It’s taken me a while to compose this last blog of the semester. How does one wrap up the teachings of 52 client sessions in just a few hundred words? Of course, by no means is this the end of my writings about my work, but the end of my practicum experience has arrived, and with it, thoughts and reflections on my first months as a counselor.
When my supervisor gave me my end-of-the-semester review, she gave me a great compliment, saying that I “seem very comfortable in my skin” and how that is a great asset for a counselor. Of all the words of praise she had given me over the past few months, those meant the most.
Years of my own therapeutic work got me to the place I am today, a place where I can be of most help to others. It has been a long, often difficult, but also rewarding journey to reach the place I am today, and that has made me all the more empathetic to the struggles my clients face.
Although our essential issues may not look similar, the human condition of working to triumph over adversity is the same.
I was humbled by the trust my clients put in me, a perfect stranger whom they chose to sit with for 50 minutes once a week, for at least four weeks of their semester. They believed I would listen to them, understand their stories, and maybe help them in ways they had not thought of before. We had success, we had struggles. I truly believe we all learned from the experiences and are better for it.
If I had to pick one word to describe a main issue every single one of my clients presented, it would be “relationships.” Upon further reflection of that thought, it’s really not a revolutionary idea: if you have loving, supportive people surrounding you, there’s probably a good chance your mental health is pretty good. But if you throw even one person who causes angst into the mix, life can go downhill quickly.
I did a tremendous amount of interpersonal work with my clients, but never did I expect that would be the case. I’ll admit—in my DBT training, the module on interpersonal effectiveness was my least favorite, and yet, it was those skills I utilized the most for teaching my clients how to appropriately and successfully communicate.
As a side note to that, I also never expected the role technology would play in how people communicate with each other. My blog earlier in the year on Facebook and process commentary touched on this observation, and this topic on how people (mis)communicate through technology is a subject that needs much more research in the counseling community. I was talking with my mentor recently, who also counsels adolescents, and we laughed about the idea of role-playing with a client how to have an appropriate argument through text messaging! As these young people get older, we will see more of this type of communication affecting the lives of young adults as they move into careers and family life.
To wrap up our semester, for our last group theories class, our professor and department chair brought in his wife, a registered art therapist, to teach us about art therapy techniques. By no means was a three-hour class long enough to impart even the basics to us, but it was an interesting experiential class nonetheless. For one exercise, she had all of us divide a sheet of paper into thirds. In the first column, we were asked to draw ourselves as counselors at the beginning of the semester. In the last column, we drew who we envisioned ourselves to be at the end of our careers. In the middle column, we drew what would get us from who we are as beginning counselors to who we will be years from now.
My first drawing was of a seedling, just poking its head above the brown, newly tilled surface of the ground. It had a tiny red flower with deep, thin green roots, and a bright sun overhead. My middle drawing was of a clock. The last drawing was of a mature tree, with lots of leaves to provide shade, and deep roots, but this time, the roots were strong and thick, and there was grass below the tree, where the open, exposed soil had once been. The sun continued to shine overhead.
I was not alone in putting a clock in my middle panel—the majority of the drawings I saw from my classmates indicated that time was the main element that will get us from the neophyte stage to seasoned counselor. My general theme of starting off as something young and perhaps delicate — as indicated by my flower — then becoming steady, strong and reliable — like a big oak tree — was also echoed by my classmates. Many of us recognized that we already have the core elements we need to become excellent clinicians, but time, training, and experience are what will get us from where we are today to where we hope to be in the future.
On that note, my first year as a Master’s student has come to a close, and it has been a pleasure sharing my journey as a beginning student therapist with the Psych Central audience. Fall brings my internship experience, and I hope to bring you stories from an intern’s perspective then. Enjoy the summer!