Identifying with a Specific Profession

On the surface it may appear obvious, but I am amazed at how many individuals who go through a graduate counseling program do not identify themselves as a counselor. There are legitimate reasons for some not to. For instance, their interests have changed. In my own life, I started the journey to becoming a professional in one direction and ended up in another. I thought I was going to be a minister. I had been named for my maternal grandfather who was a minister; lived on "Church Street” in my hometown of Decatur, Georgia; and listened to stories my maternal grandmother, who lived with us, told regularly about her husband. Thus, after graduating from college, I matriculated at Yale Divinity School. I enjoyed Yale but realized more every day I was not going to be a minister, let alone a divine. Simply put, my stomach hurt when I tried to see myselfbehind a pulpit and preaching. It was not me, and I had a hard time identifying with those who had chosen that path. Thus, when I finished the degree I had enrolled in and congratulated my classmates who were headed where I was not, I enrolled in a counselor education program, where my heart was, and through study and hard work became a counselor. Likewise, some individuals get into counseling programs and realize that, while they enjoy it and benefit from what they learn, they have no stomach for committing themselves to the profession, and they wind up somewhere else. That is fine. It happens, and people should follow their hearts.

However, most people who earn a degree in a particular discipline believe they are going to practice in that profession, and most do. The difference in how they practice and feel about what they do is in their degree of commitment, not the basic commitment itself. For instance, since the 1990s, when I have gotten up to speak, the first few words I say (stolen from Alcoholics Anonymous meetings) are: “My name is Sam and I’m a counselor.” In those eight words, I am saying more than may be obvious. I am affirming what Carl Rogers spoke about, in that counseling is a way of life and I am totally committed to it. Other counselors may say the words and may practice the profession, but they think of counseling more as a way of making a living. I characterize such individuals as “clock counselors.” They have skill and ability, but when the clock reaches a certain time, they shut down, turn off, or punch out. Such a procedure is healthy, up to a point, if counseling sessions have been frequent or intense. Everyone needs some time to reflect and refuel. It is essential that we take care of ourselves, because without selfcare we are not able to function well. However, the process is not healthy when counseling professionals are rigid in their actions of being “off the clock” immediately each day at a specific time. I have found that my identity and ability suffer if I am not willing to go beyond the minimum that is required in the work day. That means I spend some nights—but not every night—studying or reading counseling books, writing, or talking with colleagues about what is essential in the profession. The payoff is that I know more, it makes my work easier, and I am usually more effective. Plus, I have time to relax too, and I am not controlled by a clock!

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