My First Week as a Therapist
The weather conspired against us this week in North Carolina. A state that does usually see at least one major snowstorm a year, we still have no idea what to do when it actually happens. It snowed last Friday night through the day on Saturday and as a result, my university was closed on Monday, and had delayed openings on Tuesday and Wednesday due to daytime snow melt refreezing on the roads at night. Consequently, our counseling clinic was an absolute hive, with all 31 of us taking turns on the one clinic phone, trying to call our clients to reschedule canceled appointments. As if anticipation for seeing your first client isn’t bad enough — most of us had to wait a few extra days!
I, myself, had originally scheduled three clients for Monday. Luckily, it worked out that all three of them were available on Thursday. Because of the rescheduling, my first client ended up being the one I saw on Wednesday.
I had ten minutes from the end of my class until I was scheduled to see my client. As I walked from my classroom to the clinic, I tried to alleviate the anticipation by reminding myself that I meet new people all the time at my job on campus, and that this wasn’t much different: talking to someone one-on-one, with an “assignment” to complete, which in this case was the intake form.
An hour later, my first “real” session ever was over. I did it! (Now the real test will be if she comes back.)
An added bonus is that I will forever remember my first client’s name, as she is named after a fairly well known singer who had a few hits around the time my client was born. When I asked about her name, my client’s face lit up in a huge smile. She said I was only the third person to ever recognize the name. Score one for the observant counselor…who also showed her age by saying to the client that the singer was popular when she was in middle school.
In my previous post, I said I was hoping I wouldn’t have to say “Tell me more about that,” when I really meant, “I have no idea what you are talking about.” It happened. Apparently, I am out of touch with how college students use technology to entertain themselves.
By the end of Thursday, I felt I had had four successful intake sessions. Counseling is challenging, but in a good way. I am looking forward to working with my clients and seeing what progress we can make in the short time we have together.
But. There’s always a “but.”
Now that I have seen four clients — with two more new ones coming next week — the mountain of paperwork has begun. For my entire life, I have always been extremely organized and completed my assignments long before they are due. My world’s been turned upside down. Besides having an insane amount of paperwork to do for each client individually, our case notes for each session are also due within 24 hours of the session. That wouldn’t be a problem if all I was doing was seeing clients and I was allowed to use my personal computer to write them. But ACA ethics dictate that all client files must stay in the clinic (for good reason), and all of our case notes have to be typed on the clinic computers.
I mentioned there are 31 of us in my cohort. We all have a caseload of six clients right now and have the same deadlines. We have four computers available to us. Those four computers are also the same ones that have our video-watching system on them, so if we need to watch the tapes of our sessions, we have to use one of those. Also, doctoral students and staff are using the same computers to watch our tapes for supervision purposes, so actually, make that around 50 people competing for time on four computers.
Anyone else seeing a problem here? We do not have access to the clinic 24/7.
Did I mention that besides seeing six clients a week, I have 12 hours of class, a 14-hour graduate assistantship so I can pay my bills, four hours a week of supervision, and an hour commute each way? Many of my classmates are in similar situations. Time is at a premium, for all of us.
On Thursday, after having been on campus already for nearly ten hours without a break to even eat lunch in five minutes of peace, I decided I needed to come home before the threat of falling asleep behind the wheel became real, and would return to the clinic when it opened at 8:00 am on Friday to do my case notes for my last two clients, as well as my tape review that’s due Tuesday by 9:00 am.
The weather gods conspired again. Campus was closed Friday. A snow/ice mix fell for most of the morning.
On Monday, I see two of the same clients I saw on Thursday. Not only did I miss the 24-hour case note deadline for their first sessions (admittedly, not entirely my fault), I may not even have them done by the time the second session is over!
I take comfort in knowing that my classmates are in similar predicaments, and that this is not going to last forever, even if the first week of May does feel like forever from now. I’m thinking the only way this is going to work is if I stake out an unseen corner of the clinic and stash a sleeping bag so I can set up camp and work while the clinic is closed.
One of my classmates posted this advice on Facebook: “Just keep swimming… just keep swimming…”
Thieda, K. (2010). My First Week as a Therapist. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 28, 2016, from http://psychcentral.com/blog/archives/2010/02/11/my-first-week-as-a-therapist/