Q&A: Counseling Career?

Friday, October 10, 2014

Dear Pardymama,

A lot of my friends come to me with their problems or asking advice.  I've thought about going back to school for counseling, but I'm not sure I'd like it as a career choice.  Can you tell me what it's really like?  
Counseling Career Confusion

Dear CCC,

Absolutely!  If there is one thing I never get tired of talking about (besides my children) it's counseling. Several of my classmates and colleagues have that same gift of being the "go-to" friend for advice among their peer group.  Clearly, your friends perceive you to be trustworthy, empathetic, and a good listener.

You've probably felt wise at times and totally uncertain at others.  Sometimes it's hard to know what to say or how to say it, and your investment in your friendships and concern for those you care about can make it difficult to clearly know how to handle a situation at times.  That's relationship.

Becoming a therapist absolutely utilizes those natural gifts you already possess.  But, the client/therapist relationship has a secure boundary held by professionalism and confidentiality that can allow for process and progress that's quite different than any other kind of relationship.  An education that hones your skills as well as equips you with tools you couldn't otherwise learn outside the classroom, can provide you the next step to really expand your abilities into an expertise.  Therapy is quite different than advice giving, and it does require an endurance that will sharpen your listening skills to a fine point.

Though I've barely dipped my toes into the client-pool, I can tell you so far what it is like to actually sit in a room week after week and listen for 50 minutes straight to someone's story, issues, questions, confusion, anxiety, worries, hopes, or hurts.  It's exhilarating...but, it's not for everyone.  I can certainly understand why others would find it draining or boring, just like how I'm not meant to be a firefighter or accountant!  But, I find therapy strangely exhausting and energizing at the same time.  It's like reading a good book, when you read late into the night and feel tired but just can't help but want to keep going and find out what happens next.  When I'm there in that moment, I always want to be there.

It's intimidating, and humbling.  Sitting with someone in a little hub of vulnerability, where the whirlwind world sits just outside my door with the "In Session" sign hanging on it, I recognize the intrinsic privilege I have of getting to be "that person" for the clients that sit before me.  Though it might seem daunting at first,  I have a peace that surpasses my understanding when I sit in that room.

I rest on the security of God's purpose for my presence in that moment, and on the education I've invested in learning - leaning on the wealth of information, tools, and support that my Supervisors and classmates provide me.  I trust the science and the data and the Holy Spirit all at the same time.  And I prayerfully do my best to balance my life inside that room with the one I live outside it.  I'm still me...just looking more thoughtfully through the lens of "therapist" and less as the invested friend I would be if I had a connection to the client I'm helping.  This is a really important difference to note, because it's what allows me to leave this emotional context at the office, and not bear it when I go home.

I would suggest you go to therapy if you haven't already, so that you can get the client's perspective on the experience.  Then, speak with local counselors you trust about their own practices.  There is a wide range of motivations behind why people become mental health professionals, and the audience that they serve can vary just as much.  For me, I feel like I'm fulfilling something that has always been percolating inside me.  It will be a lifelong pursuit to grow as a therapist, as it's an ever-changing field that appears limitless in its study.

Whatever you choose to do as a career, keep on being that wonderful "go-to" friend that people can trust with their hearts.  Empathy is a gift that can't be overused.  Trust God with your gifts, and you can't steer wrong.

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