700 Hours Later: What I Wish I Knew Before my Internship in Counseling
Robert J. Zeglin, M.A. and Tyler J. Andreula, M.A.
Internship is a crucial time for counselors-in-training. After all, it is the culmination of the academic experience – the opportunity for each of us to gain firsthand experience by putting theory into practice. For many of us, it is our first time working with real clients and having an actual caseload. It can be an immensely overwhelming, anxiety-inducing, yet incredibly exciting experience all at the same time. Sometimes managing all of these feelings can be hard, especially when fledgling interns encounter scenarios and circumstances that they do not feel they were prepared for.
There are many things that the two of us would have liked to have known before entering our respective internships (and we are sure we are not alone, here!). Undoubtedly, there will be things that the new wave of counseling interns will wish they knew as well. In this sense, we hope to impart upon the next generation of counseling interns the things that we have learned through first-hand client contact, through the mistakes we have made, and through many other experiences and encounters that we have had during our own internships. Essentially, we hope that budding counselors can learn something from our experiences and, perhaps, hearing our story will make their transitions into internship a bit easier.
This article is simply an outline of the information we feel would have helped us entering internship. It is our opinion, nothing more. This article is not meant to substitute any ethical guides or replace any formal training. You will find a paucity of research to support our opinions because, similarly, much of what we felt as people entering the counseling profession is difficult to quantify. The unyielding flop sweat, the ravenous abdominal butterflies, and the insatiable cotton mouth were, for us, beyond measure. However, as we hope you will soon find, these are glorious reminders of the amazing job that lies ahead of you. So, we ask that you read our opinions and analyze them critically, while keeping in mind that what separates reader from writer is just 700 hours.
About the Authors
Robert Zeglin interned as a mental health counselor at a non-profit agency for his entire internship. As part of his work there, Robert conducted individual, group, and couples therapy. Additionally, he provided several in-service trainings for the agency’s clinical staff regarding Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT). Prior to his internship, Robert obtained advanced training in REBT at the Albert Ellis Institute in New York City. Using the main tenants of REBT, Robert’s work specialized in depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, and mandated clients. In his final semester of internship, he worked closely with the Director of Outpatient Services to create a pilot investigation regarding the benefits of a psycho-educational group. The intention of this group is to provide an orientation to the therapeutic process for individuals on the agency’s waiting list. Robert is currently completing the required coursework for licensing as a professional counselor while also serving as the Director of a Partial Care program at the agency for which he interned. He now holds a Master of Arts degree in counseling and is in the process of applying to doctorate programs in the psychological fields. In this article, Robert has briefly discussed the roadblocks and personal struggles he experienced during his 700 hours of internship as a Community Counselor.
Tyler Andreula interned as a middle school counselor for the entirety of his internship. During this time, Tyler worked very hard to advocate for the new generation of counselors, as well as the new school counseling movement. He worked with adolescent clients with a variety of personal, social, academic, and emotional issues, such as anxiety, depression, bullying, oppositional defiant disorder, antisocial behavior, aggression, divorce, lack of motivation, grief, loss, falling grades, stress, relational aggression, cliques, and abuse. He worked closely with his colleagues, including the counseling department, anti-bullying team, Child Study Team, the I&RS committee, and faculty and administration to ensure that his clients received the care that they needed. Tyler also developed numerous programs during the course of his internship. These included an LGBTQ tolerance program that was delivered in some classrooms, a counseling/psychoeducational group to promote tolerance, diversity, and anti-bullying, and parent information programs for cyber-bullying, teen depression, and teen suicide. Along these lines, he was also involved in conducting depression screenings for members of the student body. Tyler is currently pursuing additional training in addictions counseling. He has received training in Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT) from the Rational Living Therapy Institute and the National Association of Cognitive-Behavioral Therapists, is a member of Chi Sigma Iota (the honor society for professional counselors), the American Counseling Association, and the American School Counselor Association. He holds a Master of Arts degree in counseling, holds a standard New Jersey school counselor certification, and is a certified depression specialist. He is currently undergoing a certification program as a Cognitive-Behavioral Group Therapist. In this article, Tyler has outlined his personal opinions and professional adventures regarding his 700 hours of internship as a School Counselor.
I, Robert Zeglin, have learned a great deal during my internship. I accredit this largely to the support and guidance I have received from my numerous supervisors, professors, and colleagues. They have challenged me to grow and adapt as a counselor, as well as to become more aware of my own personal attitudes and beliefs. Finding the right supervisor is an essential part of being successful in internship and in practice; I was lucky enough to find a handful of them.
Community counseling is a special profession. Although the name of the license varies from state to state, we are a tight-knit bunch who are still working together to advocate for our field. The field of counseling (and all of mental health) is evolving. As this process continues, I think that many counseling interns are left to fill in the blanks as they enter their clinical studies; I was. There are plenty of resources available for beginning counselors and counseling students. My goal in writing this is simply to offer one more; one that I wish was available to me during my preparation for internship.
Beginning my internship experience, I already had a fairly good understanding of Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT). During my undergraduate education, I found the theory parsimonious and aesthetic. For four years I self-taught and eventually obtained the advanced certificate in REBT from the Albert Ellis Institute. The theory matched perfectly with my own personal attitude regarding change and dysfunctional emotions. However, while entering “Practicum” (the first 100 hours of face-to-face client contact), I abandoned my passion for the theory in favor of what I thought was a more acceptable (eclectic or integrative) approach to counseling. What resulted was an extreme amount of discomfort and unease during my sessions. When reviewing recordings of my sessions, I heard questions that lacked purpose, reflections that lacked clarity, and interventions that lacked substance. There was a general paucity of direction in my sessions. Discarding my theoretical base removed any substantial foundation from which to approach my clients’ problems. This resulted in 50 minutes of panicked flailing on my part and an equally exhausting exercise of dodging confusion on the part of my clients. This process was simply unproductive for all concerned.
In the short interim between “Practicum” and “Internship,” I attended several additional trainings in Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy and got, you could say, my wind back. I approached “Internship” with a new confidence in my theory and in my ability to use it effectively (although not nearly perfectly). Since firmly planting myself on the foundation provided by my theory, several things have changed. First, my self-efficacy increased. This alone made for more productive sessions because of the removal of any trepidation or hesitation on my part. Secondly, my questions and interventions contained purpose and direction. This change allowed me to use clients’ answers in a meaningful way rather than just to fill time. Third, and finally, my ability to conceptualize clients’ problems improved. My clinical targets became clearer and better defined, which often helped clients understand the problem as well. I no longer grimaced when listening to my recordings because I knew exactly where the session was going.
Having a strong (or even moderate) understanding of which theory works best for you, as well as with you, will greatly improve your ability to provide purposive and meaningful counseling. Most, if not all, graduate counseling programs offer a “Theories of Counseling” course very early on in the program. This is an excellent opportunity to get a flavor for all the categories of theories within the counseling profession (e.g., psychodynamic, cognitive-behavioral, experiential, and family systems). From there, it is largely up to you to independently investigate which particular theory (or category) is most congruent with your personality and personal theory of client change. There are numerous opportunities (e.g., training institutes, online, and via publications) to obtain additional training in the theory you choose, often at little to no cost.
Choosing a theory provides a foundation and base from which to work. Detractors of this suggest that doing so might create tunnel vision and “theorycentrism.” To combat this admittedly worrisome possibility, Dryden (1987)1 as well as Ellis and Dryden (2010)2 propose using “theoretically consistent eclecticism.” This type of eclecticism advocates for the unsparing use of therapeutic techniques from several theories while utilizing them in a way which is consistent with your theory’s fundamental motives and presumptions. For example, you could the Gestalt two-chair technique in order to elicit a better expression of emotions which can then be used in REBT’s emotional consequence paradigm. Similarly, its possible to use psychoanalytic dream analysis to determine which basic Reality/Choice need is not being met. Adhering to “theoretically consistent eclecticism” over the more general eclectic and/or integrative approaches allows you to conceptualize the problem concisely while using any technique available to solve it. I have found that utilizing this kind of eclecticism created less anxiety for both my clients and me during all stages of therapy. Through a theoretically-focused approach, both my client and I had a very clear understanding of what was expected of each other and what we expected (collectively) from treatment. I am confident that you, regardless of your theory, can find similarly productive results if you maintain a dedication to the foundations of your theory.
It is Okay to Make Mistakes
My largest fear entering “Practicum” was the possibility (and near certainty) that I would say or do something “wrong” in session. Clearly, I had my own irrational beliefs with which to contend. That aside, this anxiety was extremely heavy and suffocating during sessions, rendering me nearly speechless. During my very first face-to-face session, I fumbled the confidentiality statement and forgot to get the client to sign the appropriate agency forms. My immediate flop-sweat drowned both of us. This flub, although my first, was not my only. Each one mortified me; I recognized very early on that this was no way of living, let alone of providing therapy. My immobility and speechlessness prevented me from being as effective as I could have been.
One of my supervisors explained that the beginning counselor makes about 30 “mistakes” in an average session. He went on to say that the most experienced counselor makes about 25 in an average session. Although I think he was simply demonstrating a point rather than citing empirical research, I got his point loud and clear. I realized that, if I wanted to be an effective counselor, I needed to stop trying so hard to be a perfect counselor. The tremendous amount of pressure I was putting on myself seemed to be the catalyst behind my ineffectiveness. Another supervisor went as far as to say that there are no real “mistakes” when you are with a client because everything can provide insight into a problem. Even if I do make an egregious “mistake” during session, being aware of my client’s and my own reactions to that “mistake” is helpful nonetheless. It is all grist for the mill.
Thanks to the support of my numerous supervisors, my colleagues, my professors, and my classmates, I have learned to examine my “mistakes” in an honest and critical way. This kind of approach was immeasurably more effective than my self-chastising and disappointment when I listened to my recordings. I learned to use my “mistakes” as an opportunity to gain experience and confidence. They called attention to weaknesses in my approach and highlighted strengths in my technique. The more I tried to avoid making mistakes, the slower my development as a counselor proved to be. I don’t claim to think that I’ll ever have a mistake-free session. But I do promise, since mistakes will inevitably be made, to make smarter ones.
The instinct to want to do everything right during internship (and thereafter) is understandable. It is, however, misguided and unhelpful. Listen to your professors, know the ethical codes, and remember the values and principles of counseling. As long as you keep those guides in mind as your practice, you can confidently give yourself permission to be imperfect. Anything short of unconditional acceptance of your fallibility (and a willingness to learn from those faults) will be a malignancy in your work – a malignancy from which only your clients will suffer. It is not the view of the therapist to expect their clients to be perfect and it is similarly not the expectations of the client for you to be perfect. We, as counselors, must practice what we preach; we must be mindful of our mistakes, cope with their existence, and eventually learn from them.
Remember to Take Good Notes
The role that progress notes play in the course of psychotherapy is rather abstruse and largely subjective. Some therapists insist on keeping detailed, thoughtful, and impressive notes while others minimize the importance of notes and write very little. Some even abstain from recording any information at all regarding sessions (although this cohort is dwindling in size thanks largely to new regulations and laws regarding mental health professional practice). Entering internship, I had limited training in proper case note creation, further evidence of the profession’s ambiguity (and worse, apathy) regarding the regulation and/or standardization of progress notes. As a result, I resorted to instinct. I will briefly describe what I believe to be the three most important contributions that good progress notes can make to your practice as a counselor.
First and foremost, progress notes are exactly what they sound like, notes regarding your client’s progress toward their goals. Keeping notes which reflect any and all possible measures of a client’s progress is essential in order to accurately determining the appropriate time for certain interventions, reducing session frequency, and terminating treatment. Prior to a session, I frequently review the client’s first three progress notes. I do this in order to compare the client’s level of functioning at present versus admission. This also helps me to track the progress being made on the client’s presenting problem in order to determine where to go next. Similarly, keeping descriptive notes can alert you to sudden regressions which may or may not warrant an increase in the frequency of sessions, a psychiatric consultation, or hospitalization. It is important to keep progress notes in order to notice patterns as well as any deviations from those patterns. If a client consistently shows up to sessions with a well groomed beard and then suddenly shows up with scruff, this might be a symptomalogical change worth mentioning in session. At the very least, this kind of exception to the established pattern is worth noting for possible follow-up. As a beginning counselor, I found it quite helpful to have all of the progress notes available for review.
The second reason is less poetic but just as important. Counselors are human. Believe it or not, we can and do forget things. Being able to go back and read the progress note from the previous session was limitlessly helpful in providing me with the information I needed to make the current session as productive and helpful as possible. As a counselor working from a Cognitive Behavioral Model, I give weekly homework assignments in order to offer my clients an opportunity to practice skills outside of my office, in the real world. Since I am offering upwards of 25 assignments a week, I can sometimes find it difficult to remember all of them. Because of this, I am careful to note the assignment, the purpose for this particular assignment, and my expectations regarding completion. Whether you provide such assignments or not (depending on your personal theory of counseling), even using progress notes to record important information is a good idea. It really does go a long way in building the counseling relationship when you “remember” details about your client and what they have brought into past sessions (e.g., their partner’s name, where they said they met their spouse, their boss’s name). I think you’ll understand what I mean when you get your first “Wow! I didn’t think you would remember that.”
Finally, good progress notes are vitally important for your own protection as a professional. I cannot stress this enough. It goes without saying (but I’ll say it anyway) that we live in an increasingly litigious world. As a counselor (and especially as a counseling intern) documenting your decisions regarding client care and your rationale for those decisions can make a huge difference in the unfortunate event that you find yourself on the wrong end of a malpractice suite. Being able to point at your notes is the best defense you have against what will inevitably be an onslaught of accusations, charges, and questions of conduct. I do not mean to scare you away from counseling, but rather to impress upon you the importance of protecting your practice, your profession, and your personal assets. I make it a point to document that clients verbally deny any current suicidal or homicidal ideation (and I frequently document the absence or presence of means). I also document the justification for all decisions regarding outside consultation (e.g., breaching confidentiality, hospitalizing clients, referring for psychiatric evaluation, and case conferencing with colleagues) . Lastly, and this one is often overlooked I feel, I document every phone conversation with the client (e.g., to cancel a session), anybody in the client’s support system (e.g., parent, psychiatrist), and my supervisor. All of this documentation is designed to protect my client, my agency, my supervisor, and me. I encourage you to consider heavily where you think your level of documentation needs to be.
My final remark is this: do not take notes during session. I think that having anything (even a pen and paper) between you and your client represents a symbolic barrier between the two of you. Additionally, and more importantly, this constant jotting down of information might cause the client to feel like they are being studied, “analyzed,” or recorded. Even more worrisome, clients may (in an attempt to be polite) stop talking while you write, which is the exact opposite of what we, as counselors, what them to be doing. If you do your best to be mindful and present during session, you will have no problem taking reliable notes after your client has left your office.
Pay Attention to Your Counter-Transference
Early in my graduate studies, I truly thought that transference, particularly counter-transference, received undo attention. Perhaps this was my naive belief that I could or should separate myself from the realm of judgment and emotion during sessions, or it might have been my strong unwillingness to accept any tenets of psychodynamic theory. Either way, it was a poorly articulated and rather contrived approach to my counseling practice.
As “Practicum” began, I instinctively neglected to pay attention to my own personal feelings within the sessions. Looking back, I’m sure my interventions and reflections sounded disingenuous and cold. Similarly, my level of empathy was definitely not where it could have been. My supervisor (for whom I am eternally grateful and to whom am eternally indebted) accurately and sternly called attention to my atrophied ability to sense counter-transference. I suspect that nearly every one of our first 15 supervisory sessions ended with her banging her head against her desk after I left her office. I just couldn’t get it.
One client changed that forever (as they often have the power and uncanny ability to do). I entered my supervisor’s office to discuss this specific client’s case. After giving my supervisor a brief outline of my two months of work with this client, she asked me, “How do you feel during her sessions?” To this I replied, “I feel like its back and forth. One week she wants to leave her boyfriend and the next she is madly in love.” Very wisely my supervisor pressed the issue saying, “And how do you feel about the back and forth?” I felt angry, confused, doubtful, and anxious about it; I had no idea what to do during any of my sessions with this client. That is when it hit me. Those feelings are the exact same ones my client feels, and she feels them on a daily basis. And, similarly, she had no idea what to do. I suddenly understood how to connect with my client in a more emotional and genuine way; this helped our relationship tremendously.
Since then, I have learned that paying attention to my own feelings about the issues and/or about my clients can be extremely helpful. Since experiencing this moment of enlightenment (and, I assure you, it was nothing less), my work with clients has become more effective and helpful. I’ve even begun to use the counter-transference in session as an opportunity to broach topics or to help clients verbalize their feelings. The sentence I use frequently is, “As I hear you saying this, I feel a little…I wonder if you have had that experience too.”
My advice to beginning counselors is to open yourself up to your own feelings in sessions. You are human. Humans have emotions. Logic would dictate, then, that you have emotions, even as a counselor. Do not ignore, ward off, or rationalize your emotions; they are helpful for both you and your client. If a client tells you something and you immediately (and unconsciously) lower your voice (as if keeping it a secret), the client may be feeling like whatever they shared is shameful and should be kept a secret. If you feel yourself getting overwhelmed and trying to catch up as your client explains their struggle, he or she may be feeling just as overwhelmed by all of the things happening in his or her life. Similarly, if you feel yourself getting bored and cognitively immobilized while a client discusses their recent problems, your client might feel stuck and hopeless regarding the issue. These are just three examples of how important your own feelings and reactions are. Each of these examples happened to me. Not one of these clients verbalized feeling “ashamed”, “overwhelmed”, or “stuck” until the recognition and use of my own counter-transference got us there together.
I, Tyler Andreula, have learned many things as a school-counselor trainee. Not only has this new-found knowledge changed my professional life, but I believe that it has drastically altered and impacted who I am as a person, as well. Becoming a counselor completely changed my life and, to be honest, I could not picture my life any other way.
In my work I have found that, although many school counselors are trained in the same ways as community counselors, we do work in a very unique setting with a wide variety of clients, problems, and constraints. Although I believe that I was very well-prepared for my own internship, I do believe that there were many things that I wish I would have known or been made aware of beforehand. Many of these things are discussed in great detail below. However, as I sit down to write this account, I do notice that, sometimes, whether we like it or not, the only way to learn something is to experience it by jumping in head first.
Ways to Adopt and Successfully Use a Theoretical Orientation
When I first began my training, I was trained in the techniques of Rogerian counseling. Reflection, paraphrasing, encouragers, and open questions were a part of every session of mine. For the most part, in my clinical courses on campus, these techniques worked with my adult clients, as I found that most of them did not need a great deal of direction and were eager to tell me about their troubles.
However, upon entering my internship, I found that my sessions were lacking substance. Not only was I finding that adolescents did not respond to Rogerian counseling, I was finding that I was spending an immense amount of time working toward breakthroughs with my clients, which is something that many individuals view as a drawback of client-centered counseling in the schools. Essentially, I felt as though I was spinning my wheels during sessions. Although my clients definitely felt understood and perceived me to be genuine, we were not moving forward. After a few weeks of feeling frustrated after sessions, and after a few occasions where I felt a tremendous sense of panic as I wondered what to do next, I began to truly consider adopting a more directive approach. Mind you, up until this time, I was dreadfully afraid to leave the theory that I was trained in. I asked myself: “Why change it? If I was trained in this approach, it must be good. I’m probably the problem, here, not the approach. I’m just not using it correctly.” This was merely a case of a counselor, still wet behind the ears, being afraid to take a risk. I wish I knew that taking risks was okay back then but, when you are just starting, it is sometimes very difficult to do.
One day, after sitting down with my supervisor, she asked me: “Tyler, as a counselor, what do you, not your instructors, truly believe clients need to get better?” After a long discussion, we both realized, together, how my philosophy was closely aligned with the tenets of cognitive-behavioral therapy. Slowly, but surely, I began to implement cognitive-behavioral interventions into my counseling sessions while blending them with my basic Rogerian techniques. Because Poidevant (1991)3 states how client-centered techniques should be the framework upon which all other orientations cite, as I did this, I sought out extra training in CBT/REBT on the side, which was massively beneficial. I view this as one of the better professional choices that I have made.
The results were phenomenal. My clients enjoyed the direction that I gave them, which is a major aspect of CBT/REBT. Because I work with teens, I was able to engage in cognitive interventions through creative means, such as art, coloring, and journaling, which they loved. Rather quickly, I found that my sessions began to overflow with the substance that they once lacked; my clients opened up more and worked harder during and between sessions; they took more risks; and, finally, they excitedly asked when our next session would be! They actually looked forward to coming for counseling! I also found that my clients began to get better and show signs of improvement as opposed to merely feeling better, which is a benefit of CBT. Not only were my clients feeling understood, but they were also moving forward. CBT works for me because it works with a diverse number of clients and settings. Personally, I believe that helping clients to examine and challenge their dysfunctional thinking, as well as the beliefs they hold about themselves and the world, leads to therapeutic change.
All of this taught me to take risks. Sometimes, as professionals, we need to have the ability to extend ourselves outside of our comfort zone and be spontaneous with our clients. We need to have the ability to step back and recognize when something does not work and, if something does not work, it needs to be fixed. I cannot emphasize enough how I learned that, just because you are trained in a theory, this does not mean that it is the right one for you, as a professional. I wish I knew this early on. 700 hours later, I recommend that students obtain training in the theory that is most congruent with their beliefs on what clients need to get better, not a theory that someone else finds valuable or impressive. This is because, as school counselors, our theoretical orientations dictate the ways in which we approach myriad issues and how we work during the counseling process (Constantine, 20014). Pucci (2011)5 discusses how so many theories of counseling and psychotherapy exist because there are so many different counselor views and opinions regarding what works and what is appropriate. Find the one that works for you, not someone else.
Once I began to use CBT/REBT in my sessions I, as a professional, felt more alive and invigorated; I felt more connected; I felt as though my sessions followed a path; and I was able to use my theory to powerfully guide my work. It just felt like my new theoretical orientation fit me and, although it might sound odd, I believe that it is easy to know when a framework fits you and when one does not. Lastly, people will tell you that you do not need a theoretical orientation as a school counselor, and I will say that I believe this statement to be patently untrue. My work would go nowhere without it.
New Age Programs: “Guidance” vs. School Counseling
The school counseling profession is currently involved in a period of major evolution and reform. Due to the emergence and development of the ASCA National Model, many school counseling programs are leaving the traditional “guidance” role and are moving toward more comprehensive program structures. However, while many schools are transitioning from “guidance” to “school counseling,” there are some schools that have been left behind. This is something that I wish I would have been aware of upon entering my internship. When I began looking for sites, I had been under the assumption that most school counseling programs were joining the bandwagon and leaving traditional guidance behind. However, I was wrong.
I believe now that, as students, we must be aware of this change, as it is certainly easy for unknowing students to fall into the trap of being placed at a site that is not congruent with their training and education. Given this current state of large-scale reform, and given how not all schools are partaking in this said reform, I learned very quickly that students should question the appropriateness of their proposed site. One of the most important things that students studying school counseling should consider when selecting an internship site is whether, or not, the site will actually offer experiential opportunities that are congruent with his or her personal interests and needs (Faiver et al., 2000). It is crucial to consider if the site will help the student to obtain all of his or her direct hours, provide them with student clients to work with, and allow them to engage in individual counseling, group counseling, and classroom guidance sessions. It is also crucial for the student to consider if the site will ask them to engage primarily in secretarial work, such as paperwork and filing. Essentially, students should have a clear vision of what they would like to experience at a site before selecting one. Faiver et al. (2000) explain how a counseling student’s internship is a major contributing factor to an individual’s career as a counselor and, as someone who has been there, this is immensely true. More often than not, I have found myself on the front lines advocating for the reform that the school counseling profession is undergoing. Educating others about this state of evolution brings us one step closer to a unified profession.
After taking all of the above into consideration, students should also consider their on-campus training. If students were trained under the umbrella of the ASCA National Model and the new generation of counseling programs and skills, it is unlikely that they will have the opportunity to put this set of skills and knowledge into practice at a site that operates under a dated, “guidance,” framework. It is important to weigh whether, or not, an intern believes that he or she will develop professionally, and in the direction that they desire, in the conditions of their site. Students should not merely settle for a site, but they should find one that fits them well.
To ensure that students will get the most of their internship site, I recommend that students research and investigate the above. Because I never had anyone to tell me this, I found it necessary to be resourceful and obtain answers for myself. One way to do this, that I have found to be effective, would be to ask an administrator, the head of the counseling department, or a will-be supervisor detailed questions about the counseling program at the school during an interview for the position. Questions about a counselor’s average day can be helpful, as they will potentially help students to gauge what they will be doing at the school. Students can treat this interview like a job interview. Rest assured, I have found that most interviewers will want to hear questions that you have for them. I will never forget one person saying: “It is so nice to hear that you actually asked a question. You have no idea how many prospective interns let us do all of the asking.” Furthermore, it might be helpful to ask about the department’s use of the ASCA National Model, including the delivery methods, accountability, foundation, and management of the program.
On-Campus Training vs. On-Site Skill Use: Are They Different?
As my graduate training became more advanced, I noticed how, on many campuses, training for school counselors can be just as clinical as it is for community counselors. This is because many school counselors and many community counselors are trained in the same classrooms and, thus, develop many of the same skills and techniques. This is congruent with writing by Poidevant (1991), who believes that all counselors, regardless of site, must possess similar skills and training.
From my experience, however, it is not uncommon to encounter some school counseling students who feel as though the training that they received on campus is not reflective of real-world practice. Many feel as though the counseling profession is portrayed differently in a classroom than it is in the workplace and, at one point, I agreed. However, as Faiver et al., (2000) emphasize, a student’s internship placement is a time for them to build upon the foundation that they already constructed on campus.
If it seems as though you, as an intern, are not getting the appropriate experiences at your site, it is crucial to seek those opportunities out and create them for oneself. I wish I would have had someone to explain this to me before entering internship. It is very, very, common for interns to complain about how what they do at their site is nothing like what they thought it would be. However, an individual’s work is what they make of it! Despite the fact that counselors serve numerous roles in a school, they should be engaging in counseling 50% to 65% of the time (Poidevant, 1991). Although it might be a bit hard at first, interns can create these opportunities for themselves. Advocate for the new school counseling movement! Students should not be afraid to present ideas at their site, but should avoid stepping on the toes of regular staff. Students might find that, although they are there to learn from their supervisor, their supervisor might learn a thing or two from them as well. At first, I was the recipient of many confused looks and defensive questions when I explained my unique training, and I am sure you will, too. I recommend that new interns be prepared for this and, without becoming defensive, explain exactly what your training is and what school counseling, not guidance, is.
Each time I, as an intern, work with a student in any way, whether it be for personal issues, emotional issues, social issues, academic issues, or scheduling, I have an opportunity to use my counseling skills. Each time I meet with parents or families about a student, I have the opportunity to use my family counseling skills to apply a structural family approach. Each time I conduct a classroom guidance lesson, I have the opportunity to utilize my knowledge of lifespan, cognitive, and psychological development. Each time I feel as though a child might be suffering from a deeper issue, I can make a referral by using my knowledge of ethics and potential pathologies. As you can see, it is all what you make of it! Create opportunities for yourself! Lastly, if any school counseling students take anything from writing, please remember this: back all of your work up with research – programs, approaches, lessons…anything. Ask yourself how your findings can help you tailor your programs and services to be more effective. Ask yourself what can be done differently and what should remain the same.When you can demonstrate your effectiveness to your supervisors and administrators, they will be more inclined to allow you to proceed with your ideas. During my internship I made charts, graphs, and tables to demonstrate the effectiveness of the work I was doing. This made all the difference! Furthermore, it will help you, as an intern, to know when you need to update, change, or adapt something that you are doing. If your data depicts that it does not work, find a way to make it work.
Your Feelings about Internship are Normal and can be Managed
One of the main purposes of internship is to gain experience in the field with a wide variety of clients and situations. When you first begin, things can be overwhelming, and I wish I would have known that this is a completely normal feeling. I found that my site was very different from what I was accustomed to (the controlled environment in which I conducted sessions on my campus). I believe that this is something that all interns need to be prepared for and, of course, they need to understand that, at some point or another, we all feel this way.
I learned very quickly that, if you do not know how to work with a given client or how to remedy a particular situation, you need to admit that you need help, and you need to seek it out. At your site, asking for help is one of the best ways to learn. As Kottler (2003)6 states, “We are all incompetent some of the time” (p. 104). For me, the moment in which I let go of the belief that I needed to be a perfect counselor was the moment in which my counseling skills grew in leaps and bounds. I will never forget a very wise professor saying to Rob and I: “Boys, everything that happens during a session is grist for the mill. Everything. Whatever happens in that room can be used in some way to help your client. It is just a matter of discovering how to use it. Never forget that.” Being mindful and engaging in self-reflection about your thoughts and feelings, along with what occurs during your sessions, is a wonderful way to know exactly what to reach out to colleagues about (Faiver et al., 2000), and how to provide better services to your clients.
It took me some time to feel confident at my site and, in the beginning, I was a bit hard on myself for not feeling more confident. A wise colleague of mine told me one day: “It will all come in time. You have never done this before. At some point, we all feel this when we first begin. I promise you that, in time, this feeling will go away and you will be comfortable.” At the time, it felt as though this would never happen. However, after having some client breakthroughs, learning many of the procedures, and being given my own caseload to work with, this feeling dissipated very quickly. Like the old saying goes: “You can learn the best by doing.” It is crucial to not forget to reach out to those individuals who are instrumental in supporting you on campus, as well. As counseling trainees, we should become fluent in self-counseling, as well. We self-counsel ourselves every day, but we must learn to fluently utilize productive, rational, self-counseling when we do so (Pucci, 2006)7. After all, we cannot enter internship expecting to be experts on the first day, but we can, however, expect to learn a great deal and get to this point someday.
Of course, although I have wanted to be a professional helper for as long as I can remember, I do wish that I would have had an idea of exactly how easy it is to take your work home with you each day. When I first began, I heard many heartbreaking stories and witnessed some awful things (and I still do on a daily basis). Oftentimes, it is impossible to go home and not think about what you heard during an average workday. Kottler (2003) writes that we can become very tired from constantly sitting, listening, talking, and thinking with our clients. Although we often help our clients to avoid stress, fatigue, and exhaustion, we must do the same for ourselves as professionals and promote our own resiliency (Kottler, 2003). English (1972, as cited in Kottler, 2003) discussed how one of the main causes of a helper being vulnerable to fatigue is the personal problems that he or she does not attend to. I learned very quickly that, due to this, steady forms of self-care are crucial if we want to remain healthy, as well as function properly as professionals. As I mentioned in a brief statement regarding counselor trainee self-care in a column in The Exemplar (2011)8, “Taking moments to ‘recharge our batteries’ to remain in top form is crucial…it is the temporary, rejuvenating, escape that is important, not the activity” (p. 11). I truly believe that self-care can put us back into a state of balance as counselors and this is a habit that we all need to fall into.
Closing Remarks and Discussion
In conclusion, the purpose of this article was twofold. Not only did this first-hand account serve as a chronicle of our experiences during our training as counselors, but it was written in hopes of helping a new generation of counselors to learn through our experiences. Although you will be well-trained, you will also learn that, sometimes, the best way to learn is through first-hand experience and, believe it or not, making mistakes! Many of the things that you will learn about this profession cannot be acquired from reading a textbook, but rather from paying attention to and learning from every moment you spend with your clients.We are sure that you will meet your own unique challenges as you begin your training as a mental health professional. Do not be afraid to meet them head on with the same passion that has driven you to where you are now. We wish you luck as you continue your exploration of the counseling profession and look forward to seeing you 700 hours later.
interview. Elementary School Guidance and Counseling, 26, 83-95.
* Thanks to Robert J. Zeglin, M.A. and Tyler J. Andreula, M.A.