Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Why I don't want to be a School Counselor...

I wanted to write this post over the weekend, but I never found the time. Now I think I’m glad I had a few more days b/c I have even more clarity on the topic.

I graduated in December with my School Counseling degree. I got my Master’s in Counseling back in 2005. Individual and small group counseling is what my heart’s always been drawn towards, but for many years my own issues kept me from being in a place to truly support my clients like they deserved. I worked an administrative and research job for 3 ½ years after graduating in 2005. The job was okay, but my heart wasn’t in it. I still wanted to do counseling, but after several hospitalizations and warnings from my inpatient treatment team that pursuing mental health counseling as a job could be very detrimental to my well-being, I gave up on the idea of using my Master’s degree.

Still wanting to be in some sort of counseling, I went back to school and obtained my Ed.S. in school counseling. It’s a stressful job, but in very different ways than mental health counseling. While I was in school, I had a graduate assistantship in the counseling office on campus. Since I had my master’s degree, they set me up in an office and had me counseling college students. I'll admit it. I was nervous about doing real counseling, but my heart still wanted to give it a try. I LOVED it!! I liked the one on one time with my clients. I liked getting to know them. I liked being able to talk to them for a good 45 minutes to an hour. It turns out, I’m not too shabby of a counselor either. I for sure still have TONS to learn, but it’s cool knowing that I helped some people during my time there.

For the past 6 weeks, I’ve been working as a school counselor at a local high school for a counselor who’s been on maternity leave. I don’t mind this job. I like the people I work with, and schools desperately need school counselors. With that said, I know without a doubt that this is NOT what I want to do for the rest of my life. Last Friday and yesterday gave me a tangible example of why this job will never be satisfying for me.

A student brought a doctor's note in on Friday on a prescription pad. The doctor had written a prescription for this student to listen to her iPod whenever she wanted due to severe anxiety and depression issues. Obviously schools don't allow this, so as a guidance department, we had to inform the teachers and work out a plan so this student could listen to her music when she got overwhelmed. After only 5 weeks on the job, I found myself rolling my eyes at this doctor's prescription. I automatically assumed this student had her doctor snowed, and I assumed this doctor must be a quack. See, as a school counselor, you're forced to make judgments about students all the time. You must decide who is really in crisis and who just wants attention. You can't talk to a student just b/c they walk in and want to talk b/c every minute you spend talking to them is a minute they're not in the classroom running. On top of that, you have about 400 students you're in charge of and have to meet the needs of. Students need to know you're there, but you must have even more strict boundaries about what that means. All we have time for is "band-aid" therapy. If students need extra help or long-term therapy, we refer them to a community counselor or social worker.

Anyways, I didn't think much about it that morning. I didn't personally talk to the student, and I was running in a million different directions that day. Later in the day, I received a call from the principal asking me to call that student up and talk to her. This student had her cell phone taken up b/c she had it out and our school has a strict 'no phone' policy. Our principal was enforcing the punishment, but she did want us to check on the student and make sure she was okay. I called the student up and talked to her for about 15 minutes. My heart sank. This poor girl really does have major anxiety issues.. and not faked ones. I could see so much of what I feel a lot of the time all over her face and in her body movements. She desperately needed someone to care and support. Obviously I couldn't reverse the punishment, but I let her talk. I asked her to share with me what helps her anxiety decrease and we worked on simple stuff like deep breathing and reality testing in my office. I did call this student's mom for her. The mom agreed to come by the school at the end of the day and pick up the girl's cell phone. If a parent comes and gets the phone, they can get it at the end of the same day it's taken up. Otherwise, the student doesn't get the phone back for 2 school days (in this case it would have been over a weekend too). I was able to send the student back to class a little less shakey and with a small smile on her face. I thought this was enough to convince me that I didn't want to be a school counselor who barely got to be there for the people she works with. I wanted to be a counselor who really helps people work through their issues and helps them help themselves through it.

Yesterday, I saw this student again briefly. It was for a completely unrelated matter, but she walked in my office, sat down in a chair and smiled at me. I got the chance to ask her about her weekend and make sure she was able to get her cell phone Friday afternoon. It's obvious she still has constant anxiety issues, but I made a small difference for her, and I could see it in her eyes on Monday. I want to be able to do this on a regular basis - not on the random occassion that my job allows.

This job ends on Thursday. I don't have another job lined up, and husband and I are moving to another state in 5 1/2 months, so it may be awhile before I can get a counseling job, but I know it's what I'm being called to, and I look forward to walking it out with others when God says the time is right for me to have a job like that again.

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