As a Licensed Professional Counselor with Supervisory Status, one of the most fulfilling components of my work entails both supervising and mentoring Licensed Professional Counselor Interns (LPC-I).
For those not familiar with the field of counseling, the supervision process requires graduates of counseling programs to undergo a postmaster’s internship, during which time they are designated as Licensed Professional Counseling Interns. Typically licensing boards within each state set particular standards by which interns undergo weekly supervision with their chosen supervisor. As part of those standards, interns must undergo supervision while logging so many administrative and direct counseling hours. Direct counseling hours involve any face-to-face time that interns meet with clients. Administrative hours entail hours associated with the work of counseling, involving anything from writing case notes and researching information about clients to hours spent in supervision. For most states the requirements for interns is that they log 3000 postmaster’s hours, with a minimum of direct contact set at 1500 hours. Although, these standards vary from state to state, many states are now moving to more uniform requirements due the accreditation process that university counseling programs must undergo. Additionally, interns are not allowed to complete this process in less than eighteen months. What that means for prospective graduates of counseling programs is that they are looking toward at least an additional eighteen months before they are fully licensed. They are also looking at limited income during this year-and-a-half due to their status as an intern.
Obviously, interns enter the supervisory process with a shipload of questions, not only about how to work with clients, but also how to think about their professional futures. In this blog article I want to proffer some possible guidelines that LPC-I’s can reflect upon if they find them helpful to do so. I will break down the discussion as follows: a) entering the process of supervision; b) undergoing the process of supervision; and c) exiting supervision – the transition from Intern to fully Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC).
The postmaster’s Internship is an onerous process, so I do hope both present and future interns will find some of these thoughts helpful.
Beginnings: The Transition from Graduate School to LPC-I
I can only highlight some general steps involving your transition from graduate school to the professional world of counseling. Each state has its own State Board for counselors, and several of the states have different names for their licensees. Some states, as the one in which I live, designate counseling professionals as LPC’s. Other states use the title Mental Health Licensed Counselor (MHLC), while other states designate similar titles. Due to the move toward common accreditation for university counseling programs, though the name for practitioners varies from state to state, the training is similar, as are many of the regulations for counseling professionals. I will use the nomenclature utilized by the Texas State Board of Examiners of Licensed Professional Counselors. Much of what I outline here will apply generally to all state designated licensed counselors.
When you graduate from a counseling program, now typically a 60-hour program with the curriculum delineated by the State Board, you will not step into the professional role of a fully licensed professional counselor right away. Instead, you will step into the role of the LPC-I. Note that the LPC-I is a license, so once you navigate the beginning requirements set by the the State Board, you will possess a license to work as an Intern. First you will have to pass a State Board Exam, typically containing 250 multiple-choice questions. There are several study guides and preparation workshops available for your study and prep for the exam. The postgraduate is allowed three shots as the exam before remediation is required, which typically involves repeating some graduate coursework. There is also a Jurisprudence Exam that you must complete, but it is not a pass/fail exam. You read through the regulations and answer the questions until you know the correct answers. Once you have completed the LPC and Jurisprudence exams, you begin your search for a supervisor. In Texas, LPC counselors with Supervisory Status are designated as LPC-S. The website for the State Board has rosters of all three levels of counselors – LPC-I, LPC, and LPC-S. The Board indicates where each counselor is located in the State, so interns looking for a supervisor can note those who live in their area. Interns cannot begin accruing their supervised hours until they pass the required exams mentioned above, have obtained a setting where they will work as an intern, and have a supervisor in place. Once the intern lines all that out, he or she can begin chipping away at the 3000 required postgraduate hours.
Choosing a Supervisor
Typically some graduates already know the LPC-S with whom they would like to work as a postgrad intern. Many new graduates, however do not, or the individual with whom they would like to work has no available space. Choosing a supervisor is an important decision for the postgrad. Here are some pointers I would offer. First, do not simply choose someone because you feel desperate to obtain a supervisor. Good reflection upon choosing a supervisor is an important process, and it’s an interview in which you interview the supervisor as much as he or she interviews you. The relationship between you and your supervisor will last for at least eighteen months, so you want a good working relationship with the LPC-S you choose.
Supervisor – Intern Fit
Second, you are looking for a good fit between you and your supervisor. The field of counseling is conceptualized and approached in terms of practice in a myriad of ways. One’s counseling theory is just one component that you look for in terms of fit. There is no reason, however, that you can’t work with a supervisor who holds a different theoretical model than you. Most practitioners these days integrate several theories as it is. I’m not saying that theory is unimportant, but I don’t believe it’s the single most important determinant for choosing a supervisor. But it is a start. For example, if you want to work from a behavioral or cognitive-behavioral model, a supervisor who practices from a psychodynamic perspective will view the work much different than you do. But that’s not a reason that you shouldn’t or couldn’t choose such a supervisor.
Third, in terms of looking for a good fit, you want to try as best as you can to discern in your interview if the supervisor is someone with whom you would feel comfortable working. Though they may have some different conceptualizations, they may also have a style and a personality with which you feel at ease. Some supervisors simply don’t care to match on the basis of theory. Other components such as style, willingness to take and give feedback, and openness to continued learning as a practitioner are deemed more important than theoretical orientation, both by interns and supervisors. The type of clientele with whom the supervisor works may be the kind of population with whom you would like to work as well. So the context in which counseling work takes place can be an important and deciding factor for choosing both your worksite and supervisor. I meet with prospective interns for a free consultation so that both the intern and I can decide if the fit is a good one.
Know that there are a variety of components by which you can decide which supervisor will be a good fit for you. A few of these components are: theoretical model, counseling style, supervision style, personality, type of clientele and practice, setting of practice, and many more. You might want to make a list of what you’re looking for in terms of a supervisor before you begin the interviewing process. Obviously, supervision fee is an important consideration from your own personal financial standpoint. Some agencies or institutions may have supervisors on staff from whom you can receive free supervision if your place of employment offers that perk.
Engaging the Process of Supervision
Just as they have with their clients, supervisors have a supervisory style by which they work with interns. Although you can clarify that as much as possible during the interviewing process, there’s a lot regarding the day-to-day supervisory work that you will not know and see until you are in the middle of the process. Know that you can change supervisors at any time. At the same time, you want to be clear as to why you want to make a change in supervision. The ability to work with supervisors who conceptualize and see some things different from you can be good training if both you and the supervisor know how to navigate such differences.
Regardless of the specific supervisor’s approach and style, there are some things that you can decide that you want from supervision. First, do not approach the supervisory experience as a place where a supervisor merely tells you what to do with your clients. You want a supervisor who will work with you so that you can truly build your own approach and style as a professional. Thereby, second, you want a supervisor who will engage supervision as an exploratory process to help you come to your own conclusions about the way you want to approach the work of counseling and the manner in which you hope to engage your clients. Although you want challenges, questions, and an open exploratory process, you do not want a supervisor who merely tells you what steps and interventions to use with your clients. Although interventions can be a major discussion in supervision, you want that discussion to revolve around your training, skill development, and how interventions fit with your personal approach and style. In other words, the over-arching goal of the supervision process is to provide a pathway for you to develop your own professional approach and style. Supervisors should help you with not only some possible interventions to utilize, but also they should help you develop your own conceptualization as to why you work the way you do. Note that such conceptual knowledge and skill building will not end in supervision, but will be a continuing developmental process as you work in the field of counseling.
There are several questions you can reflect on during the supervision process that can help you decide how the fit and supervisory work is going for you. First, is the supervisor allowing you to develop your own way of working with clients, or is he or she trying to strongly influence everything you do, including adapting the theoretical model the supervisor holds? Second, does the supervisor challenge you in ways that will help you develop and grow as a professional? Third, do you get the type of feedback you’re looking for that is conducive to professional growth? Do you feel like you have room to grow and develop professionally in the way that you hope to do so? Does the supervisor meet his or her responsibilities as a professional LPC- S should? Do you sense that the supervisor has your professional interest and development at heart, or is the supervisor trying to simply reproduce the way he or she works?
There are some other emphases that I believe supervisors should engage in additionally to staffing the intern’s caseload. First, I think it’s important for supervisors to have an ongoing discussion with interns regarding their professional goals for the future. What kind of work does the intern hope to pursue? Is there a particular population with whom interns hope to work fully, or at least emphasize in their caseload? You want to find ways to broach these subjects as much as possible with your supervisor as you work through your required supervised hours. Likewise, you want to engage in research in areas of personal interests to discover what the type of work you hope to do actually entails. Hopefully, you have been able to engage this work at least to some extent during your postgrad Internship, although that may not be possible for all Internship settings.
Second, I believe it’s important to have thorough discussions with your supervisor regarding the Code of Ethics for professional counselors. You want to bring any ethical concerns you might have to supervision and to determine as clear an answer to them as possible. It is important that you constantly update your knowledge on ethical issues in counseling. It is also important that your supervisor recognize any situation that may bring up certain ethical questions.
Finally you want to trust your supervisor when your working with clients that really challenge you, and perhaps make you feel less competent than you would like. These are important discussions to have during the supervision hour. Supervision should be an open forum where you can voice your questions, doubts, and any feelings regarding the confidence you have as a developing professional. Work in this field has a way of challenging your sense of competency. You should not let that undermine your work and future goals. Although your supervisor is not your counselor, those areas where you professionally vulnerable are welcomed opportunities for professional development when working with a good supervisor.
Exiting Supervision: The Transition to a Fully Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC)
So now, you have made the transition from Intern to a full LPC. What’s next? This is the exciting part of your career obviously. As stated above, hopefully in supervision, you have been contemplating and reflecting upon the kind of professional you want to become. Your work can involve private practice, a practice that serves particular populations, or work that involves such settings as mental health institutions, professional clinics, or clinical mental health hospital settings. Likewise, hopefully you had the opportunity at least part of the time during your Internship to work in the areas you hope to develop. Moreover, as you begin nearing the end of your supervisory requirements, you began checking out settings and counseling professionals involved in the kind of work you hope to do. The best scenario is that you chose a setting where you will continue the kind of work you were doing under supervision. Note, however, that all the experience you receive as an intern will serve you in many capacities as you move on toward your LPC practice. Working with clients is the experience that will help build your skills and determine which direction you want to go post Internship. No experience with clients is wasted, even if it keys you to the kind of work you most decidedly do not want to engage.
Let me offer some advice as you move forward into your professional journey. There will be many other professionals who have a take on what they believe you should do as an LPC. That’s okay. There’s nothing wrong with input and some guidance. What you must be aware of, however, and where you must draw the line is that the decision regarding your professional direction is yours and yours alone. It is important that you are honest with yourself as to the type of work you hope to do, and about the type of setting in which you hope to work. By all means, take in and listen to input, feedback, and advice; however, ultimately the decision falls in your court. The last thing you want to do is seek to live another person’s goal for your professional life. Working in a setting or with a population that is not a good fit for you is a short road to burnout. The work you want to do that truly comes from your mind and heart is as worthy as any work other people are doing.
Those who want to go into private practice particularly face pressure from others in the field about pursuing their own goals, way of living, and professional satisfaction. There are plenty of people who want to work in agencies, clinics, and hospitals. That type of work is admiral work, but it’s not for everybody. And the same can be said for private practice. It isn’t for everybody. Indeed to pursue private practice requires that you have somewhat of an entrepreneurial spirit about you. Those with such a spirit experience other pressures from the field regarding setting fees and the amount of money they hope to make. I hope individuals realize that becoming a professional counselor will most likely not make you a millionaire anytime soon. But what you should not feel is any pressure and guilt regarding your desire to make a decent living for yourself. If you are not income aware, or if you find it difficult to charge clients respectfully for your time in order to meet your personal needs, then you are on another short road to burnout. You are a professional, trained, and skilled, so you have a right to give it a shot to build a good practice and make a decent living for yourself.
There are a multitude of settings in which people can find satisfying counseling work in addition to private practice and agency work. Some counselors I know personally love their work in corporate settings. Again, it’s not for everybody, but it’s satisfying work for many. Others enjoy their work in Community College and University Counseling Centers. There are a variety of roads you can take as a professional counselor. Don’t cut off the paths and possible opportunities by looking only at what counselors typically do. You can be as creative and imaginative as you want in carving out a professional life for yourself.
The populations that experience severe mental health problems, and have little financial means to obtain the help they need indeed need people to serve them. And there are many agencies and clinical settings where one can find fulfilling work in meeting those needs. Like any setting, it’s not for everyone, but it is satisfying work for many. Moreover, you can seek out opportunities to volunteer your time at such agencies or clinics if your other work gives you time to do so.
Like anything else in life, you have to determine for yourself the path that you want to follow and responsibly do what it takes to set yourself on and travel that path. And like many roads in life, rather than a straight highway, you will encounter many sinuous pathways that will lead you to question, doubt, and possibly change the road you’re on. After all, these are the experiences that your clients engage as well. And the many questions and doubts they have about their journeys might well lead them into your counseling setting.
What is it to be a professional in any field of endeavor? Some of the things I think of include a body of knowledge, skill level, and the opportunities to pursue self-development, both professionally and in the way that one takes on life in general. Knowledge and its continued pursuit and growth allows us to reflect upon and think about how and why we work the way we do. Accruing professional knowledge should not end, and it should not only grow in some linear fashion, but also it should expand in ways we could have never realized when starting out on our professional journeys. Our own personal horizons should expand with our work. Skill development entails that 10k-hour rule that allows us to develop an expertise that is carved out over time. Skill development also has a way of taking us in directions we couldn’t realize before we developed the skills needed in our work.
Finally, work is one component of so many others that contributes to the kind of life we hope to carve out for ourselves. Although it is only one component, that is why it is important that we own the professional path we choose to follow. Over time, our thoughts, beliefs, and ideas will alter and might even dramatically change. The way in which we approach life with integrity in all areas of living should also inform the way in which we with integrity face, pursue, build and stand upon our professional endeavors.
John V. Jones, Jr., Ph.D., LPC-S/October 14th, 2018