half a tank is all you need…


Should you stay or should you go?

April brings showers, visions of spring, and the beginning of the end of your field year experience. What are the benefits to staying or saying good bye? Here are some things to consider as you begin the process of winding down your field experience.

“Should I stay or should I go…” ~ The Clash

Go: While it may seem counterintuitive to begin with the end in mind, this is precisely what fieldwork students should be thinking. A large part of the learning process during the internship experience is learning how to terminate with your clients. Clients will (and should) move on. Knowing how to say goodbye and prepare them for either your departure is just as important as the very first session.

Stay: Even if you decide to stay, termination is one of those phases of treatment that is inevitable and unavoidable. Stay tuned for tips on how to terminate with clients.

New Faces, New Spaces
Go: Experience a different environment, coworkers, supervisors, client population. Building and growing your skill set is an important part of your career. You can use the end of your internship to explore a different side of yourself while practicing and enhancing your skills as a counselor.

Stay: If you decide to stay, be sure to make clear your new role as a professional. Perhaps there are new responsibilities you can add or change so that you are not continuing in the same role that you were in as an intern.

Taking Time Off
Go: If you’re graduating and completing internship concurrently, it might be a good time to take a much needed break. Processing doesn’t stop just because there’s no professor after you for that reflection journal. Taking a break allows you to process your whole experience and the experience of being a graduate. Journal, dream, meet and greet other professionals. You can still be productive in your career outside of the office.

Stay: If you decide to stay, be sure that you’re building in self-care and discuss new work schedule options with your agency.

“If I go there will be trouble…”

Staying On

They love you and they want you to stay. Congratulations! Use the “Stay” strategies above to really define yourself as a professional counselor in your new role. Seek opportunities to grow within your position. You’re in a prime position to help new interns acclimate to the fieldwork experience. Utilize your skills, share what you know, and please do not forget to schedule your first vacation!

“If I stay there will be double…”

Saying Goodbye

Remember to always give a clear ending date and remind your supervisors and colleagues at least two weeks before you end. Treat it like a job, put in your notice and make time to wrap up loose ends before you depart. Maintain the partnership once the internship comes to an end. Connect on your social media and professional networks. YOu can stay up to date with them and they with you. As you job hunt, they may even endorse some of your skills. It never hurts.


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Back to Basics

I’ve been privileged enough to have had several interesting conversations in the past few days. Strangely, they all seemed to have common threads dealing with acceptance and happiness. I ended up with a couple of questions that feel very relevant.
1) Am I accepting of my place in the present moment? and 2) Am I happy or not?
The nuances in the answers to those questions CAN be vast…but for a second I put all of that aside and gave myself the old elementary-style quiz.

happy or not

Life is undeniably more complicated than this. I’m as guilty as anyone of getting wrapped up in the nuances, the expectations, and the anxieties. I know too well the feelings of confusion, frustration, and muddled sense of self that sneaks in even while sprinting down the “path to success”. The simplicity of those questions and boiling it down to the basics helped push aside all of the “should, could, musts” that come along with this existence and helped me tap into the most primary feelings and motivations. In asking myself these questions and allowing myself to sit with the answer without analysis or expectation, things became just a little bit clearer in the moment.

Isn’t that what most of us strive for anyway? A little slice of clarity and simplicity one moment at a time?


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Bloggers for GOOD

Like a kid in a candy store, I’m overwhelmed and delighted by the innovative ideas of others to invoke change, provoke questions, and challenge what it means to be an active member of society.  Bloggers for GOOD Challenge is bringing out some of the best in the community.  Below are the specifics posted by GOOD:

Blogs are entertaining and influential, and they’re radically changing the way we all share and receive information. Whether your blog is about fashion, football, or food, we think it has the potential to catalyze social impact. Perhaps you are profiling a nonprofit you love and inspiring your readers to get involved, or documenting your adventures in sustainable living and encouraging readers to check out a local environmental organization, or reviewing new books and want to support a literacy program. Whatever your area of interest may be, we have $1,000 for a cause that your work supports as well as a $500 prize for your GOOD work. We’ll also interview you and feature your blog on GOOD.

I have submitted and you can vote for me here:

The prize is wonderful but getting exposed to what folks are up to is even better.  Check out all of the submissions on Bloggers for Good.

Happy reading!

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Transculturation and the art of spirit-snatching

A woman on a praia in Bahia spoke about her son’s  love of America and its culture before he even stepped foot on North American soil.  When he was old enough, he moved to the States. She laughed ruefully as she stated that when he finally arrived he wrote her and told her that he was home.  I don’t understand it, she said.  How can you feel at home in a place you’ve never known?

Good question.  It’s one that I have no answer to but the sentiment is a familiar one:   Sometimes it’s not the place you’re from that feels like the best fit.

If someone told me I’d been spirit-snatched – that somehow my spirit was from some other country and had placed in an American body – I’d hardly be surprised.  In fact, it would explain an awful lot.  It’s not that I don’t enjoy being an American but sometimes I don’t feel very American.  I was born here (1st gen) yet place me in some other culture in some other country and I often feel like more at home.  Other places I’ve felt more at home: Brazil, London, Jamaica (though this shouldn’t count considering my family is West Indian).  Though I’m still intrigued as to the “why” of this phenomenon, I’m coming more to an acceptance of the feeling on a whole and more interested in figuring out how to reunite my cultural spirit with it’s home.

Last week, Language Tutor commented on the work ethic norms of people in his home country.  “There is no work ethic,” he said. “Things are not rushed and often get pushed until later.”  We laughed over the inefficiency of such work practices but secretly it sounded marvelous. Check my email tomorrow? Sit down to drink my coffee rather than hastily swiping it from the Starbucks counter in a rush to get to the next person, place, thing?  Have face to face meetings that start out with every topic except work?  There’s a sense of a person-centric way of doing business, not just in his culture, but in other non-Western cultures.

The above might sound lazy.  I’ve wrestled with that idea – perhaps I like it more because it suggests less work, less urgency.   But, I’ve come to the conclusion that I’m no slouch. I work 9-5, 5 days a week, see clients during the evenings, and provide academic tutoring on the weekend. In the few hours I have to myself, there’s a relationship, friendships,  language classes, and attempts to engage in the tricky work of self-care by way of movies, books, and the gym (the latter is the trickiest of them all). If my time feels more free now it’s only because I’ve just graduated from grad school. So no, it’s not that lazy is the issue, I just think maybe some cultural attitudes resonate more even though I’m from a place with very different norms.  No, I think Language Tutor’s people do have a work ethic and it’s one that I’d like to adopt.

“Just Right”

It’s not just work ethic.  I’ve experienced other cultural differences that revolve around relationships, language, gender & sex roles, spirituality.  Travels have become part vacation and part nest-seeking; vetting out what feels best, like Goldilocks, taste-testing for the “just right.”

It’s more than a “grass is greener” complex, but a real sense of fitting in better elsewhere.  Being that it’s not quite the time to fully entertain a complete upheaval of my life here, I’m working on navigating life with this transcultural feeling.  Certainly there are some things that can’t be changed and I’ll probably always filter things through an American cultural lens first (even when debating how much I want to adhere to it) but like many other things in life, culture is not fixed. It changes and shifts…so maybe it makes sense that there are certain cultures that “fit” with who we are, our values, and our way of being.  And maybe that shifts over time too.  I look forward to finding out.

Thoughts, experiences, comments?  Do share!

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Try something new (and become a better counselor)

The process of engaging with something with which we have no or very limited experience with can be a difficult undertaking – particularly, I have recently learned, as adults.  The brain (and ego) suddenly create barriers that can make tackling a new skill overwhelming and challenging in ways vastly different than we experienced as children.  This came to my attention as I embarked on learning how to play an instrument and learn a new language a few months ago.

The last three decades have been spent figuring out what I’m good at and then doing everything in my power to hone those skills.  At the very least, I’ve picked out areas that I have some ability to perform well enough in and with minimal embarrassment.  As I struggle now with learning two entirely new skills, I find that this lesson in learning is something that can be applied to my work as a counselor.  Here are four things I learned about counseling and the counseling relationship based on my experiences with tackling new tasks.

1. Patience is a virtue.  This particular phrase always made me grimace, perhaps speaking to a shortage of this particular virtue, but learning how to do something new really drives this point home.  New skills do not come overnight.  It takes time, patience, and a positive attitude to learn something new.  The same goes for working with clients.  What we discover in one session might not stick until session 10 or 20.  Being patient with myself and with the client can go a long way in building a positive therapeutic relationship.

2. Practice makes perfect.  Learning a new instrument and language have been difficult for me because I have to deal with the many imperfections and negative feelings that present themselves when trying to get it right.  With time and practice, new skills and concepts get easier to manage.  Struggling with this first hand has helped me empathize more with clients and truly appreciate the way they grope and struggle with new ideas and ways of being.  It’s important to guide them, give feedback and acknowledge the bravery that it takes to show their “imperfections” week after week.  Freeing oneself of phobias, anxieties and those pesky automatic thoughts is no easy feat (if it were, we would be out of a career) and I can truly appreciate the tenacity that clients have to engage in the process of therapy.

3. Get creative.  If there’s one thing I despise, it is doing the same thing, the same way over and over again.  I always thought this is what real practice was but I’m finding as an adult learner, I have to spice it up in order to stick with it.  Not only does it make the concept of practice less daunting, but new ways of practicing skills enhances my ability to successfully use them in a variety of contexts and allows me  to constantly engage and challenge myself.  Practice makes perfect but it should not have to induce boredom.  What would make you practice your new skill everyday?  Figuring out what works for me has lead me to exercise more creativity with how I work with clients.

4. Create building blocks of learning.  Imagine your frustration if when walking into a Learning to Paint class, the instructor asked you to replicate the Mona Lisa.  You might become enraged that you’re being asked to do such a thing without leaning the basics or you might skulk out of the classroom feeling hopeless and embarrassed.  I am guilty of trying to fast track my own learning.  I skipped a few core lessons in my language practice and attempted to complete a benchmark exam at the end.  The failure was epic and I grudgingly went back to the lessons for novices.  What I thought might be a nice challenge turned into a complete failure due to my inexperience and gaps in necessary knowledge.  As I move closer towards the language benchmark exam (for round 2), I realize the importance of starting small and creating concrete steps of skill acquisition and a solid knowledge base.  As it applies to counseling, what might seem to be a reasonable challenge for me may seem an insurmountable task to my client which can breed negative emotional states and put the counseling relationship at risk.  Building blocks need to be set to allow the client to successfully meet benchmark goals and to try out more advanced challenges.  These are the foundations to long-lasting change.

You do not have to be in your client’s shoes in order to experience some of the things they might be facing as they come into therapy.  Bring your own experience in learning something new to the table and you might find that suddenly your patience is renewed, your empathy greater, and your focus shifted to finding new ways to engage and help your client practice the many new tools all that they are learning in therapy.

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Blogging as Therapy

With all the negative publicity social media receives in regards to the lives of teens, there exists a shining reminder of the role it can play in producing positive effects.  The NY Times recently released an article highlighting the positive impact that blogging can have on the mental health of teenagers based upon recent research.  Amid the furor caused by topics like cyberbullying, the idea that blogging can serve as a form of therapy for teens evokes a sigh of relief and casts light on the ways in which social media can serve to connect individuals and decrease feelings of isolation.

While nothing may ever truly replace the traditional diary, being able to express oneself through the written word has always been hailed as both an art form and as a cathartic endeavor.  These findings remind us of the value of documenting emotions and experiences.  The responses that teens may receive to their blog serve to validate their feelings and can empower them to increase their social support system.

This seems like yet another new and innovative way for counselors to engage their teenage clients by meeting them where they are and working with new forms of communication in a therapeutic context.  Blogging with feedback may serve the same purpose as a group with respondents offering feedback, validation, corrective experiences, and providing reality checks which can then be discussed in the therapeutic dyad.  Teens seem much more likely to talk about their blog posts than they ever were to allow entry to the private pages of their diary.

For those of us that still consider a blog to be frightening concept, it may be time to take another look at the ways in which we can use it to enhance our own therapeutic interventions with teenage clients.  You may even be tempted to try your hand at your own blog.  It might just be good for you.

Read the article in full:  Blogging as Therapy for Teenagers – Studied –