Being a solo practitioner in private practice, sometimes I can identify with the idea that “it’s lonely at the top.” Not that I believe, mind you, that I am at the top of my profession, but in the counselor-client relationship, who needs to be in charge of the session? The counselor. The counselor must also maintain calm even when their own emotions are triggered, either by countertransference or by a client in jeopardy. I work in an office with two LPCs and two other LPC-Interns, but in my office, it’s just little old me.
But is it really? The more I think on it, the more I believe that is a subtle misrepresentation. In reality, I exist as part of a network of helping professionals all over the world, from the counselors in my office to the social worker in Tanzania.
That is the first way counselor community begins, by recognizing who and what is already out there. This can be an isolating profession. But we are not alone. When this first occurred to me my mind formed a picture of telegraph relay workers. They, too, worked alone, scattered throughout the United States in their individual booths and clapboard office spaces. They were also expected to keep secrets and sometimes deliver difficult news. Those that came to them for help depended on the telegraph operators to have the expertise to translate their words into specific actions. These operators were supposed to be just and succinct with their transmissions, yet not hold anything back. I can identify with that. But what I also see in common is that the worker’s success, and their continued commitment to the cause, depended entirely on their community.
Think about it. You can send as many messages as you want, but if no one’s receiving them and writing back you’re talking to dead air. If a counselor transmits a message to their client, but doesn’t have the knowledge of the counselor community behind them, they have no idea if what they’re suggesting is credible or not. It is only from collected research and experience that we gain the perspective to stand behind our individual decisions for treatment.
Which is why the second way to grow counselor community involves seeking a good teacher. I have that now in my supervisor, but after I complete my licensure hours, I think it will still be important to seek out a mentor who is farther along in the counseling field than I. Even if an actual person to look to for support and advice is unavailable, we can pursue mentoring in the form of following the latest research in counseling journals, or learning techniques from taped counseling sessions.
The third easy way to grow counselor community is by prioritizing your relationships with other professionals. I enjoy talking about my work to some degree with my husband and my friends, but I think most of you would agree, unless someone is in the profession, “they just don’t get it.” They don’t get as excited about new advances in counseling as we do. They don’t understand the unique challenges of the field, or have the thrill we do when our client makes just a little change in their lives. That’s okay, they’re not supposed to. But that’s why we need each other. I come out of supervision every week feeling excited about my career. I can talk for just a few hours with a counseling student friend and have 3-4 new aspects of my career I’m eager to explore. Don’t underestimate just how much of a difference it makes to physically participate in your counseling community.
Stephanie Ann Adams is a counselor who believes in the ability of the mind to understand and change behaviors, and in each person’s power to create the life they want. Her blog can be found at www.sassynsane.blogspot.com.