There is no such thing as a perfect counselor. Even if you were a perfect addictions counselor, you would still have clients who relapse. You are going to make some mistakes along the way. The good news is that in most situations these mistakes are not catastrophic and they can help us grow and become better counselors. As counselors we tell our clients that relapse is part of the recovery process and we help them learn from these experiences, so that they will be better able to avoid relapse in the future. Mistakes are part of our learning process. While we may never attain perfection, it is important that we master our trade. You have people who are trusting you with perhaps their biggest problem in life. Each client is ultimately responsible for their own success or failure, but you have an opportunity to influence change in someone that could dramatically improve their quality of life and the quality of life of their family and friends. While this is an incredible opportunity, it can also feel like an overwhelming responsibility. Listed below are several ways to become a better counselor
- Learn from others. If you are in the process of getting certified as a substance abuse counselor you will be required to have a clinical supervisor. (See Tips about Supervisors) You should try to surround yourself with people that you respect and want to emulate. It is good to have a mentor, but I recommend that you learn from different counselors who have different personalities and styles. Not all good counselors look or sound alike.
- Learn to accept criticism. I have worked in places where we had peer reviews. This sounds like a good idea and probably could be effective, but the problem that we had was that counselors didn’t feel comfortable about criticizing their co-workers. No one enjoys being criticized, but how are we supposed to fix a problem if we don’t know we have it. I believe a true friend is someone who will tell you the truth even when it hurts your feelings. Constructive criticism is your friend.
- Continue to educate yourself. A college education is wonderful, but is usually very broad. Most of what I know about addictions counseling has come from mentors, continuing education and clients themselves. If you are certified as a counselor, then you are required to have continuing education. Don’t think of this as a chore, but rather an opportunity to learn and become a more effective counselor. (See Ongoing Education)
- Take care of your own business. In order to be an effective counselor, you need to be able to focus on the needs of your clients. It is difficult to do this if your life is filled with “drama.” I understand that everyone will have difficulties in their lives that must be dealt with, but you have to be able to compartmentalize. You are not helping your client if you are too distracted by your own issues. One of the perks of being a counselor is that it gives you a break from your own issues and allows you to focus on someone else. Also, after hearing someone else’s problems you might realize that your problems aren’t so bad.
- Be yourself. To be an effective counselor you must be genuine and to be genuine means that you have to be yourself. You learn from observing other counselors, but you have to have your own style. You should always present yourself in a professional manner, but that doesn’t mean that your give up your personality. Being yourself will help you feel more comfortable and that can help to put your client at ease as well.
I have met some excellent counselors and one thing that they have in common is that they have a passion for helping people. If you have that passion then I believe that you will do everything that you can to be the best possible counselor that you can be. As we help others with their personal growth, we should be working toward that same goal.