One beautiful aspect of our field is the variety and complexity of our work. The multiple facets of counseling are vast; consider some of our industry terms: theoretical orientation, insurance, gatekeepers, therapeutic alliance, ethical guidelines, master treatment plans, etc. Now add in: marketing a practice, coordinating with other mental health professionals, running a business, working with a supervisor, and keeping up on current industry standards and trends. As a counselor or counselor-in-training, the versatility and broad scope of factors we need to consider are wonderfully diverse. Therefore, as new professionals or students, we need to build quality resources.
In our toolbox, much as in all areas of life, human connection is invaluable. Connecting with a mentor provides an experienced guide. Gaining a mentor means having a fellow counselor as a personal resource. Much like a client, this relationship will take preparation, commitment, and effort; but, it promises to be a two-way street with a good bit of value added. As you approach the relationship, you may find the following recommendations helpful:
Openness is a valuable quality. Being open to the unexpected, a change in focus or something different than what logic tells you is the correct path, takes flexibility, adaptability, and, for some of us, self-control. As a mentee, exploring alternate points of view can be a powerful way to ignite personal growth. Do not be afraid to enjoy exploring counseling with a mentor who has a different thought or orientation than you do. Be open and get excited when confronted with different points of view; this can be a powerful, helpful moment. And, if it should not be, you always get the pleasure of discerning for yourself what to implement.
Being new in any field can be uncomfortable at times. On occasion, a lack of experience can cause a rise of emotions. In an effort to soothe ourselves, we can lean toward the security and comfort of believing there is a definite path, closing the possibilities down to one. Even as I write that last sentence, I find the simplicity and ease of “one way” appealing. The reality of our field is more complex, and remaining open to these nuances and multitudes of consideration is beneficial. Having a mentor can be a way to keep perspective while offering an alternative direction.
Own the Opportunity
Be prepared. Approach your time as valuable. Keep a logged list of topics and questions you have for your mentor; be hungry in the inquisitive sense. Make sure your time spent with your mentor is useful by preparing an agenda, and why not share that agenda with your mentor ahead of time so he or she can reflect on the topics you want to discuss. Initial meetings may center around getting to know each other; therefore, your questions may focus on learning about your mentor’s background, orientations, specializations, etc.
Up front, do not forget to set the expectations of your relationship. Define the parameters of your mentor-mentee contact (when and how will you meet). Share with your mentor what you hope to gain from the relationship and share how you intend to approach the time together. Ask your mentor to share their view and approach. Finally, have respect for any limits or boundaries you set.
Open, prepared, and now the fabulously, scary state of vulnerability. Be genuine when interacting with your mentor. This includes a willingness to discuss short and long-term career goals (or a lack of direction when that is your current reality). Share successes along with the obstacles you experience. Remember a mentor is not an instructor who grades you, a supervisor who is responsible for you, or a friend who has no connection to your world of work. A mentor-mentee relationship is a perfect place to talk through career difficulties or concerns.
Part of being vulnerable is being open to feedback. Not only must you be willing to talk about “how it’s going” but also “how can I improve”. The latter can be a personal question, but as we all know, it is vital for improvement. A commitment to personal growth means letting someone else get personal enough to know you and then receiving his or her feedback with an openness that lets you grow.
Do not neglect the power of showing appreciation! Likely, your mentor-mentee relationship will grow to be symbiotic in nature; however, let your mentor know the gratitude you have for his or her time and attention. Thankful, thought-out comments mean a lot. When appropriate, consider a handwritten note. Expressing appreciation in a clear, appropriate, and specific way can build the connection between two people.
The ACA Graduate Student Committee is pleased to launch a mentorship program!
Stay tuned for potential future mentorship opportunities!!
Holly Rhode is a graduate student working towards a Masters in Clinical Mental Health Counseling. Because her brother and hero lives with schizophrenia, she is proud to have made a midlife career change away from finance to pursue her passion for improving the lives of those living with mental illness. Holly serves on the ACA Graduate Student Committee, is the President of the Board of Directors for the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) Michigan, and works as a Graduate Assistant, Career Advisor counseling community members in the Adult Career Counseling Center at Oakland University.
Graduate Student and New Professional Blog
We are all taking 12-15 credit hours per semester, participating in research opportunities, managing work schedules, maintaining a social/family life, or we just transitioned into our New Professional role and have no idea what we are doing! ACA’s Graduate Student and New Professional Blog offers real life vignettes of life, academics, and how to keep yourself afloat despite your crazy schedule. Any suggestions for what you would like to hear more about, please email the Graduate Student Committee.
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