I started this semester, my first in the Clinical Mental Health Counseling program, not sure what to expect. What I’ve realized over the first couple weeks is that the atmosphere in a program full of future counselors is exactly what anyone would think it would be. I have two other graduate degrees, an MA in English and an MFA in poetry, which gave me baseline knowledge of what it’s like to get a graduate degree in a strictly academic field and in a more creative one. Culturally, higher education in the field of counseling is different from any of my prior graduate experiences in ways that have done nothing but delight me since I’ve started in the program.
From the first icebreaker activities, it was fairly obvious that we were a community of future counselors. Everyone is genuine and forthright in a way that people often aren’t when they’re first meeting people, brave in their friendliness. We are a cohort of thoughtful listeners, for the most part unafraid to acknowledge our own conflicts, struggles, and difficulties. It’s lucky that we all seem to have these qualities, because as it turns out they’re essential to success in a program such as this one.
The interesting thing about the program is that it’s not just teaching what it takes to be a counselor in general. Activity after activity and conversation after conversation is geared toward helping us learn who we will be individually as counselors—the program isn’t geared toward creating one type of counselor, but instead seems to want each of us to find our own way. This isn’t to say that there aren’t core tenants of counseling that are taught, or that we aren’t also learning objectively useful information. Just that that information is also coupled with a deep appreciation for the ways our own personalities influence the implementation of what we learn. In most school situations, the information takes precedence over all else. Here, the information needs to work in conjunction with who we are.
It’s nice to get to know people in that kind of context. You learn things about your new peers and, in the process, also learn things about yourself. I find this kind of learning gratifying, which is part of what made me interested in counseling in the first place. Our little community has already started bonding, and as the semester revs up I’m really excited to see where things go from here.