After 3 months of jumping in to this new job, I was asked by my practicum professor to write my philosophy, the implications of me as a counselor. After a lot of thought, I decided to post the paper I had written for her. It is quite long, but it definitely did it’s job of describing exactly why I wanted to become a counselor and my belief about why counseling is important.
I understand if you can’t, or don’t feel like reading the whole thing, but maybe one day you will find the time and understand my passion. So here goes nothing:
When thinking about my philosophy as a professional counselor, I find myself looking back to discover all that has happened in my life that has led me to this path. The idea of evaluating my life as a whole as I interpret my implications as a professional counselor goes along with my philosophy. I believe that for a child to grow socially, emotionally, spiritually, and academically, we, as counselors, must engage and understand the whole child. We must provide opportunities for the child to grow and develop in all aspects of his/her life or we must help remove barriers that inhibit this growth. A person is shaped by all facets of their life, past, present, and future. Therefore, I will describe my philosophy in the same way. I will explain the aspects of my past that led me to enroll in the University of Saint Thomas’ Counselor Education Program, my current job which is helping me develop my philosophy, and where I would like to see myself and how I would like to see my philosophy grow and develop in the future. These three aspects will help to explain my guiding principles as a professional counselor.
My past has greatly influenced my desire to counsel. The most apparent influence came about after my parents divorced when I was ten years old. I have plenty of memories before this event, but the memories of this time in my life play out in my head clearly. I can envision the stages of grief that took place in my house as a member of our family left. There was denial, as I lied to my friends and teachers as to why I had to bring an overnight bag to school each Thursday. I moved through anger, finding someone to blame for the occurrence and later deciding I was to blame. Of course there was bargaining, I promised each parent that I would get good grades, I would play nicely with my brother, I would promise to always be good if only they would both get back together. I experienced depression and regression as I began to pull my old dolls and blankets out of the closet to comfort me and finally, after many years and many counselors, I reached acceptance. It was not during this event that I knew I wanted to become a counselor; it was the reflection back on this event, which has occurred multiple times in my adult life, that has made the difference in my decision.
After my parents divorce, I attended more counseling sessions than I could remember. I’m not sure if at the time I knew they were counseling sessions, but now as a counseling student, I am able to see the variety of sessions I attended. I saw a lady individually, we met with one man as a family, and I attended group sessions at my church. Perhaps it was believed that combined together all of these people would make a difference. It was recommended that I see them to help me grow and develop through this traumatic event. Unfortunately, this was not the case.
I remember explaining to my individual counselor how much I wanted to be a Kindergarten teacher when I grew up. At the age of ten, this was something about which I was extremely passionate. I remember being excited to finally talk about something that mattered to me. It was her response that stuck with me until my first day of college. “Why would you want to be a Kindergarten teacher when you can’t even get along with your five year old brother?” Right then and there, my dream of becoming a Kindergarten teacher was over. I had never thought of it in that way and her reaction to my enthusiasm was serious. When applying for college eight years later, her words still echoed in my mind and instead of declaring teaching as my major, I declared pre-physical therapy.
Another vivid memory occurred during my group sessions at the church. Each session would begin with some activities based on scripture, which would then lead into an activity. Before the activity would begin, the facilitator would remind everyone, “No matter what, remember it is not your fault that your mommy and daddy got divorced.” The facilitator, each week, lost me at this point. I truly believed it was my fault. Each week I would sit there and wonder if anyone else felt like I did, or was I just different. I wondered what to do since everyone else knew it was not their fault, but I was certain that I caused the family to fall apart. The facilitator’s words stuck with me, but more importantly the feeling of rejection, the feeling of being different and hopeless stuck with me far longer. It was not until entering the counseling program at University of Saint Thomas that I realized the crucial mistake made by this facilitator; she was unable to validate my feelings and therefore left me feeling like something was wrong.
These two specific events are small given the whole of someone’s life, but they played an important part in my decision to become a counselor. Over the years, I had realized that there was a better way to deal with children than my previous experiences. I had made it my mission as a teacher to get to know my students well and make a difference, not just academically, but to give them a bond that may otherwise cease to exist. Although teaching gave me great satisfaction, I could still sense that there was something more that I could do to be impactful in children’s lives. I wanted to make life-long learners, but I wanted to do it in a way that left them thinking about their growth as a whole person, not just as a student. That is when I decided to apply to the University of Saint Thomas and become a school counselor.
I am presently the lower school counselor at my school. I am developing a program to fit the needs of the Kindergarten through 4th grade students. I am also an available resource for the preschool and middle school teachers and students. I was lucky enough to build a program based solely on ASCA’s model and not a watered down program implemented by some school districts. The job is the exact one I wrote about two yeas ago when applying to the Counselor Educators program. Part of my career goal entailed starting this program, I only hoped the school would give me the opportunity to show what an asset a school counselor could be to our boys. I am lucky enough to have been given the opportunity and now my philosophy of counseling is helping to develop this program.
During my time at the University of Saint Thomas, I was introduced to play therapy. As a child, I was involved in multiple extracurricular activities. My parents allowed me the time to learn from others and my experiences through these activities. Therefore, I was drawn to the idea of letting a child play through his/her feelings to portray his/her inner self. I had developed case study after case study researching the different ways play therapy could be used and the themes that would arise in children of various cultural backgrounds or diagnoses. I was intrigued so much so that I began taking play therapy classes, reading Gary Landreth’s book The Art of the Relationship, and basing my thesis on the idea of the use of play activities with children in a school setting.
With the use of play, I hope to help children develop their own resources to successfully solve problems and meet the challenges in life with necessary skills. I believe that given the opportunity to explore current barriers any child can overcome emotional, social, and academic difficulties present in his/her life. I promote an intimate form of learning where children have multiple opportunities to develop skills necessary for everyday life or the opportunity to work through current barriers. I focus my program on primary prevention, attempting to hit every student in Kindergarten through 4th grade during guidance lessons teaching these necessary life skills. I also work with smaller groups of students to allow ample time to practice skills while immersed in a group play session. The students are also able to see me individually for specific needs. Often times a student will only come to me once to discuss a concern that occurred that day. I am there to listen and help guide them during this decision-making process. I also see students individually who have been referred by their parents or teachers and have a specific skill in which to work. Whether I am working in whole group, small group, or individually, I use play to guide all of my counseling sessions.
In order to acquire a complete understanding of children, their world, and their experiences, it is necessary to understand the framework from which they work. At a young age, a child’s most effective means of communication is through play, allowing for creative expression and processing. Children must be given the opportunity to express themselves and their experiences in a constraint-free environment that promotes effective communication. Through play, children are given the opportunity to overcome emotional and social limitations that could potentially impede their academic achievement. In order for play to be an effective means of communication, many factors must exist.
Expression through play can only be effective when presented in a safe, caring environment. This safe environment helps the child work on self-esteem and social anxieties without the fear of breaking rules or pleasing the teacher. The establishment of a positive, safe environment where students have the opportunity to express themselves helps support children’s behavior and academic needs.
Within a safe environment, the child needs to be actively involved in building a relationship with the school counselor or other group members while playing. The school counselor must employ empathy and acceptance throughout the interaction with the student while he/she plays. Empathy on the part of the school counselor helps the child feel understood. The school counselor models empathy and acceptance and, in turn, teaches these skills to the children within the playgroup. As children play in their group, they also begin to build empathy for each other, as they familiarize themselves with and relate to each other’s experiences.
The different techniques chosen by a school counselor during a play session are selected based on the best possible way to help the child become aware of and express his or her feelings, improve self-control and self-direction, and increase empowerment and problem-solving skills. Due to a lack of time in schools, school counselors may find it beneficial to integrate various approaches and techniques within one play session. School counselors may also find it beneficial to use this variety of approaches and techniques to address the different needs of the students seen in a counseling group or individually. Some techniques require a more structured approach in the playroom, while others are child-centered.
Structured play is directed and facilitated by the school counselor. The school counselor presents specific activities that address issues important to the development of the specific child or group of children. On the other hand, child-centered play is based on the idea that growth of the inner child will be most effective when the child is allowed to take responsibility for the direction of play. Child-centered play aims to create a supportive environment in which the child experiences self-direction and growth. The school counselor must trust the child to direct the course of therapy to best fit his or her inner exploration. This philosophy allows the child to develop a stronger self-concept, leading to more mature behavior, without ever having to target the presenting issues overtly.
I have found it best to incorporate the two types of play approaches giving the child a chance to learn necessary skills and practice these skills during a group play session. Most of my guidance lessons, groups, and individual sessions begin with a short five to seven minute lesson based on one or more of the following seven skills: communication skills, interpersonal effectiveness, responsible behaviors, motivation to achieve, decision making, cross-cultural effectiveness, or self-confidence development. Each short lesson is followed by a structured activity and followed up by child-centered/directed group play where I expect skills taught in previous lessons to be practiced.
Everything I do for the students is a collaborative effort among the teachers, our administrators, and myself. By checking in with the teachers, I am able to get a sense about what skills need to be focused on, which children are struggling, and which activities are producing the best outcomes for the students in their classrooms. I want to be sure that the teachers know that I am there to support them as much as I am there to help and work with the students. The teachers have the classroom insight that I do not always see and it is best to collaborate with them to gain a full picture of the child or the current situation.
My goal is to prepare myself in the best way possible so that I can have every chance to make even the smallest difference. We teach our children to become life-long learners and I think that this notion is important for adults as well. In order to keep up with current trends in teaching or counseling, we must educate ourselves as to the new practices. In the near future, I will continue my master’s degree to become a Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC). This licensure will give me the opportunity to work with children outside of the school setting, as well as clinical children experiencing great traumas and disorders. On top of this licensure, I will also begin taking classes to become a Registered Play Therapist (RPT). This registration will help me live out my philosophy to the fullest. Becoming a RPT will allow me to not only base my philosophy and practices on the idea of play activities, but I will actually be able to effectively practice and promote play as a healing and therapeutic experience for children.
So, there it is in a nutshell. So when someone says to me, “Oh you got into counseling to get out of the classroom?” I can be rest assured that they do not understand my true intentions of helping children grow into becoming a person of their full emotional, social, and academic potential. I got into counseling to do just that.