To kick off the new year, I’m writing the post that I’ve wanted to write since the beginning of the Fall 2012 semester. The reasons I haven’t are due to the very things I want to write about, and these things have been sucking my energy since about my first week.
What your professors don’t tell you when you start internship–and what should not have come as a surprise to me, but did–is that starting an internship is like starting a new job. Maybe I was blindsided because I was so focused on starting an actual paying job? Anyhow, I quickly realized that part of my internship would involve adapting to my site’s own culture and working around organizational issues.
See, that’s all I saw at first. Real or perceived, I saw organizational issues manifesting as negative attitudes and behaviors. Being idealistic, unpaid, temporary, and not there all the time doesn’t help–I’m not at my site day in and day out to accurately gauge what’s really happening. I chalked these attitudes and behaviors up to counselor burnout, but they still bothered me. I felt like a negative energy sponge, and couldn’t figure out how to defend myself against the negative energy around me.
I spent a lot of time on the phone with my advisor at UNK last semester. Thanks to him, I’m still in the program and still at my site. He helped by checking in with my site supervisor and checking in with me periodically. Although I’m no longer in Nebraska to check in with my classmates frequently, I think some of them may have gotten the same wake-up call: Working with other counselors doesn’t automatically mean you’re in happy counselor land, where everyone communicates well, forms strong relationships with everyone else, and practices good self-care. Counselors get tired, overextended, can be poor communicators sometimes, and have the same personal differences that non-counselors have.
I ended up taking away four important insights by the end of the semester. They may sound obvious, but then again, they may not, depending on your own level of idealism (or also in my case, cluelessness). These insights eventually helped me defend myself against negative energy, and instead ripple out my own positive energy.
1. Don’t acknowledge poor attitudes. Poor attitudes in any setting drag me down so quickly. Now, I’ll acknowledge a co-worker’s frustration, but really don’t say much else. I usually can’t convince someone (anyone, in any setting) to have a better attitude. In the end, my own need to take care of myself wins out, especially since we ALL should be practicing self-care. That brings me to insight #2:
2. Take care of myself carefully. I felt pretty worn down by Thanksgiving, and decided to take it all out on Christmas. With simply no extra time and energy to do the holiday things I enjoy, such as baking cookies, I announced at least once that Christmas was canceled. It wasn’t, the important things got done, and Louie and I enjoyed a truly merry little Christmas, but I feel guilty about those rough weeks leading up to Christmas. Thus, I made the New Year’s resolution to do something crafty each week as part of my self-care plan. I also plan to exercise whenever possible, and keep in touch with Nebraska classmates and professors frequently via email to check in. Finally, Louie and I plan to use Friday evenings as “us” time or social time–no clients scheduled unless I absolutely must.
3. Do my best for my clients. Just because others around me don’t do their best doesn’t mean I can or should slack off. This is tricky in my setting, since my clients may or may not be particularly motivated to change, and I don’t want to work any harder than they do. However, I have seen improvement in the lives of my clients, such as participating more, asking me for help when they need it, and taking smart risks. Those little improvements remind me that I need to keep doing my best so my clients can keep doing theirs.
4. Speak up. In trying to figure out how I fit in at my site, this proved difficult at first. Over time, I learned to how to speak up and with whom, like when I needed more hours or saw something that I wasn’t sure was right. Now I have the hours I need and have sorted out some ethical questions (that were fine, no worries). Propelled by my newfound confidence, I’ve started to speak up with good ideas that can make positive changes in the house, like activities on Sundays. I’ve learned who else shares my points of view and we’re working together to create more positive changes, like starting a special group.
Now that my first internship semester has ended, I can look back and really see what I’ve learned. Not all of it has been clinical–although putting theory into practice is exhilarating. Much of what I’ve learned has been understanding how a community agency functions, and how to put all those non-clinical classroom lessons into practice. Organizational issues will exist in any organization, full of counselors or not, but I can choose how I handle myself. My actions and attitudes create a ripple effect in the organization, and I can’t wait to see how far my ripples carry into this spring semester.
What organizational issues have you faced, and how have you handled them? What effects did you see? Please leave a comment!