No one wants to be a green counselor. “Hi, I’m an intern and you are my first counselee.” Who wants to say that? Also, no one wants to entrust their most significant problems to a green counselor. “I see you haven’t any experience, so let me expose my most tender parts to you and see what you can do.”
Houston, we have a problem.
Every counselor has to get their start somewhere just as every surgeon cuts a live human being for the first time. Young single folk counsel conflict-riddled married individuals or offer parenting advice while not yet a parent. Individuals with no history of addictions sit with folks in their 10th inpatient stay in a treatment center.
Is there any way this goes well? YES! Let me tell you why going to an intern with a good supervisor is good, even sometimes better than getting a seasoned counselor by them self.
1. You get two heads instead of one. Even if the supervisor is not in the room, you get a young, determined-to-do-it-right counselor and a supervisor on his or her toes (who loves to teach and wants nothing bad to happen) thinking about you and planning carefully. They talk about the intricacies of your situation at great depth, they consider the options, and carefully review the outcome. If you only have a seasoned counselor, they may perform better (relationship wise) in sessions, but they probably aren’t thinking as critically as they could. I can attest that I am thinking much more carefully about clients during supervision (as supervisee or supervisor) than when I am not there.
2. Book knowledge actually does help. The further a person gets away from textbooks, articles, etc. the more they rely on old knowledge. Teaching counselors and green counselors are fresh from their reading and thinking about key problems. For example, the student having just completed an ethics course will be more sensitive to boundary violations than the one who has grown accustomed to thinking they will always do the right thing. Sometimes resident doctors are more aware of subtle health issues because they are running down every article to learn and running down every symptom.
Now surely a seasoned counselor provides many good benefits. Working with an intern or medical resident often takes longer to get to a good outcome. They just aren’t as fluid. They are still learning–learning on you. A seasoned counselor will make fewer mistakes. But if they are a humble learner, the green counselor will catch on quickly and repair any damage. Whether green or seasoned, the most dangerous character problem in counselors is arrogance and listening only to him or herself.
But the intern can manage some of this by dealing with his or her own anxiety. Confidence does actually help. It enables you to think clearly, consider options, be honest about your own weaknesses, offer the client help in finding someone else if you aren’t the right fit. It is like baseball. If you are afraid of getting hit, you’ll likely not catch or hit the ball. If you have confidence, you’ve got a better shot of catching it and/or at least making contact when hitting.
All that said, I have to tell you a story about my “first time.” I had just completed a 13 week internship where I counseled 2 separate clients with my supervisor in session and by myself. I could be given good grades for trying hard, but probably was too impatient to get to the good stuff of people’s problems–the stuff of repentance. In a moment of insanity my supervisor set me up as a staff counselor in a satellite center. On my first night I saw a person who said the Lord had told her I was the counselor for her but now was rethinking she had misheard. How could an 18 year old be right for her (ahem, I was all of 24!)? After trying to find out the issues, she said if I couldn’t figure it out, she definitely had misheard God. The next client was a couple. In the course of the session, the husband actually stood up and started choking his wife. I stood up–not knowing what else to do–and he fled the building.
There’s nothing like baptism by fire 🙂