The great question asked by every counselor educator to prospective students during intakes: "Why do you want to be a counselor?"
For some (most) people, that's an easy question to answer. It should be. No one would undergo all the study, the intensive internship, and the sometimes-excruciating self-development in order to be potentially severely underpaid without there being some kind of fantastic intrinsic reward. Really, we'd all be better off going to law school or something. Obviously, that intrinsic reward IS pretty fantastic--it’s just taken me a little longer than most to truly understand it.
Unlike so many of my peers, I had trouble answering the great question. I knew the right things to say, which included helping people and wanting to create a better world. And I meant those things, but I somehow felt totally unqualified to say them. Was it because it was a departure from my background in music and nonprofits? Was I afraid of being judged by my potential classmates as not being "enough" of a counselor? Regardless, something had been lacking in my life and led me into counseling.
I’ve had a few experiences and realizations since then that surprised me and provided me with the answer. They’re difficult to talk about, for me anyway, since I’m very practical and tend to be leery of anything spiritual. But this summer in practicum, and now in internship, spiritual moments abound. There’s something very, very special about walking with a client down a difficult path as they try to heal. There’s something special about talking to a client living with a severe mental disorder who has chosen to tell you things they’d never told anyone. Even on difficult days, I have come to really, truly understand that each of my clients are fellow humans worthy of help and support. Sometimes, my support may be all I can offer them. These moments may be the closest I’ll ever come to spirituality, but that human connection keeps bringing me back to the counseling room, even at my most discouraged.
I promised my practicum teacher before I moved that I would attend church weekly as part of my own wellness plan, and two weeks ago, my husband and I found the church we’ve been seeking for ages. It’s inclusive and respectful to diversity, but moreover, the pastor has spoken each time of finding spirituality in service and in others. Maybe I’ve heard sermons like this before, but for the first time in 28 years, I connected with a sermon--two weeks in a row!
It’s all coming full circle. We’ve found our church, I’ve found a little bit of spirituality. My wellness wheel wobbles a little bit less. So to answer that question, “Why do you want to be a counselor?,” I say: Because the world needs more dignity, human connection, and healing, and I can provide those things to others.
Kristen Eckhardt is a counselor-in-training at the University of Nebraska at Kearney, completing her internship this year in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Read more about her experiences and her takes on counseling issues at www.feetintwoworlds.wordpress.com.