I hope this note finds you well. I have a few things to say to all you counselors (mental health professionals, licensed clinical social workers, therapists, and anyone who sees clients for therapeutic services on a day to day basis).
- The world needs you. Yes, you. Don’t give up. You are a special person, with a special heart, and a special set of skills. I’ve always said, “If only the world had more counselors….”
- Please take care of yourselves. Take time to treat yo’self. Please. Your clients, colleagues, and co-workers will find you to be more pleasant, competent, and energized. YOU will feel better about yourself and your work.
- Don’t take work home with you. Once you leave your office, leave all work thoughts at the office. Live in the moment. If you are driving home, focus on the steering wheel, the music, the hum of your engine…not on your clients.
- Respect client autonomy. Sure, it feels good to be needed….but I’d argue that it feels better to be EFFECTIVE. If your clients are starting to depend on you less and less, that is a good sign.
- Keep learning. This career is for “lifelong learners”. If you feel like you know all there is to know about counseling, GET OUT. SERIOUSLY. Fine tune those clinical skills. Be the best YOU can be. Learn not only to get your Continuing Education Credits for your license; learn because there is a reason you are in your patients’ lives. Learn because you fell in love with psychology. Learn because it makes you a better therapist….and a better person.
- Rely on your gut feeling and on your basic skills. You’re in this field and you probably have good instincts about people. If a client gives off a vibe about something…explore it if you feel like it will benefit them. When in doubt, reflect, paraphrase, imitate, interpret, respect, and be genuine. Your relationship with the client is what matters (ultimately).
- You cannot control your client. Remember that you can work with clients to help guide them to a personal goal. If they go in an unanticipated direction or they drop out of therapy altogether, let it go. They have control over their own lives. You have control over yours.
- Seek your own treatment. Not trying to pull some religious soapbox moment on y’all, but the book of Matthew has a good point: “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?” If you have a giant-ass piece of wood in your own eyeball (i.e. trauma, depression, anxiety, bias, racism, avoidance) how in the hell are you going to help your client pick that baby splinter out of their own eye? GO TO THERAPY.
- STOP. GIVING. ADVICE. STAAAHP. (Yeah, sure says the woman typing this advice column…) Anyway, we are not to give advice. Advice is for hairstylists, bartenders, best friends, mothers, fathers, professors, advisors. Counselors give counsel. What’s the difference? Advice: telling someone, (no really, anyone), how to do something because you have an opinion about it. Counsel: Maintaining objectivity while keeping the best interest of your client in mind and helping them find their way to a self-generated solution. COOPERATE and COLLABORATE with your client. They are experts in the subject of -their own lives. These people ain’t payin’ you for a lecture, so stop bulldozing people into submission.
- Remember to have a life. Not only engage in self care, but live—-your—-life. If you’re eating dinner with your family, enjoy it. If you want to knit until your fingers cramp because it’s a hobby, do it. If you have a spouse, love them. If you have kids, listen to them. I understand that hearing other people’s shit is unpleasant and it can taint your worldview…..but don’t become bitter. This world needs you and your counseling ways.
C.M.A., LPC, NCC