My attention has been drawn to a number of blog entries from fellow ACA bloggers and counselors-in-training addressing the importance of mentorship, networking and supervision in our profession. In September 2010, Diana Pitaru wrote about the support counseling students need from their more experienced peers, and in October took matters into her hands and started the Counselors and Psychotherapists Network of North Texas. Stephanie Adams also wrote in October 2010 about growing a counselor community and about the benefits of seeking a good teacher. Deb Legge often includes in her posts, her experience of mentoring other counselors, particularly those just starting out in private practice. Karen Bates also recently wrote about being encouraged to mentor other counselors, though I hope she will not charge for this interaction/service. Thank you all for highlighting this very important element of any profession.
I believe that counselors, especially the more mature and experienced ones, should commit themselves to ensuring that the next generation of counselors are effective and dare I say, better than they are or once were. On one hand, I echo the sentiments of my colleagues who advocate for mentorship in our profession. On the other hand, I believe a mentoring relationship should be allowed to develop naturally and not be coerced, though there are exceptions. Here are three reasons why:
- Pressures associated with unrealistic expectations from the mentee
- Compatibility issues – mentor/mentee personalities might not be a good fit
- Interest level – if no prior relationship, it will take time to develop or never develop at all. This is dependent on the type of interaction the mentee expects from the mentor.
I met my current mentor in the field in an unusual way. I have developed a strong desire for meeting with people who are interested in exploring and discussing the possibilities and implications of a real God and how to know and serve Him. During my search, I discovered a website operated by a clinical psychologist dedicated to facilitating such discussions. I contacted the psychologist, who I will refer to as Dr. PB, shortly after and we have developed a very productive relationship.
As a future Marriage and Family Therapist with aspirations of pursuing a doctorate in Clinical Psychology, I did hope to find a mentor with a background in both areas which I found in Dr. PB. While he is currently in private practice, he has also worked in areas such as community mental health, in-patient treatment of co-occurring disorders, and child and family therapy.
This mentoring relationship developed naturally and has revealed to me some of the realities of the profession. My mentor shares that in order to be a successful counselor, one has to be a good student. One has to keep up with new approaches and best practices. He continually emphasizes the importance of continuing education in our profession and becoming part of a professional association such as the American Counseling Association (ACA) and for me, the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy (AAMFT). He advises me that a successful therapist also needs to be relational – being available as a person and establishing real relationship with their clients. While I agree with my mentor on this point (something I have previously written about), I was a little surprised to hear this. I was under the notion that only a distant professional relationship ‘is allowed’ with clients. In other words, I am the doctor/counselor and you are the patient/client.
My relationship with my mentor is very meaningful and usually provides me with great insight on the real world of a therapist/counselor/psychologist. I have even become more confident with my decision to pursue a master’s degree in Marriage and Family Therapy at Capella. My love for people and how they function in their relationships has been a driving force for this career choice.
I would like to encourage my fellow counselors-in-training to not get too anxious with finding a mentor. Sometimes your mentor will reveal her-/himself when you least expect it in the most unlikely places. Other times, an existing relationship or new relationship can evolve into a mentoring relationship. I also want to say thank you to my mentor who is interested in seeing me become an effective counselor. He never fails to pass on his wisdom, share his experiences, and make himself readily available to me not only as a mentor but also as a friend. Thank you Dr. PB.
Pete Saunders is a graduate student at Capella University. He also writes a weekly blog and conducts a weekly video interview on manhood at razorsanddiapers.com