When I look back on my career so far, there are so many things I wish I’d known at the beginning. There are so many things I wish I’d done different. Here are a few that come to mind . . .
1. Placing my desire to be liked as a priority over my principles.
I really wanted to be the favorite counselor. I wanted to be liked. I wanted to be cool. I wanted to be the counselor everyone wanted. In order to obtain this goal, I made special exceptions for clients, ignored their non-compliance, did not always back up my co-workers, developed inappropriately friendly and casual with clients, and devalued program rules. It goes without saying that this did not serve my clients, and ultimately, did not serve me. I had to come to grips with not always being liked. I had to be okay being the bad guy. I learned to be a united front at all times with my co-workers. I learned to be professional. I grew up.
2. Scheduling counseling sessions after lunch.
This was a personal realization for me . . . I am always exhausted after lunch. I’m sure I eat too many carbs and blah blah blah. But either way, I learned that it is not in the best interest of anyone involved for me to schedule a 1pm session. Ever.
3. Not realizing that the clients know everything.
The client’s know everything. They know which staff members don’t get along, which of you is having marital problems, who’s interviewing for another job, who actually practices what they preach and who doesn’t. In fact, the clients often have a better pulse on the staff than the management does. This was a reality that completely blindsided me as a young counselor. I had no idea that the client’s had this unique ability to see right through me. I had to increase my integrity, build on my personal boundaries, and confront areas of inauthenticity in my life.
4. Not working the 12 steps until 4 years into my counseling career.
I finished graduate school and immediately got a job as a counselor intern at a treatment center for chemical dependency. I had visited a few 12-step meetings as a class project in graduate school, but that was it. I had never worked the steps, never attended a 12-step fellowship and had never even read the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous. I worked at that treatment center for about 4 years and did a lot of good therapy with my clients. And on their discharge plans, I told all my clients to go to AA for support, to get a sponsor and do 90 meetings in 90 days when they left.
I believed AA was a good support group for my clients. But around this time, I hit a new low in my eating disorder and out of desperation, decided to attend a 12-step program. After all, I tell my clients to do it all the time – why shouldn’t I try it? I decided I didn’t have anything to lose, so I got a sponsor and she took me through the 12-steps out of the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous. I met with her every week. She gave me reading assignments and writing assignments. I began to truly grasp the concept of powerlessness through my personal experience being powerless over sugar, food, dieting, and my weight.