|Guest-blogger Bonnie Brenton grew up in Portland, Maine and|
obtained a Masters in counseling from the University of Mass. at Amherst.
I Finally Graduated
It took me 10 years, but I finally graduated with my Master’s degree in counseling. I spent the last six years taking one class at a time. The normal course load is two classes. However, I have an anxiety disorder, and by taking only one course, I could actually relax and enjoy myself. Before this school, I took four years applying to other programs and getting rejected four times.
The academic portion of my sojourn proved relatively easy. Then it was time for the practicum and internship. The difference between the two was that the practicum was 10 hours a week, and the internship was 30. My first practicum placement was working with sex offenders in a program where they learned to recognize and avoid risky situations, such as being alone with potential victims. I got along well with the offenders, and although they are known for being manipulative, I wasn’t there long enough to experience that. Instead, I ran into problems with the director. We did not get along, and she fired me. I learned the hard way that my relationship with the staff is even more crucial than my relationship with the clients. This is known as office politics.
I was forced to take a year’s leave of absence and had to apply for an extension because my school required its students to graduate in five years, and it would now take me six. That year’s “sabbatical” was one of the most relaxing and enjoyable years of my life (simply because I had leisure time)! Then, it was back to the grindstone as I began 30 hours a week of internship. Next, you figure in classroom time, assignments, and commuting on the bus, and I was working well over 40 hours a week. I had never before worked a fulltime job due to my anxiety disorder. The hours were a challenge. I became ill with a cold that didn’t get better until after I graduated.
It was a requirement of my program to divide the 30 hours /week between two different sites one of which was a substance abuse clinic. Like before, I got along well with the clients but had problems with staff due to my anxiety, which can involve the use of technology. I was not happy when my supervisor accused me of playing games because I was slow to comprehend a computer program which we used to write notes about the clients. Even more incomprehensible, was another intern from my school who seemed to hate me. One day, she bit off my head for not washing the coffee pot when I never knew that was part of my job description! I can’t figure out why she was kind to everyone else and cruel to me. She impressed her superiors to the point where they hired her after graduation. This is one of life’s ironies and mysteries that remains unsolved. I choose not to worry about it.
I was required to work at two locations, but I didn’t need to work them equally. The director at my school advised me to leave the substance abuse clinic and work solely at my second site. However, I felt I was making a difference for my clients, and didn’t want to leave until my discomfort and unhappiness reached the point of sheer agony. I eventually realized I was sacrificing my own mental health for the sake of my clients. I finally quit when the pain became unbearable.
My second site involved working at a preschool for children of low income families. (These were very different populations.) I don’t have children of my own and had no experience working with kids. I didn’t even think that I liked children, but time was running out for me find a placement!
Ironically, in spite of the fact that my major is counseling, I was thrust into the position of teacher’s aide. However, I learned I could still use my counseling skills so long as I was working with people- in any capacity! What I appreciated most was how much the teachers appreciated me! I had felt so little appreciation from staff at my other sites. I worked in four different classrooms.
One of the most enchanting aspects about working with these three, four, and five year old's was their names. I have to hand it to their parents. In order to protect the privacy of these children, I am not going to reveal any of their monikers. However, I will give examples of similar but different names just so that you, the reader, can taste the flavor. Here are some comparable names of both boys and girls:
Sincerity, Jesus, Liberty, Buick, Devotion, Exodus, and Prince Charming!
As a person fascinated by names, how could I not enjoy working with these children? As a person not used to kids, I must admit, there were times when they were a “pain in the ass” (like when they wouldn't listen). But there were other times when they touched my heart (with hugs)!
There was one child who proved to be a real challenge. He would be diagnosed with conduct disorder. One time he found a brick and through it at me. Luckily, I saw it coming and managed to catch it. When he became angry during meals, he would try to upturn the tables. One time, at recess, I saved the life of a bullfrog he was trying to kill by shooing it to escape under a fence. Even then he continued throwing rocks and clumps of dirt from the garden. He needed three teachers and two interns to manage his behavior. We took him outside to an enclosed area when he acted out.
Before this child came to our attention, the other interns and I complained that what we were doing was not real counseling. Suddenly, it all became very real! I also must admit there were times when I felt bored working with the children. This child cured me of that!
It seemed like my internship would never end, and then all of a sudden, it was over. I finally graduated! So what now? I have a 4 step plan:
1-Throw a graduation party.
2-Take a break.
3-Figure out what I want to do with my life.
4-Look for a job!
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