As a counselor, you’ll spend your career helping clients develop self-awareness and pursue personal development. But a commitment to personal development isn’t just important for clients who want to succeed in therapy. It’s also a vital part of succeeding in your counseling career.
There’s a reason why most counseling master’s programs require trainee counselors to see a therapist of their own. It’s the same reason why many practicing therapists continue with therapy as they move through their careers and deal with their own issues in life. Working on yourself — developing self-awareness, resolving your personal issues and learning to cope with the things your clients divulge in their sessions — can help you enjoy a longer, more successful career in counseling.
It’ll Make You a Better Counselor
You’ve probably heard the old saying, “To know thyself is the beginning of wisdom.” Knowing your limitations and understanding your own shortcomings is a big part of becoming wise. While it might seem more pleasant to remain blissfully ignorant of your own flaws and shortcomings, it’s just as important to understand your own weaknesses as it is your strengths.
Why? Because knowing your limitations can help you optimize your day-to-day life and set things up for yourself so that you’re most likely to succeed. Perhaps you’re trying to lose weight, but you know that you don’t have the self-control to not eat the entire pint of Ben & Jerry’s in one sitting if you bring it home from the grocery store. However, you also know that you’re too lazy to go back out just to buy ice cream, no matter how much you might want some. Armed with this knowledge, you can make the best choice for yourself, which is not to keep ice cream in the house.
Accurate self-awareness comes as a result of personal development, and it can help you adjust your behavior according to the situation in which you find yourself. It can also make you a better therapist, by teaching you self-reflection, mindfulness and insight, all of which can help you find the compassion your clients need. You’ll learn how to treat yourself with acceptance and kindness, as you work towards self-reflection that doesn’t mean ruminating on bad memories or personality traits, and you’ll be better-equipped to pass that skill onto clients.
You’ll Better Understand How Your Clients Navigate Therapy
Whether you completed your counseling masters program online or in-person, any reputable program should require you to attend therapy yourself as you learn how to administer counseling to others. Going through therapy as a trainee counselor gives you insight into how clients navigate the process. You’ll learn what it’s like to do difficult self-work as you embark on your own personal development journey, and you’ll emerge from the experience with a deeper, personal understanding of the expectations, thoughts and feelings clients will have as they work with you in therapy.
It’ll Help You Stave off Compassion Fatigue
It’s vital that you maintain a commitment to personal development as you leave training and embark on your counseling career because there’s another reason why many therapists continue with therapy of their own — besides, of course, the fact that therapists have problems, too. Therapy can definitely help you cope with depression, anxiety, the loss of a loved one, stress, creative blocks or other problems you might be facing, but for many therapists, the personal development work done in therapy protects them from the effects of listening to other people’s problems day-in and day-out.
As a therapist, you’ll bear the often-heavy burden of helping clients relive their deepest traumas and tell their darkest secrets. Some of your clients will divulge traumatic experiences that could leave you reeling. Secondhand, or vicarious, trauma is a real thing, and it puts counselors and social workers at increased risk of post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms. Seeing a therapist of your own and committing long-term to ongoing self-work can help you process the experiences that come up in therapy.
If you want to enjoy a successful, long-term career in counseling, you need to be prepared to never stop working on yourself. Personal development can help you grow into a more compassionate and caring professional and can protect you from the emotional occupational hazards of secondary trauma. That way, you can focus on answering your calling.