“I’m a counselor. I have to have it all together. Not just some of the time. All of the time.”
“I’m a counselor. I need to be a role model for what it means to have stability in my mental health.”
“I’m a counselor. It’s not ok to not be ok.”
These are the lies that I used to tell myself. Truth be told, I was critical of myself (and still can be sometimes) when it comes to my anxiety, and that served no purpose other than to worsen my anxiety even more. It was something I contemplated through the entire course of my education to become a counselor.
Sometimes, I still get stuck in those self-defeating thoughts, and I try to convince myself that because I’m a counselor I shouldn’t ever have a bad day or that my emotions are less important than those of everyone else — after all, I have to have it all together if I’m going to be helpful for my clients, right?
This past December, I graduated from the Master of Arts in Human Development Counseling program at University of Illinois. I work at a drug and alcohol treatment center, and multiple times throughout the course of my time within the counseling program, I shared my concerns with my site supervisor and peers that maybe I wasn’t cut out to be a counselor.
“How can I expect to advocate for my clients and help them with their mental health symptoms if mine keep rearing their ugly heads all the time?”
I’m surprised that I didn’t wear out my welcome through all of the times I asked this question. Each and every time, I would be reassured that counselors have struggles with their mental health too at times — that counselors were not above having bad days or imbalances that sometimes create symptoms of anxiety and depression. One peer in particular hit home with her powerful response:
“If you’re comfortable doing so, sharing your own experiences with anxiety can empower your clients and remind them that it’s ok to be open and honest about their own struggles. On the other hand, if you try and pretend you’re without flaws, your clients will pick up on that and start to question your genuineness.”
Sometimes, I struggle and have bad days. The important part is that I continue to be genuine and authentic otherwise I’ll be doing nothing more for my clients than showing them that I’m hypocritical. To avoid being the type of counselor I was afraid of being in the first place, I need to be willing to share some of the not-so-great experiences associated with my anxiety and add that touch of therapeutic genuineness by recounting how I worked through my anxiety in a positive and healthy manner. I do this by demonstrating the importance I place on self-care and finding a listening ear when I need one.
One of my favorite counseling theorists, Carl Rogers, has this to say in his book, On Becoming a Person:
“What I am is good enough if I would only be it openly.”
Being a counselor doesn’t mean being 100% perfect. To think otherwise would be trying to live a lie. It does mean being genuine, demonstrating empathy, and providing the client with a non-judgmental atmosphere where they can feel comfortable sharing their experiences with you and leave feeling understood and heard. Part of doing that is showing them a little piece of yourself in a truly authentic way, and so that’s what I strive for with my clients.
As a new counselor to the field and as a developing writer, I’d love to hear your thoughts.