It’s hard to believe that I completed my last fall semester of my graduate program. It was the fullest semester thus far with three courses, a full-time internship and a full-time graduate assistantship. Here are my thoughts about the courses:
Internship Part 1– As I have mentioned several times in this blog, I often find myself being the lone person of color. In my last posting, I came to better terms with this reality, as it was just that – reality. However, there is something qualitatively different in being the lone person of color in a class of 12 people versus a lecture room of over 50 people. As I sat there and looked around, as far as I could tell, I was again the only one – the only person of color. I felt strange, uncomfortable and out-of-place, which was interesting since I knew many of the other students. Yet it was a reminder to me of how far we need to go as a profession to include more racial and ethnic diversity in our ranks especially as our clients are more racially and ethnically diverse. Representation still matters when it comes to cultural competence. We need both cultural competence and representation to meet the needs of clients of all backgrounds.
I also feel that it’s compelling and profound for clients to meet with a counselor that is different from them and know that their needs can be served and be supported. I think of my stepfather who was racially biased then to discover that the surgeon who took care of my mom was African-American. I believe that encounter changed his perspective in significant and important ways.
Cross-Cultural Counseling – I thought that this course would be easy when it came to content after having done diversity work in higher education for nearly 15 years. My greater concern was the likelihood of conflict and disagreement especially when the topic of White privilege will come up. Well, I was surprised at both fronts – the first being that I learned so much because of the different context for which diversity would be addressed, i.e. mental health counseling. The second being that there was much more openness than I anticipated as we talked about the difficult topics of race, racism and privilege. Much of it was due to our professor who continually reminded us that she was learning and made mistakes when trying to be inclusive. It mattered so much how she created a space that was safe enough for each of us to share our thoughts and perspectives even when they opposed one another.
Co-Occurring Disorders (Substance Use and Abuse)– I was the most concerned about this course since I had minimal knowledge of substance use and abuse. Even though I learned about Motivational Interviewing for alcohol use among college students, I really had no understanding of how substance use co-exists with other mental illnesses, or how substance abuse can result from mental illness or vice-versa. What made this course particularly informative and intriguing were my classmates for which many were already working in the field of substance use and abuse. As I listened to their stories, I couldn’t help but be in awe of their resilience, commitment and patience as they worked with clients who struggled with substance use. I’m grateful for such counselors who care so deeply and desire healing and hope for their clients.
So, yes, I had a very busy semester that was chock full of learning and growth as a soon-to-be clinical mental health professional. I look forward to my last semester and onward to the next chapter of my life.
Elena Yee is a counselor-in-training at Rhode Island College and a counseling intern at Bryant University, completing the last year of her Counseling Program in Providence, Rhode Island. She is looking forward to bringing together her years of experience in Student Affairs to the vocation of clinical mental health counseling to serve marginalized and under-represented clients. She is interested in the healing of trauma through EMDR, effectively assessing for suicidality, and advocating for the needs of those most vulnerable in our society. You can learn more about Elena at www.linkedin.com/in/elenatyee