MOVING INTO FIELD EXPERIENCE CLINICAL TRAINING
Once the majority of the required coursework in your program is completed, you will have an opportunity to practice your newly developed skills and competencies in a professional training atmosphere. It is important that you are aware of when you will begin your practicum/internship, or fieldwork experience, as this will allow you to be proactive in reaching out to prospective field placement sites early and in securing preferred placement sites. Keep in mind that you are competing for field placement sites with students within your program as well as students in other programs (e.g., social work) and even students from other local or online universities. As such, it is never too soon to begin seeking out a field placement site.
Your field placement will last anywhere from one to three semesters, and you will be required to complete approximately 700 hours of counseling service. As such, you want to select a site that is a good fit for your interests and needs; beware of making a hasty field placement site selection. To find a good site, you will need to explore your options and select the site that seems most appropriate for you and your professional goals.
During your field placement, you will be enrolled in practicum and internship courses with other counseling students who are working at various sites in the community or in an on-campus clinic. These courses are instructed by faculty and focus on the continued development of your counseling skills to include conceptualizing client/student cases, applying approaches and techniques to meet the diverse needs of those you serve, and meeting the professional and ethical responsibilities of your new role. The individual and group support that you receive in these courses and from your individual supervisor at your practicum/internship site becomes invaluable to your success at your site.
The site where you complete your professional training is secured prior to beginning your practicum or internship course. For many students, this is the first steppingstone to reaching their ideal position in the counseling field. Thus, it is important that you select a site that meets your personal and professional needs. Some considerations may include the population you would like to serve (e.g., children, adolescents, or adults), the types of issues that you would like to work with (e.g., trauma, grief, or anxiety), the type of setting you would like to work in (e.g., school, community agency, or hospital), and the location of your site (e.g., urban or rural, near home or a distance away). With a good fit between you and your site, you are more likely to feel motivated and energized to engage in the important work you do.
Your motivation and energy at the site is essential because, along with support from your site supervisors and colleagues, these drives help you navigate adjustments related to your new role. One of the major adjustments is actually counseling real people with real issues. The opportunity to put your counseling skills to use can be a challenging yet rewarding experience. Just like your everyday relationships with others, you will have "ups” and "downs” as you begin to counsel. The individual and group supervision you receive will help you navigate the new changes you face as you become a counselor. Box 8.8 provides additional advice to help with transitioning into your field placement site.
TRANSITIONING INTO YOUR FIELD PLACEMENT SITE
Transitioning into a counseling field placement is an exciting and sometimes anxiety-inducing time for students. When I sought my first field placement experience as a master's student, I was comforted by the thought that at no other time in my career would I be as heavily supervised as in a field placement. I could make mistakes, admit them, explore them, and learn from them. In searching for a field placement as a student, here are a few expectations for you to keep in mind: (1) Do your research prior to selecting a site. Word of mouth is a popular way for students to learn about a potential site, but go beyond that. Meet the site supervisor and get a feel for how you connect with that person, as you will be spending a lot of time together. Learn about the opportunities for counseling and how they do/do not align with your interests. Ask about opportunities for direct client interaction (i.e., individual, family, group), as these are direct hours that you MUST earn and are harder to earn than indirect service hours. Make sure that your potential site supervisor understands the requirement for your placement experience (especially if you must record sessions). (2) Once at a field placement, act ethically and professionally with site employees and colleagues, site supervisor(s), and clients. You represent the site and the university—act accordingly. (3) Utilize the clinical supervision offered at the site and the university to address your learning goals, strengths, and growing areas. (4) Work hard and assert yourself. Ask for what you need and speak up if something is not working well at your site or with your clinical supervisors. Your field experience should be conducive to your development as a counselor rather than a hindrance. You are the central piece of this experience, so take initiative, and work with those involved to create a rewarding experience for yourself. (5) Finally, things may not always play out the way you wish, so be flexible.
W. Bradley McKibben, Student, University of North Carolina at Greensboro
Another important adjustment to fieldwork involves understanding site-specific policies and practices. Agency (or school) policies and practices inform many aspects of your work, such as the services that you will provide students/clients, your ethical and legal responsibilities, and your interactions with other professionals at the site. A clear understanding of these guidelines not only helps you provide quality services, but also sends a message to others that you are fit for the profession. As mentioned before, this experience is a steppingstone for many students. In order to jump to the next steppingstone, recommendations from previous supervisors and/ or colleagues are often needed. It is good practice to think about what impression you would like to make at your site by identifying ideal qualities and characteristics of professional counselors.
In addition to new learning, challenges, and successes related to your role at the professional training site, you will also need to navigate adjustments in your other life roles (such as student, worker, or loved one). Your professional training experience is time intensive, and for good reason. You will be spending a lot of time learning on site and off site (e.g., reading books and articles that inform your counseling or attending your internship course) developing your counseling skills and competencies to help prepare for your career in the counseling field. Therefore it becomes important for you to seek balance in your life.