I just finished a 40-day winter break from graduate school. After a quick but intense first semester, I was a bit crispy around the edges and welcomed the vacation. But now it is back to school and the next chapter in my journey towards becoming a clinical therapist.
In less than two weeks, I will be contacting my very first clients to set up appointments. Bless these people for actually volunteering to share their stories with me, someone who has been told she is a “good listener,” but isn’t really sure at this point what else she can offer another person therapeutically. We’ve been told silence is golden. I’m hoping it isn’t also awkward.
Yes, I did read my theory textbook last semester, and have my “favorite,” although by no means am I an expert in any of them! I was in attendance at every Helping Relationships class, where we learned specific skills to use with clients. I definitely paid attention in my ethics class—don’t want to lose my license before I even have one! I did my best when role-playing counseling scenarios with my classmates, and received lots of positive feedback. But does that make me ready to begin working with “real” people with “real” problems?
I take some comfort in knowing that experienced clinicians, even some who have been in practice longer than I’ve been alive, still get nervous when they meet new clients. I opened a newly published textbook earlier this week, and the first sentence of Chapter One is, “Embarking on the therapeutic journey with a new patient is a more anxiety provoking experience than most clinicians would ever like to admit to our patients.” If someone who is well known in the field can still feel this way after 30+ years of practice, I guess I can cut myself some slack.
One of the opening rituals of establishing a counseling relationship is the disclosure statement. This little piece of paper explains the therapist’s qualifications, procedures for diagnosis, filing insurance, and more. A seasoned therapist probably has hers pared down to a page, maybe two. Mine was seven pages long. To his credit, my professor did suggest I edit it down a bit. But what to leave out? It’s all important! On the other hand, my professor also did tell us in class that less than 10% of all clients remember being given a disclosure statement, let alone actually reading it. So…cover my bases or save the trees? (It’s down to four pages now.)
Since I am a student, and this is my first clinical experience, I will be working at our counseling department clinic that is exclusively staffed by students, with faculty oversight. Given the age population our clients will mostly be from—traditional undergrads—I anticipate there will be interesting communication challenges, both inside and outside the clinic.
It is no secret that today’s students are technologically savvy, and therefore, I’m fair game for a Google search or two. I know it’s good practice these days to Google yourself to make sure there’s nothing disparaging about yourself online, but even with a clean slate, like I have, I have to make sure it stays that way! (See note above about “not losing license before I have one.”)
Another challenge is Facebook. I’m very grateful for the recent security parameters the site has put in place, restricting who gets to see what on my profile. Even so, it’s out there and anybody can find out at least basic info about me. I know I always have the choice to deactivate my account, but I do occasionally enjoy checking in to see what my friends who are scattered across the country are up to. “Friending” clients—present or past, once we have completed our time together—is a big no-no. I anticipate that will be a conversation I will have to have many times over the next few years.
Face to face with clients, I know I will be surprised by what I don’t know, and I’m not just talking about counseling technique. Much has changed for the college population since I was an undergrad, and I hope I don’t have too many moments where I have to say, “Tell me more about that,” when I really mean “I have no idea what you are talking about.”
This semester, I hope to share with you stories of my journey from absolute neophyte to someone who is ready for an internship outside the safe confines of the university counseling clinic. Wish me luck in making good clinical decisions, taking risks and making mistakes, and maintaining my sense of humor—I’ll need it!