Anne Morrow Lindbergh wrote: “One can never pay in gratitude: one can only pay ‘in kind’ somewhere else in life.” Those words and a recent conversation with some graduate counseling students reminded me of how much the growth of our profession relies on that paying in kind.
Not long ago, I was speaking to a class of graduate counseling students. It’s one of my favorite things to do and I always learn something from them. On this particular day, we were talking about making the transition from student to counselor intern. Of course, they had a million questions about all those real life things that we don’t learn in graduate school. A lot of the questions revolved around how to “be a counselor”. These students were well versed in theory and foundations. What they really seemed to be asking about was the “art” of being a counselor. As we talked, one salient point seemed to emerge: in so many ways, we learn the “art” of being a counselor from our mentors, role models, and those who came before us. I didn’t think I shared anything particularly earth-shattering that day, but in the following days I received emails in which it became clear just how powerful the relationship between seasoned professional and emerging counselor can be. One email simply said “you inspired me.” Really? Me?
That experience stayed with me for days and I started thinking about how I learned to “be a counselor”. Aside from academics, I learned from the professionals around me. I learned from my professors. I learned from people I met at conferences and grad student events. I learned from my post-masters supervisor. I learned something from almost every counselor I met. Those early experiences paved the way for the career I was to have. Many of my professional relationships that began in graduate school continue today. All along my journey, others shared with me and I took a piece of their knowledge with me. They were paying it forward each in his or her own way.
Our profession relies on both the wisdom and experience of the seasoned professional and the optimism and energy of the emerging counselor. It is a mutually beneficial relationship that keeps us growing as individuals and as a profession. I think most of us pay it forward in many ways but don’t always recognize it as such. It may be as a counselor educator, a mentor, a supervisor, or simply sharing a bit of knowledge or time. Remembering those who inspired me has reminded me of the things I can do to pay it forward. Who inspired you? How do you pay it forward? I hope you’ll share. You never know when you will be the one to inspire a new counselor!
Dawn Ferrara is a counselor in private practice and clinical manager for a community-based children’s mental health program. Her areas of interest include disaster mental health counseling, lifestyle management, and counselor wellness.