May – In Honor of Mental Health Awareness
For my undergraduate degree in general studies, I went to a public state university. I enjoyed the experience of going to smaller regional campuses which were supported by the full resources of the main campus. The campus where I completed my counseling internship was so different from those smaller campuses; mainly in that it had such a large percentage of students living on campus. Because of this, there was a much larger need of college counseling services and a focus on campus safety, security and wellbeing.
Being a part of a university devoted to student wellness and a focus on mental health may have truly spoiled me for the rest of my career. There is no other place where I will have access to the resources that we had on campus. We were part of the medical services building, which meant that I could send clients that needed some sort of medical care to providers in the very same building, and if those other providers felt that the student they were seeing could benefit from counseling, they could just send them our way.
I think the most surprising thing about this experience is that we were treated as professionals. There comes a time in your transition from theoretical education to practical career that you suddenly become the actual “expert” in your field. I was not sure I was ready for that to be part of the internship experience. My supervisor simply respected us and allowed us to do our own thing. The rest of the staff on campus behaved in much the same way. My supervisor often pointed out that we were driving the train with our clients, and she mostly focused on just making sure the train stayed on the tracks.
Even after a year of working with college students in practicum and a year of working with college students in internship, I just do not believe you are ever really prepared for some of the concerns that can come into your office. Every single client is different, and every set of issues is different. You tend to just hope for the best and prepare for the worst. You take what was given to you and what you acquired and you utilize it to best help the client. Every single day is a surprise when you do counseling.
I believe that the number one focus of this blog should be how my internship helped to prepare me for the counseling world. There are a few ways in which this occurred. Some of them are more positive and some of them are more negative. Part of it also involves my life during that time.
I started the internship in fall of 2015, and the first thing I dealt with was getting licensed by the board as a CT. This process takes at least a month, and you really need to stay on top of it for that full month. Because of a delay in paper work processing, I had to call the board almost daily to make sure that process ran smoothly. Because it took a substantial period of time, I started seeing clients a week late. Also in the fall, we had a family emergency, and that ended up with me needing to cut my hours towards the end of that semester. The state requires 240 hours, and I ended the first semester of internship with around 90 instead of the 120 I should have had at that period. That meant, I started spring of 2016 with a deficit when it came to hours. This is the point that the counseling intern starts to panic a little, however; I had the support of my university and internship site as I started my long journey out of this deficit. That journey lasted the entire second semester, but I made it. It made the whole process harder than what I had imagined, but it also prepared me for harder things in life.
Along with learning that hard things can be accomplished, I also learned that you can rely on others for support. The staff at the internship site was just amazing, and we thought outside the box to make sure things would work out. It is so rewarding when you can learn that hard things can be accomplished, you might need to think outside of the box and rely on others to meet your goals, but achieving those goals is one of the most rewarding things you can ever do.
There are some other lessons that were learned, and most of those lessons go more towards benefiting the counseling relationship with clients. I learned that working with clients is both challenging and rewarding, I learned that counseling comes with its own rewards, and I learned that any progress, even with some regression, is always its own reward.
Working with college students in my site was so rewarding because these clients were so driven to accomplish things that they had set for themselves. I work very much from a behavioral standpoint, which is to say, as you change the behavior you change the thoughts and feelings and reaction to that behavior. This worked well because of how dedicated these clients were to changing their own lives. We would develop treatment plans (a list of goals to be accomplished) and often I would be rewriting them in a week or two because the students had worked to accomplish their own goals. Watching clients meet treatment plan goals is always amazingly rewarding.
Watching clients struggle be able to meet goals, for whatever reason, is less rewarding… That is where the challenge comes in. Seeing clients achieve their goals is an easy way to see progress. However, when those goals do not get met, it becomes so much more complicated to see progress. The focus needs to be on making sure you can see the light at the end of the tunnel even if the tunnel is long and dark.
Counseling of course is its own reward. You are making a huge difference in the lives of people. You are looked at as a professional and an expert in the field, and your job is to help people improve their own lives. I see counseling not as fixing something that is broken. I see it as taking what is already the best of someone and helping them to work hard to make that better. I work from a positive to positive focus. There will always be positives about clients, and you should focus on bringing them out. You should also focus on not being judgmental about the negatives. Every client is a mixture of positive and negative attributes, as is every person, and what we do as counselors is to minimize those negatives and enhance those positives.
Students push themselves very hard. Many involve themselves in multiple extra-curricular activities, focus on keeping a high GPA and try to find time for life. That means stress! They have concerns about being able to make it through the day. If they have an anxiety disorder, major depressive disorder, bipolar or PTSD, not only are they experiencing significant stress, they are experiencing that disorder. Those basic struggles become literal hell for them. They need treatment, and often medications are simply keeping them going. Taking medications without reducing stress limits their effectiveness. Counseling often focuses on reducing stress. The focus often becomes on self-improvement, working through thoughts, and/or becoming more efficient.
Many times students know they should be doing these things, but these things are hard to do. Not having this release can often lead to feelings of guilt, worthlessness, hopelessness, helplessness and depression. These five factors are part of the leading explanation for why suicide occurs. Not only do campus counselors focus on improving the quality of life for students, we are also the watch dogs for protecting the students and university from tragic occurrences such as suicide or other harm.
At the end of the day, looking back, it was a great year, and I very much enjoyed my experience. I look forward to moving forward in the counseling world, and I hope that by the end of my career I can look back and say that I made a difference.
Eric Kugler earned a Bachelor of General Studies in 2008 and a Master’s of Education in Clinical Mental Health Counseling in 2016. He completed his internship at the University of Mount Union in University Counseling. For questions about this month’s blog – please contact Eric at: email@example.com