There is nothing like immersive learning. The fieldwork experience for counselors is arguably one of the most important parts of our training. I had no idea what to expect once I had secured my site and supervisor for my practicum experience– I was so nervous. I distinctly remember sitting in front of my computer just before my first session ever with a client, bouncing my leg non-stop. I felt a pit in my stomach and was thinking the typical intrusive thoughts that come with imposter syndrome which included, “How are they letting me do this?” and “Am I ready for this?”. After some guidance and co-counseling with my supervisor, I was on my own with the freedom to explore and start figuring out where I will one day fit in this profession. Every day I am reminded that the fieldwork is an irreplaceable and invaluable experience. As I start the transition into my internship, here are some of my main takeaways from the practicum experience.
It’s Real. It is surreal at first to be a “trusted” individual in a stranger’s life, holding that space for them to share themselves and to be vulnerable. It is a completely different experience than the practice/mock “sessions” we do in our classes before we start the field experience. In my experience, all of the skills and techniques I learned in class just left my brain. I felt like I had no clue. It is like suddenly you have this realization in the middle of sessions of “yes, I can indeed do this wrong” and that this person is depending on you and trusting you. In training we often hear about people feeling fulfilled and grateful. While yes, this is true… it is not the first feeling I experienced. Rather, I felt a sense of worry that I would do something wrong and not be helpful. However, my supervisor was always somewhere to be found for guidance. After some time, you finally feel like you are counseling.
Intake and Psychotherapy are Different Muscles. The first week of my practicum was pretty much intake sessions – those first sessions where you are not exactly doing “therapy” but are identifying needs and defining goals. The counselor and the client are trying to get a sense on what the two of you will be doing in the future sessions. It was easy – sans my imposter syndrome – to switch into psychotherapy after those intakes because it was the logical next step. However, a month or so later when I had another new client, it occurred to me that my brain did not know how to handle intake. I found myself jumping back to reflective skills and internally correcting myself from skipping the steps of identifying the goals of the counseling relationship with this new client. During my supervision time, which happened to be the same day, I noted this to my supervisor to which he nodded his head and smiled, reminding me that we have to understand the landscape before we can just explore the uncharted roadmap.
A Flexible Style and Clinical Reflection. It is interesting. I am seeing that some theoretical approaches or interventions that I did not think would be “my thing” when I first learned about them are being used for some clients as much as some that I thought I would always use are not being used as much. In particular, I am noting how this depends on the client and their presenting needs, the goals we are working toward, and the professional relationship we have developed in this setting. I consider the lesson here that my theoretical orientation is more like my comfort zone and that it is okay to step out of it, with the right preparation. At this current developmental stage in my training, I find myself outlining, researching, and preparing for my client sessions. I have found this process to be extremely useful in conceptualizing the cases and understanding the counseling styles that do and do not work for me and/or for my clients. Further, taking the time to reflect on sessions on my own time and how they have impacted my professional growth and life is a powerful tool. I imagine many professionals would say this is a way to identify countertransference. It also helps you to keep perspective on where you are in the counseling and therapeutic process with the client – at least for me.
Supervision and Feedback is Invaluable. I cannot express enough the importance of supervision and feedback in this process. The deeper I get into the fieldwork experience, the greater my hunger has become for receiving feedback and direction to grow. I am so grateful that my supervisor has delivered on this. It is easy to shy away from feedback, it can definitely stimulate those imposter syndrome feelings. Yet, I have found the feedback, both constructive and validating, to be the best cure for it. The supervision hour each week has been one of my most looked-forward to meetings during this experience. I have found that going in with an open-mind and a readiness to be challenged makes it all the more fruitful.
As an educator, student, and counseling intern, I feel as though I have won the lottery in my site placement. I have a supervisor who does not fully throw you to the wolves, but also does not hold your hand and micromanage. I have been given the space to explore and work toward determining my style – that is definitely still in development. I am walking away from my practicum experience with a feeling of validation in my career choice, humbled that I have been trusted by individuals with their life stories, and a hunger to learn more and continue my growth through internship and the steps that follow.