Well, you’ve found a school that meets your states licensing requirements. Great! You’ve started taking classes. Even better!
At this point many students make the following mistake and think that graduate school must be completed in order to begin forming a professional identity. Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, the professional identity/network that you form now will likely give you your internship/job/etc opportunities later.
Well what can I do? How do I develop this identity? I work 40+ hours and still go to school…?
Forming an identity does not take a ton of time or commitment, but it does take some. I recommend breaking the process down into baby steps or achievements that are reachable. After all, a Masters Degree can take 2+ years. You have time.
It is equally important not to procrastinate, my personal approach is to try to do 1 thing each semester to develop either myself or my professional identity.
The following are some things YOU can do while you are in grad school to begin developing a professional identity:
- Join a couple of professional organizations. – as a student you get a discount, take advantage of it! Currently I belong to the LCA (Louisiana Counseling Association) and next semester I plan to join the ACA (American Counseling Association). No need to join everyone all at once. Make it manageable for you!
- Interview a counselor – at some point you will either have to interview a counselor for class or you might just want to know more about your professor. When interviewing, as if there are any meetings in the area for counselors that you could attend to supplement your knowledge and improve your network. (Occasionally, I attend talks in Lafayette. The talks are held at a restaurant and are extremely interesting!…& you get to meet people.) I know your thinking…omg! more meetings! I can’t fit that end with work and all!!!…Well, TRY! Most meetings occur only 1 day a month! That’s not a big deal is it?
- Develop a professional web presence like a facebook resume or a blog. (In fact if you do/have one I’d appreciate it if you’d comment the link so that I can link to you!) You’d be amazed how many important people in counseling have FB pages. It’s ok to be regular friends with a few…but having a professional page allows you to demo your work experience. Additionally, the internet is one way that people find counselors. Establishing a professional presence takes a LOT of time, so starting now while you’re in grad school can only help you post-graduation. Please use commonsense on professional pages and non-professional pages alike! No wall posts talking about being drunk…no badmouthing another professional online…etc!
- Join a professional fraternity. I’m hoping to check out Chi Sigma Iota, which is an honors fraternity for counselors. Each group you join only adds to your network.
- Subscribe to a counseling magazine and keep up with current trends/news.
- Check out Xplana a social networking site designed for studying/sharing study resources.
- Volunteer locally! It’s hard to find the time b/w work and school. But, if you can do it, this is where the REAL experience begins! Try to volunteer in areas that you are interested in…abuse shelters, crisis intervention, red cross, help lines, etc.
- Most important of ALL! Don’t forget about YOU! Self-care is important. If you do all of the above and don’t engage in self-care than you are likely to be a nervous wreck and of no good to anyone. Try to do 1 thing a day…just for you and allow yourself a breather. Examples of some quick 10-30min self-care exercises include the following: walking, biking, playing with a household pet, reading a book, meditation, exercise lessons, taking a hot bath, painting, etc. (I plan to talk about Self-Care more at a later date.)
I hope you found these suggestions helpful! 🙂