I admit it, I’m green. I’d like to think I possess good intuition and that a firm foundation for my counseling future is being laid in graduate school. But I feel very confused about which populations I want to ultimately work with. I alternate between an unrealistic wanting to work with virtually everyone and a steady yearning to find a more comfortable niche. My comfort zone is cradling me as I urge to break free.
A fellow counseling student and I had a discussion recently about what niche(s) we would like to focus on in regard to internship and ultimately work. I expressed concern about working with clients with whom I don’t share their experience – for instance those with substance abuse issues or veterans with PTSD. How could I counsel someone when I hadn’t been “there” myself? I know that this is on one level a silly question. Counselors can’t possibly share experiences with all of their clients and the desire to do so is futile. However, I still feel that as an intern and a counselor I should be familiar with what my client has gone through. Irrational thought, perhaps? I may be an ideal candidate for CBT!
Luckily, my insightful classmate reminded me of something that is in a certain way obvious, yet is quite easy to lose sight of: we all, clients and therapists alike, share the human experience. We have all experienced loss, pain, joy, hopes, - the lows and highs that accompany life on earth. Although I may not have been in battle I can, with my counselor’s toolbox in-hand, empathize with a returning vet or relate to an addiction I haven’t suffered with. Along the same lines I am currently attracted to working in bereavement counseling largely because I my mom passed away this past May – it’s fresh and I feel I can relate. Seems that the pendulum swings both ways. But how to strike a balance?
My graduate advisor wisely told me that although as a counselor-in-training you may have misgivings in regard to working with a particular population and find yourself, for whatever reasons, drawn to another if may not be indicative of whom you ultimately work with. He explained that once you are out there interning and through early work experiences you’ll discover that you enjoy working with clients in settings that surprise will you. I, for one, am looking forward to those surprises.
Susan Jennifer Polese is a counselor in training, a personal coach and a freelance writer. Her areas of interest are mindfulness, divergent thinking, and creativity in counseling.