Friday is the official end of the spring semester but today is the last day of my practicum. For 16 weeks my life has been consumed, for the most part, with this practicum and making sure that I get everything I need from this experience. I am grateful and proud to say that I did.
I came into the experience feeling a bit like a fish out of water. For the most part, the people I worked with don’t look like me, think like me, or operate like me – and neither did the people that I served. At first this made me defensive but as I became more comfortable with my surroundings and more comfortable in my ability to do my job, I was able to become more comfortable with how my being different could be an advantage. So here are some things that I was able to learn these past four months…
1. Silence is a great tool when used in the proper context and at the proper time. – I was called to be with some individuals and families in very traumatic situations – situations where words, no matter how well-intentioned, would do more harm than good. I had to learn how to utilize the technique of simply being a calming presence and resist the urge to over-talk in order to ease my own fears and discomfort.
2. Sometimes you won’t know how much you have in you until you are stretched in different directions. – Because I did not work conventional office hours, I generally was holding down the fort for my department during my shifts. Some nights that meant getting multiple calls to be in different locations within the hospital. One night in particular it seemed like the pager kept going off, at one point with back-to-back pages. That night showed me what I was made of and it showed me that I don’t give myself enough credit for what I can do. It wasn’t perfect. It wasn’t pretty. But I got the job done in a competent manner. It was tiring but it was what I needed.
3. Counselor, know thyself. – I was in close contact with some people this semester who have dedicated their professional lives to helping people heal and be whole but were not dedicated to the same thing for themselves. This made me be resolved to never be blinded to my own needs and to the ways I need to utilize proper ways of self-care, even if that includes more counseling.
4. Don’t underestimate the power of someone who believes in you. Don’t underestimate the power of a good supervisor/mentor. – My supervisor this semester was a great source of wisdom, knowledge, and understanding for me. He was not afraid to challenge me but he also was not afraid to affirm me. He was not shy about letting me know that he has high expectations of me, both during my practicum and beyond, but he also was not shy about letting me know that he absolutely believes in my ability to surpass his expectations. The mixture of challenge and affirmation was a big part of my growth as a person and a “baby” counselor during this experience. If you are able to find someone who is where you want to be and the individual is willing to invest time, wisdom, and resources into you, it is to your advantage to take the opportunity seriously.
5. When people invite you into their lives in any capacity, it is a privilege. – Many of my cases were trauma and crisis response and I was present with people in some of their most vulnerable moments. I cannot afford to take that for granted. People do not have to invite you into their worlds and they do not have to share their lives in any capacity. Being invited into people’s spaces is a privilege and I think if we remember this more often, we would treat our family, our friends, our acquaintances, and even people that we meet daily with more dignity and respect.
6. Different doesn’t mean wrong. – It’s amazing how this lesson keeps popping up for me. I guess it’s one that I need to really get. There are times where I see people who I perceive to be better at something than I am and I will endeavor to emulate what they’re doing. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing but in the process, my individuality takes an “L”. I learned more in this 16 weeks than perhaps at any other time in my life that just because I do things differently doesn’t mean I’m wrong. It doesn’t even mean that I’m missing something. It means that my worldview differs from someone else’s and that gives me the opportunity to have my own set of strengths to bring to the table.
7. Empathy wins the day. – Dr. H. Norman Wright hypothesized that at the root of every tragedy, crisis, or trauma, there is a loss. Some losses are more clear and visible while other losses are lesser known and takes some level of digging to get to the root. In his book The Complete Guide to Crisis & Trauma Counseling, he quotes a therapist this way, “As a culture, we seem to have an intolerance for suffering; we tend to want those who have experienced a loss of any kind to get on with their lives as quickly as possible.” Empathy is the ability to focus on the person’s feelings and try to understand where they are coming from. It’s more than feeling “sorry” for a person and it’s more than just wanting whatever is ailing them to go away. It’s walking with a person through their pain and many of us would benefit greatly from someone being able to empathize with us. People can have a million barriers up but if they know that you empathize with them and that you are actively listening to them, the possibility of you making a positive impact increases several times over.
8. Macon isn’t as small as I expected. – I…don’t really have anything deep to say on this one. It is what it is :-).
Thanks for reading!
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