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You Know You've Become a Counselor When ...

By Jodi L. Bartley
Plymouth State University

The process of “becoming” seems to be an elusive developmental phenomenon. As counselors, it isn’t as if one day we wake up and declare, “Yes, now I am a counselor!” 

The developmental shift is ever so gradual, and like the growth of a great sequoia tree or the deepening of the Grand Canyon, it’s practically imperceptible. So how do we know when we have become counselors? It’s a difficult question to answer, but perhaps being mindful in other areas of our lives may illuminate the process.

You Know You Have Become a Counselor When …
  • Your mother calls, and you ask, “And what brings you to call me this evening?”
  • The bank teller starts speaking to you at a restaurant and you wonder if you’re crossing boundaries.
  • You are surprised that your yoga instructor doesn’t provide full informed consent before her practices.
  • The hairdresser finishes your hair, and you state, “So I’m noticing you cut off a little more than usual …”
  • You begin to feel closer to an elder in the community and wonder if you’re working through deep-seated transference issues.
  • You determine that your puppy is in the “precontemplative” stage of change regarding his chewing habit.
  • Your friend tells you a long story, and you start to wonder if you should be taking notes.
  • You go to the grocery store and hope that you don’t run into one of your clients.
  • Friends start gossiping and you instinctively keep any information that you know confidential.
  • You watch a television show and begin pathologizing all of the characters (yikes!).
  • Your colleague gives you a gift and you wonder if you should accept it.
  • You start applying Kitchener’s moral principles to your driving habits.
  • You tell your husband about your day and wonder what the ramifications might be of this self-disclosure.
  • The cashier tells you that you owe her $50, and you reply, “So it sounds like …”
  • Your spiritual director asks you to address the congregation, and you wonder if you’re imposing your values.
  • Your socks bunch up in your shoes and you consider it a good opportunity to practice distress tolerance.
  • And last—but certainly not least—when everywhere you go and with everyone you meet, you wonder how they are feeling, what their life history is like, and if they are holding onto something painful deep inside.

Becoming a counselor surely is unique in its ability to temporarily muddle our understanding of the rules of engagement. However, where else do we learn to be more aware, more understanding, and more empathic? Where else do we learn to be patient and accepting of all people regardless of their backgrounds? And where else do we learn the power of a listening ear to promote goodwill and healing? For that, the counseling profession surely is one to be cherished and upheld. And on my humble journey to becoming a counselor, I am eternally grateful for such a beautiful process. 

Thank you to all of my professors and colleagues at Plymouth State University. It’s always a journey.