking what went well and what do I need to do differently? It’s a supervisor’s role to get that internal dialogue moving, by demonstrating it first and letting [supervisees] know that they will self-evaluate, in a healthy way, throughout their career.”

Balancing act

The supervisor–supervisee relationship is different from the therapeutic bond forged between counselor and client. However, many counseling skills come into play as supervisors support and foster growth in their supervisees. Although supervisors never shed their identity as counselors, they must learn to shift gears between working with clients and working with counselors-in-training or beginning professionals.

Supervisors must also achieve a balance between two primary roles that can, at times, feel like they are at odds with each other: fostering an open and honest dynamic with supervisees and evaluating supervisees. The best learning opportunities often arise when supervisees feel comfortable with and have enough trust in their supervisors to ask questions and admit when they are struggling.

“It’s a delicate balance,” says Kevin Doyle, a licensed professional counselor (LPC), clinical supervisor and adjunct instructor of counselor education at Virginia Tech. “The supervisor has the power, but it still needs to be an open relationship. … A supervisor should focus on creating a connection that is similar to counseling, with focus on the supervisee’s professional growth and development. Transparency is paramount, even though there’s a grade or evaluation piece to the situation.”

“It’s one of the biggest fissures in supervision: There’s this evaluative piece. It’s similar to a counseling relationship, but you also have the responsibility to assign grades or to be a reference for a future employer,” says Doyle, a member of ACA. “It’s not a counselor–client relationship, but it also shouldn’t be an inverted relationship” with a power imbalance.

Supervisors are a unique blend of teacher, counselor, evaluator and role model, and they need to be able to nimbly weave in and out of those roles as the moment demands, Reiner says. Throughout the process, counselor supervisors should remain very supportive of their supervisees while also offering honest feedback.

“Help them understand that we’re not evaluating them as a person, or as a counselor, but with each intervention they use with a client,” says Reiner, whose experience is with graduate student supervision as a counselor educator. “This isn’t me judging you; it’s me helping you see what was your intent in this process? What was the intended outcome? If that didn’t happen, what would you have changed?’”

“At the same time,” she continues, “it’s important not to be a cheerleader. Don’t let them feel like everything’s OK when it’s not. It’s this balancing act of having students hear critical feedback without personalizing it and [then] using it constructively.”

Stacey Brown, an LMHC and clinical supervisor in Fort Myers, Florida, stresses that the best supervision happens when the relationship is central to the experience, which transcends simply going through the motions of clocking the needed hours and ticking items off of a to-do list. “For me, it’s about becoming a counselor — beyond the techniques they learn in grad school,” says Brown, an ACA member. “It’s very easy to forget the human part of the equation, and our role as nurturer and encourager, as there are so many boxes to tick. Don’t make it so structured that [supervision] sessions are repetitive or predictable. Be open and allow flow to happen, like you would in a counseling session. You can still cover everything you need to cover, but be creative and open to what comes. Otherwise, you may lose out on [teaching] opportunities that pop up.”

For example, a supervisor might have a stack of case studies ready for review with a supervisee, but the beginning counselor walks into the room with tears in her eyes because of professional stress or something going on in her personal life. In that case, “You shouldn’t push forward with your case reviews,” Brown says. “You should take a step back, ask what’s going on and how can you [the supervisee] manage it? But if I have some kind of checklist to get through, I will miss out on opportunities to help her become a counselor. Teach [supervisees] flexibility, intuition, being present and learning that they have to deal with their own stuff and take care of themselves to be able to help other people. What better way to teach that than by doing it?”

Modeling and forging a bond

Doyle says the skills that supervisees gain through counselor supervision can be divided into two realms: everything that happens in the room with clients, and everything that happens outside of the counseling room.

The first part of the equation, the “nuts and bolts” of counseling, as Doyle calls it, is developed through case review and the one-on-one guidance that a supervisor provides. It involves real-time application of the knowledge base that counseling students were introduced to in graduate school.

The second part encompasses learning that can’t truly be acquired from textbooks. It involves preparation for the entirety of the job of being a professional counselor, Doyle says. Much of the knowledge acquired in this sphere is based on how supervisors model their own professional skills, both inside and outside of client sessions, in the presence of their supervisees. Supervisees watch and absorb not only their supervisors’ interactions with clients, but also the professional boundaries that supervisors set, how much they focus on self-care and how they manage time, professional ethics and other aspects of the job.

Supervisees “absorb so much from how we carry ourselves and what we do in supervision,” says Doyle, who wrote his doctoral dissertation on how supervisors can model wellness and how that influences supervisees’ wellness.

A little self-disclosure, when appropriate, on the part of supervisors can help keep the supervisor–supervisee relationship open and honest, says Kathryn Henderson, an LPC and an assistant professor at the University of Saint Joseph in West Hartford, Connecticut. When supervisors disclose, for example, that they sometimes struggle to prioritize self-care, it demonstrates not only that even supervisors are imperfect but also that wellness will need to be a career-long goal.

“I stress that we’re in this together,” says Henderson, an ACA member. Supervisors share “our knowledge and experience, but we’re learning from [our supervisees] and growing ourselves. We’re learning just as much from them as they are from us. It’s mutually enriching.”

Brown says she is upfront with her supervisees that counselors are no different from the general population in that they sometimes have trauma in their past, struggle with an inner critic or anxiety, or face other challenges. “Part of being a good counselor is being comfortable with yourself and coming to terms with your own issues. I can’t be [my supervisees’] therapist, but as a supervisor, [I] can recommend they see a therapist,” Brown says. “I tell people right off the bat, there’s no reason to hide who you are.”

Brown also thinks that supervisor self-disclosure, within ethical boundaries, can strengthen the relationship with supervisees and help them realize that being honest about their struggles won’t sabotage their evaluation. Brown recalls one supervisee who had an infant at home. When Brown would check in with her about her stress level and self-care routine, the supervisee would insist she was fine. In truth, she was struggling with breastfeeding and a severe lack of sleep. The supervisee opened up only after being shown photos of Brown’s children and having Brown share a few of her own struggles during motherhood.

“My job, as I see it, is not to be rigid or pretentious at all, but to be real,” Brown says. “Being a real person who can share my experiences, my missteps, my learning, my boundary conflicts, my wellness efforts, etc., helps supervisees to be willing to be real with me. Then I
can see who they are and can offer suggestions that can help them personally and professionally.”

“The relationship is the most important part of the supervision,” she continues. “Elements of trust, mentoring, nurturing, directing, humor, compassion and tutoring are all there, just as in the counseling relationship. The difference is that in supervision, the supervisee will one day be completely equal or surpass me in credentials and expertise. I treat them as colleagues while still offering the nurturing and guidance and respect they need and deserve.”

Henderson agrees that trust is paramount in creating a good supervision experience. For supervisors, this includes trusting their supervisees enough to give them room to find their own way professionally. For supervisees, this means trusting the relationship enough to be able to share — and, in turn, work on — their weaknesses and areas of struggle.

“You can’t give someone insight; [a supervisee] needs to find that on their own. But we can create that opportunity in supervision,” says Henderson, co-editor with Alicia M. Homrich of Gatekeeping in the Mental Health Professions, published by ACA in May. “Supervision is their first time working with real clients in a real-world setting and applying what they’ve spent so many hours learning. That can be scary and overwhelming — there’s a fear of inadequacy. … The crux of supervision is that you’re not alone in that. This is exactly where you go to talk about those concerns and get the support and help that you need to grow in your own self-awareness and confidence in your skills.

“Supervisors are the ones to build that support [by offering] encouragement and validation. All of that helps create an environment where I [the supervisee] can come and bring my greatest concerns and failures, be vulnerable and not be afraid of being judged or of negative outcomes or consequences. Trust is so needed to create that environment.”

It takes two

What does it take to establish a healthy and beneficial supervision experience? In part, both parties must contribute by being flexible and practicing open and honest communication.

Suggestions for supervisees

Shop around to find the best fit. Look for a supervisor with whom you click, both professionally and personally. Alicia Simmons, a counselor intern working toward counselor licensure in Florida, found her supervisor, Stacey Brown (quoted in this article), by searching online and talking with friends from graduate school. She called and spoke with Brown before meeting her in person to test the waters of what would become a very positive supervision relationship. Simmons and Brown co-presented a session, “Intuitive Clinical Supervision: Creative Solutions for Helping New Counselors,” at the ACA 2018 Conference & Expo in Atlanta this past April.

“Look for someone who is going to walk beside you for … however long it takes,” says Simmons, a clinician and play therapist at an agency that serves children removed from their homes due to trauma or neglect. “Don’t be afraid to ask questions before you begin. You want to know you’re in the right fit. Don’t be afraid to try more than one supervisor. … Look for someone who is going to be flexible and work with you in the way you need to work. If you don’t know what that is, work with someone who will help you figure that out.”

Speak up. If you have a need that is not being met through the supervision experience, talk to your supervisor in a tactful but honest way. Doyle acknowledges that this can be a tall order because supervisors are seen as authority figures. At the same time, identifying any area where you might be struggling in the relationship will actually help your supervisor, he says. Counselors who provide supervision have so much to focus on — including client needs, scheduling, paperwork and so on — that they may not notice everything going on with their supervisees.

“Advocate for your needs [even though] that’s a lot to ask at the outset,” says Doyle, who will be starting a new job as assistant professor of mental health counseling at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga this fall. “Speak up when you need support. Realize that the supervisor will rely on that. … When you come to see your supervisor as a safe person, you will really connect with them and [that will] make it easy to disclose your struggles.”

Respect the process. Keep in mind that your supervisor likely took on this extra responsibility because he or she wanted to “pay it forward” to the profession, Reiner says. Yes, supervisees have needs that should be met through the supervision experience, but at the same time, they must remember that a counselor’s first priority will always be client care.

“Step one is being appreciative that someone was willing to take you on as a supervisee and has trust in you that you will be able to serve clients well,” says Reiner, an ACA member. “Keep in mind that you are practicing under the license of someone else. If the [supervisee] does something really inappropriate, it can open the supervisor up to a lawsuit. They are taking on a personal risk as well as an additional workload. … Recognize that the supervisor is investing in the future of the profession and has no obligation to do that. Realize that they care about your future and the clients you are going to work with.”

Be authentic and drop preconceived expectations. Bring your true self into supervision. Don’t act one way with clients and another way with your supervisor. There should be “a thread of authenticity” throughout your work in supervision, Simmons says. “Counseling is basically holding up a mirror and showing somebody what’s there. Supervision I think ideally would be the same way.” Authenticity, both on the part of the supervisee and the supervisor, builds trust, she asserts.

In addition, it might be best for supervisees to leave behind their ideas of what supervision should look like. The important thing is for the supervisor and supervisee to be working toward the same goals. “What I had heard about clinical supervision was mostly [about] case review and going over the work with clients — very textbook and academic,” says Simmons, an ACA member. “What I’ve learned is that it can be much more fluid than that. All the in-between stuff is what has stuck with me and helped me develop my own style and confidence in my abilities. It’s about more than just the logistics of what’s going on in each [client] case.”

Remain open to feedback. Having a relationship built on trust makes it easier for supervisees to remember that any critical feedback they receive from their supervisor is meant to help them and that they are both working toward the same goal: the supervisee’s growth and development as a counselor. “It’s the same as the counseling relationship — you have to have that rapport,” Simmons says.

Regardless, being critiqued can prove challenging. “As a supervisee, it’s our responsibility to be able to receive feedback,” Simmons says. “If there’s something that’s getting in the way, perhaps that’s something [we] need to work through. We may need to seek therapy ourselves to work on it. Check yourself: Is it something related to the supervisor, or is it something unrelated that you need to work on?”

Think for yourself. At the same time, do not accept feedback blindly. Think it through and talk through any areas you have questions about with your supervisor, Reiner advises. But first, take a step back and consider whether you have received similar feedback from others in the past.

“Critically examine any feedback that you are receiving and be open to being the one who needs to grow and change. Or simply say ‘thank you for that feedback’ and ‘I’ll be mindful of that in the future,’” Reiner says. “I don’t think that supervisees know that supervisors are sometimes uncomfortable sharing critical feedback. They have probably thought it through [before telling supervisees] and were anxious about it themselves.”

Suggestions for supervisors

Temper criticism. Set realistic expectations and frame criticism in a way that lets supervisees know you’re focused on their growth, Doyle says.

In Reiner’s work supervising graduate students, she assures them that she won’t start evaluating them for a grade until halfway through the semester, once they have settled into the experience. It is important to stress that feedback is never personal but rather focused on supervisees’ development, Reiner says.

“There’s also an element of modeling for your supervisees — ‘This is how you have hard conversations with people.’ [They] will need to do that as a counselor,” Reiner says.

Debunk myths of perfection and the existence of one right way. Henderson shares an important lesson with her supervisees that she learned through her own supervision: There is no such thing as a perfect counseling session. Supervisees often put enormous pressure on themselves to find the “right” way to do something, she says. The truth is, clinicians can work with the same client in multiple ways and take different therapeutic directions and still arrive at a positive outcome, Henderson says.

Prioritize fostering growth. Might your supervisees end up working for a local competitor or leave your agency and move on once they’re licensed? Be supportive and invested in their growth, even if it won’t benefit you in the long run, Doyle urges. “Don’t think of [supervision] as just one more thing to get through. Don’t think of it as a task but as a relationship to foster,” he says.

One mark of a good supervision relationship is when a supervisor is comfortable enough to allow — or even to encourage — a supervisee to seek additional skills elsewhere, Simmons says. For example, if supervisees use different therapeutic modalities than their supervisors do, they might want to look for workshops or online training while
in supervision.

Help supervisees embrace their counselor identity. Supervisors can help prepare supervisees for work environments in which they may be the only counselor. “Once people get into a work environment, there becomes a lot of pressure to do things not in the way a counselor is trained to do. Part of a supervisor’s job is to train a supervisee not to lose their identity as a counselor,” Reiner says. “Sometimes you might get the message, ‘We know that’s what you learned in college, but that’s not how we do it.’ Be mindful of teaching them to be a team player yet [also] an advocate for counselors and counseling.”

For example, a counselor in a school setting may be the only person in the building with a counseling background, and he or she may repeatedly be asked to spend time as a test proctor or hall monitor or to perform other noncounseling duties. “How do you politely tell your principal that counselors are not lunch monitors?” Reiner asks. “Instead, explain that your approach will be different. ‘I will do it, but I’ll do it within my counselor identity. Instead of being a disciplinarian, I will use it as an opportunity to talk to students.’”

Lift supervisees up. Supervisees should leave the supervision experience even more energized about the counseling profession than when they began, Brown says. “The way I see it, our job is to lift them up. To help them see that they are more capable than they think they are. To teach, to offer guidance and education, and to model how we do what we do. … Yes, there are techniques and ethics and strategies, but there is also joy in the giving. Graduate students don’t often pick up on that part in grad school. I believe that is the key element we, as supervisors, need to be offering to new counselors. This will help keep integrity in the profession and prevent burnout [by] shining a light on the ability to truly offer healing to clients.”

Navigating the ups and downs

Because supervision is an experience that involves two human beings, it is only natural that not every experience will be positive. Frustration, awkwardness and other negative feelings may surface.

Conflict can arise easily in supervision relationships in which expectations are unclear, Henderson notes. To decrease the likelihood of that happening, she recommends that supervisors document their expectations thoroughly before supervision begins, regardless of whether that process is mandated by the state in which the supervisor practices.

Among the details that should be included:

  • How the supervisee will be evaluated
  • How often the supervisor plans to meet with the supervisee
  • The cancellation policy should a supervisee need to miss a meeting
  • The length of the supervision or how many hours are expected
  • How much the supervisee will pay the supervisor (if applicable)

These details should be talked through with supervisees before they agree to sign the document.

This is also a good time to map out wellness goals, says Doyle, who has supervisees include self-care in the learning contract they create at the beginning of supervision.

“In many ways, it’s on the supervisor to try and develop a welcoming, supportive, yet honest and challenging relationship with their supervisee,” Reiner says. “That starts out with being very direct and forward with your supervisee about what is expected and how they will be evaluated.”

The importance of being direct also extends to addressing any differences between supervisors and supervisees, from level of expertise to gender identity to spirituality, Reiner says. She recommends asking supervisees upfront, “How are you feeling about these elements of who you are and who I am and how that comes together in our space together?” In addition, she says, supervisors can offer assurances to ease supervisees’ concerns about those differences: “If there’s ever a time when I’m not hearing you or not understanding you, please tell me. I want to hear it because it will only help our relationship.”

When tough conversations arise or when things aren’t going well in supervision, it is helpful to keep the discussions focused on growth opportunities. In her role as a counselor educator, Reiner sometimes has to mediate meetings between supervisors and supervisees who aren’t seeing eye to eye. She begins by asking both, individually, what is going well, what can be improved on and what they would like to do or see in supervision that hasn’t happened yet. Reiner tries to frame the conversation so that both parties are able to take personal ownership of what has transpired without placing blame. That way, they are able to share and focus on what they want from the experience that they haven’t yet received.

Clear and open communication is essential when the supervision relationship is having its ups and downs, agrees Henderson, and that is when a supervisor’s counseling skills especially come into play. Supervisors should focus on concrete expectations that aren’t being met rather than vague or arbitrary attributes that they may not like, such as a supervisee’s personality or professional style. If necessary, supervisors can also refer to the contract put in writing at the beginning of the relationship, she adds.

“Many times, we talk around things without talking about the process that’s going on in the room, that here-and-now experience,” says Henderson, who presented on supervision and ethics at the ACA 2018 Conference & Expo in Atlanta. “Oftentimes we need to go to that level of metacommunication, to use counselor lingo, to address the dynamics that are happening between us and what’s contributing to it. That can be a very difficult conversation to have, especially considering the power differential. I like to make it as concrete as possible. Having clear expectations and a contract helps focus on competencies and what’s not being met.”

“[Sometimes] it’s these unexpected lessons that find us, that we’re not looking for, that can be the most difficult but that lead to the most growth,” she adds. “When we are having these conversations, keep in mind our mutual goals. What’s our purpose? The supervisee’s growth as well as client welfare. Monitor both.”

Keep it going

Peer support and feedback, mentorship and case review with colleagues can play a vital role throughout a counselor’s career, long after formal supervision leading up to licensure has ended. Doyle recommends that counselors engage in lifelong supervision, whether in an informal or formal capacity, to continue learning and to find support.

“It’s extremely rewarding work that we do, but it’s extremely taxing too. Peer support becomes that much more important after formal supervision ends,” he says. “It’s hard to describe the grind you go through daily as a counselor and the emotional toll it takes. Connect with people who can understand that. Connect with peers across the profession, whether that’s within a professional organization or the practitioner in the office next to you. Make sure you have a support network, wherever you are.”

Henderson says one of the things that stuck with her most from Irvin Yalom’s keynote at the ACA 2017 Conference & Expo in San Francisco was that he — a noted psychiatrist, author and scholar — had sought support from peer groups throughout his storied career. “Even though he’s a giant in the field, he continues to work on his own development,” she says.

“The message that we want to send is that the journey doesn’t end when you get that license or degree,” Henderson adds. “The journey is ongoing, and we don’t want to be alone in that journey.”

 

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Related reading: Counselor supervision: Reflections and lessons learned,” an online-exclusive companion piece to this article: wp.me/p2BxKN-58U

 

Additional resources:

From the Counseling Today archives:

 

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Bethany Bray is a staff writer and social media coordinator for Counseling Today. Contact her at bbray@counseling.org.

Letters to the editor: ct@counseling.org

 

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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.

Counselor supervision: Reflections and lessons learned

Compiled by Bethany Bray May 25, 2018

[EDITOR’s NOTE: This is an online-only companion article to “Guiding lights,” a feature on the ins and outs of the counselor supervision process appearing in the June issue of Counseling Today.]

 

Counselor supervision can have quite a steep learning curve — one that often comes with several ups and downs for beginning counselors.

Counseling Today recently asked several American Counseling Association members about their experience navigating the supervision learning curve. They share their thoughts here so that others can learn from their journeys along the sometimes-bumpy road into professional practice.

 

Fill in the blank: I wish I had known ________ when I was in my supervision.

 

“I wish I had known that it was OK to think outside of the box. I am a naturally creative and intuitive person, but I tried to reel all of that in during supervision. My supervisor was very structured. I still learned a lot, but it took me many years of practicing as a counselor before integrating who I am into my work as a counselor.

Be open to your supervisees interests — you can miss out on opportunities for them to grow, otherwise.”

Stacey Brown, a licensed mental health counselor (LMHC) and clinical supervisor in Fort Myers, Florida

 

” [In supervision,] I felt that I couldn’t make a mistake because it would be evidence that I’m not a good counselor. I felt scared, instead of realizing that my supervisor was interested in knowing me as a person and interested in my development. [My supervisor] wasn’t looking for me to be a fully-formed counselor, they were expecting me to be a novice, and expecting to provide modeling and encouragement for improvement.

Now, I remind my students: If you’re scared and hiding [things from your supervisor], those are the students who don’t do as well, as opposed to those who are open and seeking growth. Be honest about your weaknesses instead of not acknowledging them.”

Summer Reiner, LMHC, clinical supervisor and associate professor and school counseling coordinator at the College of Brockport, State University of New York and president of the Association for Counselor Education and Supervision

 

“One of the hardest lessons for me in supervision was [learning] the boundary of my own responsibility with my client. I was always wanting more [for them], feeling like I was responsible for more of their change and their experience. [Feeling that] it was somehow my fault or responsibility that they weren’t making progress in a way we wanted to see.

It took some very strong and honest supervisors [for me to learn not to feel that way]. That’s a level of insight, something you can’t give anybody. They helped me find my way.

One supervisor challenged me with ‘where does Kathryn end and where does your client begin?’ At first, I didn’t know that that meant. But it has really stuck with me.

It’s a very common, normal part of development as clinician [feeling responsible for client change]. We can have a parallel process of that, as supervisors — feeling responsible for the growth of supervisees: Where do they begin and we end?

It’s really about being the best that we can for our clients, and supervisees, and acknowledging that we don’t have all the answers.”

Kathryn Henderson, a licensed professional counselor (LPC) and assistant professor at the University of Saint Joseph in West Hartford, Connecticut

 

“I wish I knew how to advocate for myself within supervision. A lot of times, I didn’t speak up when I was in situations I didn’t feel comfortable in. I wish I had known how to advocate within supervision and how to broach [tough] conversations. But more importantly, knowing how to spot a supervisor who would be willing to broach [those conversations] and model wellness.

I wish I knew [then] how to spot a strong supervision relationship from a weak relationship because ultimately that’s how we benefit.”

Kevin Doyle, an LPC and counselor educator who begins a position as assistant professor of mental health counseling at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga this fall

 

I wish I had known:

  • How to navigate cultural barriers in the supervisee/supervisor process
  • How to advocate for quality over quantity for clients (providing quality clinical services to the client while meeting the agencies financial demands)
  • How to obtain clarity of expectations for my role in practicum/internship
  • That the process would be arduous at times

Kerri Legette McCullough, an LPC, licensed clinical professional counselor (LCPC), doctoral candidate at Argosy University and a mental health therapist at Hillcrest Children and Family Center in Washington, D.C.

 

 

“I had learned that in clinical supervision, I would learn how to function in the role of a counselor. Here’s what I didn’t know: I did not know that it was okay to not know things — that actually, it was pretty much expected that I wouldn’t.

I was unaware that clinical supervision could be an intuitive process — or that I would learn so much just within the context of the supervisory relationship. I was unaware of the full potential and was not expecting it to be as transformative as it has been for me, in both professional and personal ways.  I think that if I had known this in the beginning, I definitely would have had a lot less anxiety about the process. But experiencing it in real time has been a valuable part of becoming a counselor.  I wouldn’t change it.”

Alicia Simmons, a counselor intern working toward counselor licensure in Florida and a clinician and play therapist at an agency that serves children removed from their homes due to trauma or neglect

 

 

 

 

 

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Bethany Bray is a staff writer and social media coordinator for Counseling Today. Contact her at bbray@counseling.org.

 

Letters to the editor: ct@counseling.org

 

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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.

 

 

Past trauma in counselors-in-training: Help or hindrance?

By Bethany Bray May 20, 2018

Counselors are not immune to trauma — in fact, far from it. Many practitioners say that personal or familial experience with trauma or mental illness actually spurred them to become professional counselors.

The connection between personal experience and the pull to become a counselor is something that is hard to quantify, but “in my personal experience, I encounter it pretty frequently,” says Allison Pow, a licensed professional counselor in North Carolina and adjunct professor at both Wake Forest University and the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. “For a lot of people, past experience draws them into the counseling field, and trauma can play such a pivotal part in someone’s life. It’s a common thing that we see as supervisors and counselor educators.”

Past trauma can be either an impairment or a kind of “benefit” for counselors-in-training, depending on how much the person has worked through and processed the effects of trauma, say Pow and Amber Pope, a licensed mental health counselor and program chair of the clinical mental health counseling program at Hodges University in Fort Myers, Florida.

Counselor educators and other professionals in the field who have close contact with counselors-in-training should keep an eye out for red flags that may indicate that a person’s past trauma is interfering with their growth as a counselor or, in a worst-case scenario, has the potential to cause harm to clients.

“Just because you’ve been through trauma doesn’t mean you can’t become a counselor. You can become a great counselor if [your trauma] is processed correctly,” Pope says.

Pow and Pope co-presented a session, “Wounded healers: How to support counselors-in-training who have experienced trauma,” at the 2017 ACA Conference & Expo in San Francisco. The term “trauma” can encompass a wide variety of experiences, from an acute event to yearslong, developmental trauma, Pow explains.

People who have processed the effects of past trauma — often with the help of a therapist of their own — can become excellent counselors, Pow says. Posttraumatic growth and healing from the experience can foster empathy and strengthen coping skills.

“Going through trauma is a very unique experience [through which] you understand the way your brain works and your body reacts. That is hard for someone to understand who hasn’t gone through that,” Pow explains. “I have had some students who were very resilient because they have been forced to cope [in traumatic situations] in the past.”

“The reason a lot of people become very, very good counselors is their life experience,” Pow adds.

However, people who haven’t fully processed the trauma in their backgrounds can run into trouble as professional counselors. For example, in client sessions, they risk becoming triggered by topics that clients bring up and may be unable to regulate their own emotions or other behaviors in response. These reactions can harm the delicate balance of trust between practitioner and client.

“They may unwittingly be using their role as a counselor to work through their own unprocessed material or to recapitulate an unhealthy power dynamic to feel that they’re in control,” Pow says. “Control is often something that people seek after going through trauma. It may come from a lack of self-awareness.”

 

Red flags

Interactions with classmates and colleagues might be one of the best indicators of whether counselors-in-training have a trauma history that still needs to be worked through. During moments of vulnerability, do they become aggressive or reactive or express other strong emotions? In general, a lack of self-awareness, such as oversharing in class or being unaware of how the people around them are feeling, can be an indicator of unprocessed trauma, says Pow, who has a private practice in Greensboro, North Carolina.

Also watch for attachment issues or signs of avoidance, such as skipping classes or evading one-on-one contact with a professor or authority figures, Pow says. It can also be indicative of a trauma background if students do not generally have themselves together, including missing assignments or being late to class repeatedly, Pope says.

Other indicators can include:

  • Poor boundary keeping: This may manifest as oversharing, attention-seeking or disruptive behavior in the classroom, or an unhealthy preoccupation with relationships with classmates or colleagues.
  • Low self-confidence: Students with unresolved trauma may demonstrate low belief in themselves regardless of past successes. They may feel like they can “never do enough,” Pope explains. These students may lack motivation or even self-sabotage, such as missing a deadline even though they are capable of meeting it.
  • Rigidity in thinking: If students aren’t open to receiving feedback and unwilling to take constructive criticism, it can be a major indicator of past trauma that hasn’t been resolved. This attitude can stem from a black-and-white way of thinking in which the student categorizes things as “all good” or “all bad” with no in between, Pope says.

Everyone has bad days now and then that can set them off. However, if a student is repeatedly unable to regulate their emotions, such as becoming reactive or upset in class, it is a red flag, Pope says.

“When a student is so set in their values or way of thinking that they try and impose it on others, that can stem from trauma. If they can’t become more flexible in their thinking process or relationships with others, then they’re going to have a difficult time with clients,” she explains.

 

When it’s time to intervene

It is beneficial, for any number of reasons, for counselor educators to get to know and connect with the students in their program, Pope says. If a particular student seems to be struggling with challenges that could keep them from becoming a proficient counselor — such as issues related to unresolved trauma — it is better to intervene sooner rather than later.

Be prevention-focused instead of reactionary, Pope suggests. The longer a student continues in a graduate counseling program, the harder it will be to check their behavior or make decisions about their future.

“Don’t let students waste time and money if they’re not going to be a good fit,” she says.

Counselor educators who identify students raising red flags should pull them aside after class or ask them to stop by the counselor educator’s office, Pope advises. The first interaction with the student should be kept informal and light. Let them know that you have noticed some patterns and indicators in their behavior that require some attention, and ask them what supports they need to help them make improvements, she says. If appropriate, other professors or colleagues who know the student can sit in on this initial informal meeting to offer support, Pope says.

Check in with the student frequently during class breaks, supervision meetings and other opportunities. Ask how the student is doing and how they are practicing self-care. This conveys to the student that the professor wants them to succeed and grow, Pope says.

Pope emphasizes that this method should be applied only to counseling students who haven’t committed an egregious offense or intentionally gone against the ACA Code of Ethics. In those cases, a swifter and more formal response is necessary.

If a student does not begin to change their behavior after a first informal meeting, consider meeting with the counselor-in-training again to create a formal written behavior agreement. Spell out which behaviors aren’t acceptable, why those behaviors aren’t acceptable and what they need to do to continue in the counseling program. Be specific and include a timeline of when the expectations must be met, Pope advises.

If the student meets the requirements in the behavior agreement, they should be allowed to continue on with graduate school. If not, suggest that they take a semester or other time off to get the help they need, or leave the program entirely.

“When a student is given feedback and continues in their behavior patterns and doesn’t make any changes, that’s showing me that the student isn’t ready to change or do what they need to do to grow professionally,” Pope says.

Throughout the process, Pope says, she would recommend that the student attend counseling. There is some debate within counselor education as to whether it is ethical to require students to attend personal counseling . In the case of recommending a student to personal counseling, a counselor educator can request the student to provide proof, in the form of written letters from a provider, that they are attending therapy sessions and making progress to demonstrate their willingness to comply with their professors’ recommendation.

“We’re very open, telling students that we [their professors] have all attended or are attending counseling, and that it’s important to be as healthy as you can be, [to] take care of yourself mentally and emotionally,” Pope says.

Although sometimes uncomfortable, this process is also an opportunity for counselor educators to model what a healthy professional relationship should look like, Pope notes. It shows students that you can give critical feedback while caring and maintaining empathy.

“You can give suggestions and guidance while keeping professional boundaries. They may not have had that [example] in their life before,” Pope says.

“In my classes, I make a point of being very transparent with my expectations and predictable. I have a standard of which behaviors I respond to and which I don’t,” Pow agrees. “For a student who has gone through trauma, it’s not our job to be their counselor. But a lot of times their lives haven’t been predictable, and they haven’t had a safe base. We can be that predictable, safe base. We can talk openly about their struggles, getting help and that it’s not a bad thing that you’ve had some challenges in your life.”

 

Gatekeepers and guides

Counselor educators must strike a fine balance between acting as gatekeepers for the profession and serving as mentors and guides for those who need extra support, Pope says.

“When it comes to student trauma and challenges, for me, an ideal situation is when I can have enough conversations with a student so they can come to their own conclusions on whether the field is right for them or not,” Pow says. “Part of effective trauma treatment is creating choice and putting decision-making back into the person’s hands. That may be the choice to take some time off and return to the program. Emphasize where they have agency in things.”

It’s OK for a student to come into a graduate counseling program with unresolved trauma issues. They just have to be willing to work on it, self-process and accept help, Pow says. Students who are open to self-reflection and constructive feedback can experience a tremendous amount of growth, she says. “It’s unreasonable for us to expect, as educators, that people are going to come into these [graduate] programs having processed everything that has happened to them and be completely self-aware,” she affirms.

Processing and rising above trauma builds skills that are the hallmarks of a good counselor, including a strong sense of self-awareness, empathy and sensitivity. Counselors who have successfully processed their past trauma can become models for clients struggling with similar issues, Pope says.

“If you heal from a trauma, you really have to engage with the most vulnerable parts of yourself. It’s a depth that people who haven’t been through trauma may not fully understand,” Pope says. “That’s what creates really great counselors — [to be able to] engage with others at that level of vulnerability and intimacy. Knowing that going through something so challenging, you can become more whole, and in turn become a safe place for others. As a counselor, you’re better able to serve your clients.”

 

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Related reading

  • For more on supporting counselors-in-training through the supervision process, see the feature “Guiding lights” in the June issue of Counseling Today.

 

 

Suggested resources

Want to learn more on this topic? Pow and Pope suggest these titles:

 

 

 

 

 

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Bethany Bray is a staff writer and social media coordinator for Counseling Today. Contact her at bbray@counseling.org

 

 

Follow Counseling Today on Twitter @ACA_CTonline and on Facebook at facebook.com/CounselingToday.

 

 

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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.