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Switching Careers to Counseling: An Intern’s Reflection

I came to Calming Wind Counseling in May of 2021 as a career switcher from teaching. For the first ten years of my professional life, I worked in classrooms, first as an elementary teaching assistant, then as an arts educator, then as a special education teacher working in high schools. I had decided in 2019, with not a small amount of regret, that teaching no longer felt sustainable for me. Counseling felt like a close relative to special education, with its focus on emotional well-being and a strengths-based approach. I was fortunate to be admitted to William and Mary’s School of Education with a focus on Clinical Mental Health Counseling.

And then COVID hit. All around me, I saw people beginning to re-evaluate their jobs and careers. Some had added time at home, or away from the workplace to reconsider what they truly wanted out of work. Others had no space to reflect whatsoever, working in high-need settings with little time to rest. I was already on my path to transition careers, but I began questioning my choice. Was I really going to finish my last year of teaching mostly from home, feeling ineffectual and purposeless? I had so little contact with students, who were my original reason for wanting to teach in the first place. I felt like I was career-switching, not from teaching but from limbo.

Changing careers is a privilege, and can also be a loss. I think often about my students and wonder what they’re doing, what they’re learning, what jokes they’re making. At the same time, I am learning about my new profession, which has its own distinct field of practices to explore.

Though I continue to feel conflicted about my last year of teaching, I am excited to develop a new skill set in a highly supportive environment, with a truly excellent supervisor. Here are a few of the lessons I’ve experienced as a career switcher at Calming Wind Counseling.

Humility Forever

As a former teacher and counselor in training, I am a firm believer in practicing many forms of humility: personal humility, cultural humility, and professional humility. Experience and expertise can be a great thing. It can help us be effective, it can feel gratifying; it can help us extend our skills to others. However, it can also block us from being willing to make mistakes. It can lead to wanting to maintain one’s expert position so badly, that we prefer not to see areas in which we can change and grow. As a new counselor, who would have otherwise been starting my eleventh year of being in classrooms, it sometimes is humbling to think how new I am at counseling. But, it’s also a gift. So many times I told students to embrace their mistakes, to redefine the meaning of the word itself. I’m now being given an opportunity to take my own lessons to heart.

Yes, Feedback is a Good Thing

If feedback is thoughtful, it means we are being seen for both our strengths and challenges. It makes us vulnerable. Observations were always my least favorite part of teaching, no matter how kind my administrator or how positive the outcome. Being seen and evaluated was just difficult, especially when it had to conform to state mandated measures. Now, I feel as though I am receiving authentic feedback that makes sense to me and also pushes me to grow. My supervisor brings a great wealth of knowledge to supervision, but also readily acknowledges my own existing strengths. I have found that receiving and integrating feedback is great practice for being in the counseling space. Counselors provide a type of feedback to our clients, in the form of reflections, immediacy, and interventions that may be helpful. As a new counselor, it is important to stay familiar with the feeling of vulnerability, since I ask it of my clients every session.

Staying in the Moment

Throughout my teaching experience, there was always something happening. Classrooms felt busy in a way that I found invigorating or exhausting depending on the day. Even the work behind the scenes could feel fast-paced, usually done in collaboration with other teachers over lunch, with parents over the phone before or after school, or with the IEP team in a conference room between classes.

By comparison, the counseling space can seem quiet, though it carries its own type of energy. There are thoughts to verbalize and feelings to process, memories to unpack, and interventions to try. Silence can also actually feel very loud. This profession is ripe for saying something in session and then wondering in the silence that follows if it was the right thing to say. It can feel very intimate to sit with one person for almost an hour. After ten years of high energy, activity, and noise, it can feel daunting to stay quiet. There is so much to consider and to fill my mind with from case conceptualization, to diagnosis, to choosing interventions and planning treatment, to considering theoretical orientation, and treatment modality. The times that I have felt most effective though, are the times when I can stay attuned to the person I’m with. Clients come to session with their own mental noise, fresh from their own unique lives, and the majority of which they live with outside of counseling. As a result, it has been incredibly helpful for me to cultivate comfort with silence. I’m learning that the more words that are shared in session, does not necessarily equate with more progress.

What Does This All Mean?

Every profession has its challenges and joys. I experienced plenty of both as a teacher, and now I feel fortunate to be expanding my horizons as a counselor. My professional identity is shifting, as my personal identity does, too. I am a great believer in the notion that everything changes, even when things may appear to be staying the same. Still, my sincere curiosity in people travels with me, and my belief in our shared capacity for growth.

As I continue to learn from my experiences in internship, and the process of shifting careers I hope that others may gain some benefit from my narrative as they work to shape their own. We are in a time where we are being challenged to reflect on our values, our goals, and most importantly what we believe we truly need from our daily lives. As Dr. Amy Cuddy tells us, "The way you tell your story to yourself matters" and I hope you are telling yourself an empowered adventure with wonderful things yet to come.


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