As a graduate counseling student, you will be presented with a myriad of educational materials that will greatly increase your knowledge, understanding, and skills to serve as a professional counselor. However, your diploma does not necessarily signify your readiness to engage in counseling practices. In fact, counselor preparation programs do not aim solely to enhance your intellectual proficiency; they also intend to facilitate your personal growth. Thus, personal growth should be recognized as equally important to academic success.

Self-Exploration and Personal Growth

The structure, content, and processes of your graduate counseling courses may drastically differ from your undergraduate experiences. Rather than simply listening to an instructor’s lecture, you will have the opportunity to participate in a collaborative and interactive learning environment in which your own unique perceptions, ideas, and lived experiences will be called upon to inform others. Many graduate counseling courses will encourage you to openly disclose your thoughts or feelings related to course topics, share personal narratives, and at times, even discuss your current life struggles in an effort to promote self-exploration and personal growth. For example, a counseling techniques and methods course may use role plays to provide students with opportunities to practice counseling techniques and interventions. Many students initially perceive these activities to be intimidating or anxiety provoking, as sharing exercises involve a certain degree of vulnerability and often relate to sensitive personal information. Although many course topics, discussions, and activities may closely mirror formal counseling processes, it is important to remember that graduate counseling programs are educational in nature and are not intended to serve a therapeutic function for students. As such, students should spend time reflecting on their experiences and needs, engage in regular self-care, and obtain personal counseling as needed to facilitate personal wellness.

Sharing experiences in graduate counseling courses also allow students to gain greater insight to the processes of counseling from a client’s perspective. Other graduate counseling course assignments are similarly designed to foster enhanced perspectives and personal growth. These assignments may include an abstinence project (e.g., giving up caffeine, sugar, meat), observing group counseling sessions at local agencies, or a semester-long self-care commitment to practice wellness enhancing strategies for a certain number of hours throughout the semester. As a future professional counselor, you will need to demonstrate the ability to empathize with others. Exposing yourself to some of the tasks that we ask of our clients is a valuable experience.

Although the nature and frequency of personal growth exercises will vary from course to course, you will be expected to continuously engage in selfreflective practices throughout the entirety of your program and your career. Reflecting on your attitudes, beliefs, biases, and values is essential to increase your self-awareness and comprehend the complex manner in which these factors influence your worldview. Self-awareness has implications which relate to multicultural counseling issues and ethical practice as well. That is, as professional counselors, it is imperative that we recognize the individual differences that exist within counseling relationships and refrain from imposing our values on others. Social and cultural counseling courses typically require students to engage in various activities and cultural immersion experiences that bring complex topics such as race, gender, ethnicity, culture, socioeconomic status, sexual/affection and gender orientation, and age to the center of attention. These activities will offer you many novel experiences and opportunities to learn a great deal about yourself and others of differing cultural backgrounds. You should spend time reflecting on all of your experiences, as students generally find that such exposure and critical examination processes often yield heightened self-awareness and transformed worldviews. Thus, because self-reflection is a fundamental component of personal growth, and a skill that you will need to commonly practice throughout your career, it is also integral to your professional development.

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