I recently started a Ph.D. program in counselor education and supervision. I have the privilege this semester of serving as a university supervisor for master’s level counseling practicum students. Providing supervision to master’s level counselors has made me think back to the lessons I have learned thus far as a school counselor. Below I share three of the most important lessons I learned that can apply to school counseling and beyond.
It sounds cliché, but this is probably the most important lesson I have learned. When starting my counseling program, I had an idea in my head of what a counselor should look like, sound like, and be like. I used this stereotype to guide the way I interacted with students in my practicum internship. It felt artificial, like I was playing a part. I was not comfortable in my sessions with students and it showed in the tapes I provided to my professor for supervision.
Taping itself was a stressful task, but I compounded it by trying to be someone I was not. I second-guessed myself and focused on what I was going to say next instead of focusing on the student who was right in front of me.
When I played my first tape for my professor, he called me out on my “act.” He commented about how I was rigid and stiff, which was very different from the way he experienced me in class. I realized I was afraid to be myself with students. I needed to find out who I was as a counselor and let my own personality and the way I interact with people show through.
Words cannot express how liberating it was to hear I could be myself.
My next sessions and tapes were noticeably different. I felt free! I began to look forward to counseling sessions instead of dreading them. I became comfortable with myself and my counseling ability. The single moment where my professor helped me realize I could be myself really changed me as a counselor and as a person.
Plan to Be Surprised
Adaptability is a key skill to have in the world of education, but especially as a school counselor. You never know who will walk in your door or what events the day might bring. Having so much on your plate is stressful, but the fact that everything could change in a moment can be even more stressful.
I used to get super stressed when something did not work out or if I had to reschedule an individual session or a group. I soon realized that if I got upset every time my plans changed, I was going to drive myself crazy. By focusing on the minutia, I was also losing sight of the bigger picture.
Since I resolved to roll with the changes and unplanned events, I became a lot more relaxed. Sure, it’s still stressful when things don’t go as planned, but for a school counselor it’s part of your everyday job. The uncertainty of the day became something I appreciated and even enjoyed because my job was always different and interesting.
Take Time for You
Self-care has been something that I have definitely struggled with throughout my career as a school counselor. When professors in graduate school stressed the importance of self-care, I did not believe the hype. I thought I was invincible and that I would change the world my first year as a school counselor.
My first full-time position was as a middle school counselor in an inner-city K–8 school. I was challenged in more ways than I could ever have imagined. I utilized the skills I learned in graduate school and had to adapt and learn many more skills.
I tried to do everything. I was always concerned that I was not doing enough despite the countless hours I would spend outside of school researching ideas and planning lessons and groups.
In my second year, my co-counselor constantly reminded me that I needed to take care of myself. She drilled self-care into my head. To be honest, I really didn’t even know what self-care meant for me. I was so into my job that I had not made time for anything else. I had to specifically schedule times where I would do things that were not related to work. Once I started doing things for me and doing things to take care of myself, I felt a lot better and more effective as a school counselor. You can see some examples of things you can do for self-care in one of my previous posts, “It’s Okay to Hold All the Frogs.”
These three lessons have helped me survive as a school counselor and are helping me now as a doctoral student.
What important lessons have you learned as a school counselor or an educator?
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