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Haylee Wilson
Sep 17, 2012

Experiential Learning: an eye opening experience to the "real world"

Prior to entering graduate school for mental health counseling, I worked at a senior center here in south Florida. Unlike most senior centers however, our center catered primarily to individuals suffering from Alzheimer’s disease and their family members. I worked as the Activities Coordinator and was essentially responsible for providing as much entertainment as possible for our clients during their eight hour stay with us. Although it was truly a worthwhile experience because I loved many of the people I worked with, including the clients, I quickly realized within my first year that this position was simply not for me.

When I described my position to my friends I was usually met with a response of, “Oh, poor you. You have to call Bingo all day. Life is tough.” Granted, there were many days when our activities were not extremely difficult and I found myself painting a picture along with the clients. But there were also many days where I was situated firmly in front of the exit, repeatedly explaining to a confused client that she could not leave the building. Some days, this could last from three o’clock in the afternoon until well after five o’clock if her caregiver was running late. Many days I would think, “I absolutely cannot do this anymore.” And my friends and family can verify there were many, many of those days.

I also told myself while working at the senior center that when I found the career I wanted, which was as a mental health counselor, I would never again experience days I could no longer handle. Last week I learned that while optimistic, that just isn’t the case.

Our program has begun to shift in order to include more experiential learning, which for me and my fellow students means more hands on learning. I am thrilled that our program has begun adding this component, as there really is no better teacher than experience. Although many of my experiential learning sessions have involved mock individual therapy and group sessions, I am no more certain than I was before that counseling is where I want to be. Perhaps not so unfortunately, this has also been an eye opening experience to the “real world.”

Last week I was scheduled to conduct a mock therapy session with a fellow classmate. At first I was apprehensive because I did not know my classmate very well and he himself has worked in the field for many years. The day of our counseling session I found myself very excited. I was eager to learn what issue he was going to present to me and I was also trying to remember the numerous ways to listen and respond linearly. And then right before I left the house my boyfriend said six little words that ruined my morning. “Why did you eat my cheese?”

His simple question turned into an argument about the cleanliness of the house and the state of the backyard, which had yet to be mowed. As I got in the car to go to my mock counseling sessions that evil thought popped into my head, “I absolutely cannot do this today”. The entire car ride to my classmate’s office I considered calling him and telling me we would need to reschedule, but since we were on a deadline I knew that just wasn’t possible.

Ultimately, I conducted my mock session with my classmate. I was relieved to have not only completed my assignment ahead of time but also to have not allowed my personal problems interfere with my “client”. Undoubtedly, it was not my best practice counseling session and perhaps knowing this is what made it easier to continue. Still, I was glad that I was at least somewhat right; counseling really is where I’d like to be.

Hayley Wilson is a counselor-in-training at Florida Atlantic University. Her areas of interest include military service members and PTSD, substance abuse, and coffee.

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