Tuesday, April 26, 2011

What is counseling?

Ever wondered what counseling was, from a counselors perspective? Well I recently had to write a journal about an experience in a class, and thought I would share.

How do you define counseling? Before taking any counseling classes, it was just talking. Helping people solve their problems. Giving advice. Now that I’m (thankfully) almost finished with my master’s degree, I now know that counseling is something much more complex than I ever imagined. Now I know that it’s theory and training. A process for the client that the counselor walks them through, training them to find their own way, not necessarily walking with them and “helping.”

Counseling is knowing what theory drives you, and not just mixing what sounds good, finding something that is proven to work and following the lead of pioneers, not reinventing the wheel. Counseling is using that theory to observe and learn about a client, and then use that knowledge to create goals and plans, and follow them through. Counseling is not always successful, and success is not doing it “right.” Which honestly, right was never a concern for me. I was more worried about wrong, damaging, or harming. Those things seem more daunting to me.

Counseling is about helping people, but not getting so involved in their problems that you aren’t doing your job or are damaging yourself in the process. Counseling is continuing your education and being a part of your field and knowing what’s new, next and cutting edge; and also knowing what’s no longer appropriate.
Counseling is knowing that not everyone thinks like you or learns like you, and most importantly that no one has been through the same life experiences as you. Those things shape how other people think, learn, and live. Culture, gender, socioeconomic status, race-and it’s implications-all create this environment we as counselors must learn to balance in our daily work, but really, all we have to be is empathetic and know that it doesn’t matter what we think, know, have learned or experienced. It’s about the client and what they have been through. We should know our own biases, how to put them in their place (not letting them interfere with our work), and when to let a client go if this is something we can’t do.

Not having a psychology degree, I sometimes get bogged down in the details and the process. I forget to think like a counselor, it isn’t instinct; I have to work at it. When I think of counseling in this way, it reminds me of Mark Twain’s “Two Ways of Seeing a River.” When you think of this career, it’s this awesome and humble career of helping people. You spend your day making the lives of others so much better. And then when you learn what it actually involves, how much work and training, and for me, this entire perspective shift, it really changes the way you see it. It’s no longer awesome and humble, but just a career. A job that pays the bills, that I plan to enjoy, but none the less, the magic is gone. I now know how it works, the mystery is gone. I’m sure there are still plenty of mysteries left in the counseling field, but overall, big picture, I know the basic procedure.

For me, counseling is this in progress thing that I wonder if I'll ever really understand. I think, at this point, I could have a PhD and still not know enough. I'm hoping that my internship in the fall will help with that.

So, as my professor would say, What's your take on counseling?

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