June 5, 2013
What quality makes a counselor truly great? Is it empathy, or the ability to work out a client's issue and develop a personalized course of treatment? Advocacy, where a counselor tirelessly works on the side of the client? Or perhaps flexibility, and the understanding and awareness of a client's boundaries? Inevitably, all of these are essential to good counseling practice, and it's through a thorough course of counselor education and supervision that students are not only able to cultivate them, but gain mastery.
Upon entry into a program, most graduate-level counseling students will start with the basics: study via book work, case studies, journal articles, and educational videos linked to introductory courses in Guidance, Career Development, and Professional Issues, as well as more specific course tracts such as Substance Abuse Intervention and Child Development. Paired with skill development exercises, these are theory-heavy components of counselor education and supervision.
More advanced students will begin to practice their counseling skills through role-play. During role-play, one student acts as the counselor while another student acts as a client – both roles are necessary for a comprehensive educational experience as the students experience both sides of the counseling practice. Counselor education and supervision standards see that the "client" receives visual prompts during the mock session (or is given a scenario or script beforehand) and is expected to present a certain set of issues or symptoms, while the student "counselor" interacts with the student "client" and is assessed based on technique, rapport, and communication skill. The students provide feedback to one another, and the departmental faculty or administrators assess and score the students' performance. When the session is recorded, the students also have the opportunity to review their work and pick out specific areas for improvement.
It isn't until students are nearing the end of their degree program that they see actual clients. By that point, they're better able to display empathy, advocacy, and flexibility, and the client will benefit from quality treatment for a free or reduced fee. Review and assessment through counselor education and supervision will have prepared the student to work with a diverse client base in need of specialized treatment.
Counseling is a calling, but counseling practice is learned. Students achieve success through the tutelage of excellent faculty members and a strong counselor education and supervision curriculum. Even students' most inherent, intuitive qualities must be cultivated before they can become great counselors.