We each arrive to our graduate programs with different strengths, experiences, and levels of preparation. Do you remember what prompted you to look into graduate programs in counseling? Some of us study related majors in undergrad, and charge straight into graduate school. Others begin working after college, and their post-grad experiences lead them into this field. Many held careers in other professions and completely change gears. Counseling students represent a diverse group of backgrounds and ages, with traditional and non-traditional students. This diversity of experience enriches the classroom and the identity of the counselor.
Wherever we come from, we arrive to our graduate programs with the goal of creating a career out of service to others. We set aside a few years for academics, studying, writing, and training, with the finish line always in sight (graduation day). During this process, we are learning and growing as counselors-in-training, while making sacrifices (of time, work, finances, and priorities). We are awarded for these efforts with a graduate degree, and then realize that this is not the finish line. The diploma is only the beginning.
The diploma opens the door, and once it is open we must navigate our way through certification, licensure, and counselor identity. We submit the paperwork, get the job, and put in the hours. At what point in this journey do we become counselors? Is it when we obtain our credentials? I find counselor identity to be much more than the acronyms beside a name. As you awaited approval from national and state boards, which can go on for weeks and months, were your abilities and competencies significantly different than after the credentials arrived? The answer is probably no.
Counselor identity is an ongoing process and it reveals itself in the work that we do. It lies in that moment where we are connecting with the client in front of us, who is experiencing a challenge and reaching out to us for help. Our counselor identity develops through our work, is reflected in feedback and supervision, and advances through continuing education. Think back to the time when you were sending in your master’s program application, and realize how much you have grown since that time. At what point in your career did you feel that you arrived in your counselor identity?
Margo Velez is a counselor and doctoral candidate, proudly serving the mental health and wellness needs of clients in her private practice, located in Atlanta, GA. For more information, visit her website here.