In a few weeks, it will be two months since I finished grad school and joined the ranks of professional counselors. Even in that short amount of time, it's been quite a journey for me. I work in a residential facility that works with the homeless population and helps them get back on their feet and break the cycle of homelessness. I've never worked with this population before, and I'm not entirely used to working with adults. The truth is, I really enjoy working with teenagers. I found that out during my internship at the end of my graduate program. To me, teenagers are the best because if they give you an attitude, it's because giving attitude is kind of their job at that age. They don't bullshit you, and they know full well when you're bullshitting them. The other day I spoke to a good friend who said she felt most authentic in sessions when she was working with teens, and I had to agree.
Adults are a horse of a different color. As a (fairly) young therapist, I have to overcome the "I know I am young enough to be your child" hurdle with a lot of my clients before we even get anywhere. The other day, a guest presenter came in to my job and asked me, "Are you even old enough to work here?" I can thank my great genes on both sides of the family for that one. Yes, I'm young, but I look a lot younger than almost-26. Which is awesome for me, but it's a special challenge as a counselor. I want to be taken seriously, to look professional, to look like I actually might know something. And when you're working with clients who have no choice but to come see you, they will use anything against you as an excuse. Even looking too young.
There's also the "You have no idea what I've been through" hoop jumping. Which I'm sure a lot of people in a variety of settings tell their therapists. The truth about that is that most of the time, we have no idea what anyone has been through. And my clients have no idea about what I've been through, which I think is how it should be. I know they envision me as having this perfect life, because when we're struggling, we have this tendency to imagine everyone else living the dream and leaving us out of it. I've experienced a lot of privilege and a lot of blessings, to be sure. But like anyone else, I have my struggles. Some of them in the past, and some of them ongoing. But if people want to believe I could never understand them, because if that's true they don't have to open up and share that painful secret with me, that's okay. I'm pretty good at waiting people out.
I wasn't sure what I would think once I started doing this job as a true professional, and not someone in school who appeared to be "practicing". Would I hate it? Would all those years of school be for nothing? The truth is, I love being a counselor. I know without a doubt it's my career and my passion. I feel fortunate to be able to do something I love, which is not a privilege everyone receives in life. And because I'm now on a professional level, I've changed a lot in the way I conduct myself at work and handle issues at my job. When I interviewed for my position, I told my boss I was a pretty direct person. I've lived up to that ever since. I say what I feel. I speak up for my clients. I speak up for myself. I think when I was in school, there was still this element for me of, "I need to defer to someone else, because I'm only a student". But now, even though I recognize that I have much to learn, I try to remember that I've been trained for this. I completed my hours. I took all of my classes. I've done practicums and internships. I'm on the other side of the university fence because I learned what I needed to know to make it this far.
So at work, I conduct myself as if I know what I'm talking about. Because, to my surprise, I know more than I originally thought. And every week, I go to supervision off-site to learn about how to be more effective at what I do. It's my place to throw my hands up and say, "I'm lost. Where do I go from here?" I've learned a lot already from my clinical supervisor, and also from processing what happens at work with another professional.
It's been an interesting journey so far. Exhausting and frustrating at times, but very rewarding and sometimes humorous at others. Only one thing is certain: there's never a dull moment.