How to Be an Exceptional Counselor

How to Be an Exceptional Counselor

I recently attended my first American Counseling Association (ACA) conference in Atlanta, GA and it was amazing.  I can’t believe I have been in the field for almost 10 years and never attended an ACA conference.  I loved meeting people from all over the country, engaging with other professionals and learning new concepts while sharpening my skills as a counselor and supervisor.  There were so many sessions to choose from.  I had a strategic plan for each day for every available time slot, but little did I know I needed to arrive early to these sessions.  I was too late for my Friday afternoon session, so I went to a session with my friend and I am happy that I did.  It was exactly what I needed. 

I attended Dr. Jeffrey Kottler’s session, “The Secrets of an Exceptional Counselor” and it was honestly the highlight of my ACA conference experience.  If you have never heard Dr. Kottler speak, I suggest you do!  He is absolutely dynamic!

I wanted to share some takeaways and highlights from the session that will help you professionally and personally. 

1.     Be relentless in finding your passion in the profession – A lot times before you go to graduate school, you had a clear vision of what you want to do professionally.  During internship, the vision may be adjusted, then again post-graduation reality may look very different. We all have been or currently are in roles that doesn’t necessarily align with our passion, but I encourage you to seek out new opportunities.  Strive to align with your passion so that you will be fulfilled.    

2.     Know your ‘why’ – Spend some time thinking about why you chose to be a mental health professional.  Think about the specific catalyst that motivated you to enroll in school and graduate.  I would encourage you to write down your thoughts regarding this in detail and always keep with you.  It may be helpful to discuss your why with a colleague.  When you are being tested by your employer, challenged by our clients or just pummeled by life, read your why and reflect on it. 

3.     Have a strong professional network and support system – Surround yourself with friends, personally and professionally, that will encourage you to be your best.  The work we do is really difficult, and we all need those around us that care and look out for our best interest.  It may be a good idea to get a mentor in the profession or connect with others that are doing what you want to do. 

4.     Invest in your professional growth and development – Go to conferences and workshops locally, nationally or internationally.  People are doing amazing work in the fields of counseling, social work, psychology and other helping disciplines and it is good to be aware and knowledgeable about the latest developments.  Don’t be so wrapped up in your day to day responsibilities that you forget that there’s more out there than your agency or office.  Commit to being a lifelong learner for yourself and those that you help. 

5.     Care for yourself first – Walk the talk! Don’t be the counselor that tells their client to use healthy coping skills then go home and isolate because you are overwhelmed.  Dedicate time EVERY day to care for yourself whether it cooking a healthy meal, meditating, waking up early so you don’t have to rush or just setting healthy boundaries with others.  Advocate for yourself!

As Dr. Kottler told the session attendees, don’t stop at competence in various areas, be exceptional in all that you do!

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