How to Grow Confidence as a Novice Counseling Psychologist
Lets face the ugly truth: novice therapists have a couple of challenges they need to overcome before the therapeutic process becomes smooth sailing. Not only do they need to learn how to deal with pressure from external sources, they also need to deal with inaccurate expectations they might have themselves.
1. Allocating the Corpses in Your Backyard
Do you think that a marriage counselor who is divorced is no longer a good therapist? Or should an addiction counselor immediately resign his work if his nephew is in treatment for drug abuse? How would you rate the effectiveness of a trauma counselor who experienced a traumatic event herself? Point is, when it comes to the mental health we all had our bumps in the road. There is not a single person on this earth who did not have his own share of individual challenges and setbacks. But that doesn’t and shouldn’t stop novice therapists from pursuing their therapeutic career. Counselors must not live the perfect life but they need to be aware of their own issues, how they are being triggered, and how to professionally and ethically deal with them. Awareness and insight about oneself is an important step in becoming confident with counseling clients. This can be reached by engaging in therapy. Please refer to our blog article “therapy for therapists” for more information on the matter.
2. Supervision is Key
Even if you are studying the best textbooks in the world word by word, neither case study nor text can entirely prepare you for the real counseling experience. Your client might not present himself in the perfect-textbook way. Or you might feel resistance from the beginning and don’t know how to react to that. It is important that you work with a supervisor who can guide your professional approach and who is able to assist you with this expertise. Working with a supervisor is an invaluable tool and allows discussing cases without breaching confidentiality. Remember confidentiality can only be breached in very specific cases (i.e., you are forced to respect the duty to protect third parties from harm if a client threatens to hurt others). With modern-day technological advances you even have the option to work with your supervisor virtually, which decreases the likelihood that your supervisor might, one way or another, know the identity of your client significantly (for example if you practice in Miami and your supervisor is from London) compared to traditional face-to-face supervision.
3. Process…It Is All about the Process
Did you ever hear the story about that therapist who was able to free his clients of all their concerns just within one-single session? No? That is not a surprise because there never was such therapist. And chances are that there will never be. It is true, however, that certain modals of brief solution-focused counseling have showed significant positive results within 3-4 sessions. But counseling, by nature, remains a process and even in the case of brief solution-focused counseling clients might request ongoing support indicating that the agreed goal (which seldom is the wish for continuous support) wasn’t achieved. So if counseling is a process, novice therapists should be worried about having all the answers after the first session(s). Therefore, if you are a novice counselor and think that you are not good enough and that you should be able to give more within less time; think twice and explore which feelings you are trying to avoid by overcompensating and discuss these fears with your supervisor.
You may also remind yourself that you cannot fix what took years or a traumatic event to happen in the first place in a matter of 50 minutes. These worries will only divert your attention from what is important: your client and to emphatically and actively listening to what your client is saying. The rule of thumb is that your client should always do the majority of speaking.
4. Be Honest…above All to Yourself
Last but certainly not least you need to listen to your intuition. If you don’t feel comfortable working with a certain client or a certain topic be professional and refer the client to a colleague. But be honest in debriefing the client in order to avoid any misunderstanding and thank the client for seeing you. Referrals do not indicate that you are a failure neither do they put your professional abilities in question. Instead responsible therapists refer clients all the time for a number of reasons – but always having the best interest of the client in mind. So if unhealthy anxiety arises every time you think about a certain client you may want to consider offering a new therapist to the client.
Having outlined four ways in which novice counseling psychologists can grow confidence in their practice, there is a particular strength that all novice therapists have in common. It is the urge and desire to apply their knowledge in helping others to cope with their difficulties. They are driven by the motivation to invest professional resources and the curiosity to search for alternative solutions if traditional approaches fail to yield satisfactory results. Yet, counselors who are new to the job should resist the naturally occurring impulse of compensating the lack of experiences with more practical or personal engagement. Despite the best of intentions such initiates are unfortunately doomed to irritate the client as boundaries are getting blurred. Therefore, the final recommendation for all novice counselors is to respect boundaries. There is a certain time and a certain place to worry about your client and there is a professional framework in which you can do that. A very interesting read about boundaries as a counselor is the “Therapists Spill: How I Set & Sustain Boundaries” by M.S. Margaritha Tartakovsky.
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