During my freshman year in college, because I am a rule follower, I attended a required meeting with something of a guidance counselor (he had another name but I can’t remember) who was supposed to help me choose what I wanted to do with the remainder of my life. My plan had been to start with the basic required courses (Math, English etc) and hope something would make itself seem interesting in the process. His advice was to choose a class in a few things I was interested in to see if it was something I wanted to pursue further.
At the time, I really had an interest in Psychology, but my own mental state was…well, not optimal. I knew myself well enough to know that if I had a client do something destructive with his/her life I was the type of person to not only take it personally but blame myself, and so I chose a different path.
I spent a great deal of college and beyond in therapy myself. My first experience was not positive. He doled out meds and changed them when I didn’t feel any different two weeks later. I didn’t like him, so I stopped. After my Freshman year I transferred schools and started seeing a graduate school student who was my “therapist” for the next three years. Unfortunately, we didn’t get very far. Partly I think because she was understandably inexperienced and partly because I sincerely had this fear that speaking my thoughts out loud would break me. I spent many sessions saying next to nothing.
I found an outlet in writing and an online forum, which probably explains why blogging is still therapeutic to me. Eventually after several years, a few huge life changes and some work with a therapist who actually gave me the no nonsense help I really needed, things started to change.
Sometimes, though, I look back on those days with some regret, because they simply weren’t as enjoyable for me. I wish that I had the ability to transfer my written words into spoken ones. Even now I communicate much more effectively through writing and have my virtual friends on that online forum to thank for helping me through many difficult times.
Technology is changing. People order pizza and shop for clothes on the Internet, and soon they may be able to send a picture of themselves to a physician and receive a tentative diagnosis. Technology is altering the way we all think about many things in our culture; it may one day affect the way we get counseling. Some experts in the mental health field envision software for our computers that will enable us to ask virtual counselors to help us with questions we formerly would have asked of a professional. These visionaries predict that the software will provide common answers, and if we ask anything that is too complex, it will recommend that we see a live counselor.
Other changes forecasted for the counseling profession are unification of certifying organizations and of counselors’ credentials. This will be an important step because people do not have to be certified to call themselves counselors. Even if counselors are certified, the credentialing organization may not be professionally acceptable. In the future, perhaps all counselors will have the same hierarchy of credentials, and it will be easier to choose the kind of counselor we need.
“Counseling Today” magazine suggests that perhaps the most sweeping change in counseling may be the shift to globalization. Of course, there will always be a need for school counselors, especially as the issues with which they deal are becoming increasingly complex. The trend toward addressing the mental health needs of society by treating the problems of the individual may turn to solving individual issues through working toward the mental health of a population. Counselors may soon address worldwide income disparity along with racial and sexual prejudices and advocate for mental health “wellness” programs. This change in the practice of counseling must be accompanied by a shift in the educational patterns and requirements in psychology degree programs. Schools with degrees based on the theories of cognitive behavioral therapy may have to expand their scope to deal with the issues of humanity.
Counselors in the school setting may need to open themselves to working with teams of professionals to serve a population of children. Change may be necessary for policies on things like bullying and working with special-needs children. Wake Forest is among the many schools addressing the future of educational counseling. Programs like Wake’s Degree in Counseling are making shifts in educating their students that reflect the changing world.
I know that, personally, had I used a virtual counselor he or she would have recommended in person counseling anyway, but sometimes I wonder – maybe it wouldn’t have taken so long to find the right fit, so to speak, and I could have spent less time in silence. It is good to know, at least, that programs are changing and improving.
Have you ever seen a therapist? What are your thoughts on virtual counseling and/or online counseling degrees?
July 7, 2014 at 12:43 pm
I only ever went to one official “counselor” – it was a disaster. He was as insensitive and uncaring as could be in my first session and I never went back. Having said that, I know there are many good ones out there. I think the moral of the story would be that sometimes you need to shop your counselor. One bad apple should not spoil them all.
July 7, 2014 at 1:01 pm
Agreed. I saw four total. The last was the best.
July 7, 2014 at 7:12 pm
I saw a counselor my senior year of college…though I’d probably needed to begin seeing one about 3 years earlier. It was one of the lowest of my lows – and I’m very thankful that he was an absolutely outstanding human being. The first few weeks of my visits, I was mostly balls of tears and snot….and he just let me be. Always listening, never pressuring in anyway. I would have gladly seen him for the rest of my life if I were allowed. I’m actually in the market for someone now, but I’m terrified of stumbling upon a bad fit.
I definitely think that Virtual Counseling is a promising idea. I’ve always found it much easier to express myself through writing, especially when very emotional.
July 7, 2014 at 8:17 pm
Hmmm, I hadn’t thought about it before. I haven’t been to one or online, but I do have a few friends that I can write to or call when I want to talk about stuff. Need to take more advantage of that though.
July 7, 2014 at 8:45 pm
Wow. As a (school) counselor, I certainly have a lot of thoughts on this which I will try to keep brief. what’s sad is that your experience with counselors is not unique. It’s even similar to my own. I saw a therapist in high school and much of my time was spent sitting on the couch in tears because I was too afraid to speak; too afraid to be judged. I can’t pinpoint my exact moment when I decided to be a counselor myself but my decision had something to do with the fact that I was convinced I could do a better job of the countless therapists I had seen and I seemed to need to prove to myself that I could. Reflecting back, it seems like a foolish reason but fortunately for me, I think my decision was the right one and I’ve found myself in a career I simply love.
Virtual counseling and generic answers seems like a joke to me. Not everyone’s problems, no matter how similar, are exactly alike to warrant the exact same advice. And I say that with confidence as a counselor who repeats the same message dozens of times a year, but my delivery is different each time because my audience is different, and that’s important.
Virtual degrees I have mixed feelings about. Personally, I feel like you can never learn something from reading it as good as you can if you have a chance to discuss it with another human being. Some online classes allow for telecommunication and I would hope this would be a requirement for a counseling degree. As with most post-graduate degrees, asking questions to make sure you understand the material (as well as practicing things on a live human being, even if it’s a fake therapy session with a classmate) is a critical part of truly learning how to do your job. On the other hand, I have always felt like my degree was more of a piece of paper than an education. What I mean by that is….I don’t tout my own skills often but one strength I can claim is that I generally have great people skills and have always had a talent for making people feel comfortable. and felt as though earning the degree was more like adding to my “bag of tricks” and giving me the necessary credentials to get the job I wanted than actually teaching me anything new. Does that make sense? Overall though, I have to say I was very pleased with my degree program for my masters. I was required to take a class that taught me details about how all clients/patients/students are unique; another to go over professional ethics and teach me how to avoid huge professional mistakes beyond the obvious not sleeping with students and that kind of BS that I would never do. My MS also covered a variety of different theories, not just CBT, so we learned about all the latest techniques out there at the time. But again, while I believe my degree was valuable, no piece of paper is an acceptable substitute for a kind heart and a listening ear. My advice to anyone in therapy or counseling is this: #1, understand that you can’t truly get the help you need if you don’t open your mouth and say something. Even the best counselors aren’t mind readers and can’t help you if you can’t explore what’s bugging you. But #2, while it’s understandable that not every counseling relationship is “love at first sight” in so many words, don’t wait too long before you admit to yourself that your relationship with your counselor isn’t going to be productive. Don’t be like me and sit on the couch in tears, in silence, for years, not getting anything done because you’re afraid to give up on your counselor or you’re afraid of what might happen to you if you “quit therapy”.
wow, I hope all that babbling made sense! Sorry for the long ramble!
July 7, 2014 at 8:55 pm
I don’t think thats a bad reason to become a counselor – I just honestly had too much going on myself to be an effective one at the time, and I enjoy my job as a Speech Therapist so I think it all worked out.
I like the idea of virtual counseling to start maybe, but I’m with you in that I think over the long haul a person to person relationship is better. But for someone having trouble getting their foot out the door – maybe this would help?
I think some online degrees can work. Personally I’d prefer to be in class, or at least connected through Skype or something so I could ask questions. In my field I found the internships to be where I learned the most though.
I also agree with your advice – I too sat in basically silence for way too long.
July 8, 2014 at 10:29 pm
You make an excellent point that virtual counseling might be a good start for some. I have to say I agree. It’s definitely better than nothing. And I also agree that some online degrees are good and internships are extremely valuable. I just hope that for an online counseling degree, something like skype would be a mandatory piece of every class. In some cases, textbooks and computers are a poor substitute for human interaction and I think learning how to be a counselor is one example.
Great post! Thanks for sharing your thoughts! 🙂
July 10, 2014 at 11:02 am
that’s very interesting. It always is nice to get the right help the first time. Sure seems like it never works out that way. At least not for me.
July 10, 2014 at 7:42 pm
it didn’t for me either. I think thats unfortunately pretty common