Grad students balance academic and professional stress
Central Michigan University counseling students face unique pressures.
In order to get a graduate degree in counseling, the College of Education and Human Services Counseling department requires students to train in clinical practicums where students have their own clients to counsel; some clients might be Central Michigan University students or other members of the community.
As student counselors meet with their clients on a regular basis, they also balance the daily stresses of studying for exams, working on assignments and dealing with the stresses that come with being a student.
“It’s a stressful job in a different way than physically demanding, physically stressful,” graduate student Melissa Davis, said. “You’re sitting in a room with somebody for an hour, but, (for) that hour, you’re listening to the worst parts of their life, and you’re trying to not let if affect you (or) let it bother you.”
But, despite these challenges, the Royal Oak native said her job is fufilling.
However, as in all jobs, there are pros and cons. Students admit that it’s not easy to listen to clients' stories and move on with the day once the session is over.
“You definitely think about your client outside of your sessions, but it’s a professional distance that you have to remember to keep,” Gladstone graduate student Derreck Johnson said. “And just kind of remember to separate that those are their issues and you have your own issues that you have to deal with as well.”
John Farrar, a professor in counselor education, said the profession can be emotionally challenging.
“First of all, there are campus resources, but I would say one of my roles as instructor of the class is meeting periodically with the students over the course of the semester to discuss their plan with their client,” Farrar said. “… But, also, how are you doing with this, how are you feeling?”
Johnson said one thing students talk about in the program is self-care. It is something several students try to be mindful of when carrying a lot of responsibility.
“I found balancing clients with my last semester, when I had practicum, was probably the hardest semester I’ve ever had," Alma graduate student, Amanda Patterson, said. "I had to find the time for my self-care, as well as (finding) some time to conceptualize my clients and help them move forward ... I was lucky I could meet with my supervisor, so I didn’t take a lot of the things with my clients home.”
While taking the clinical practicums, students also have to be clients and participate in four sessions so they can have an understanding of their clients' experience.
“Sometimes, their therapist is actually their classmate,” Davis said. “So, it can be a little uncomfortable. It’s also a good exercise in understanding confidentiality ... They don’t continue the conversation that happened in the session the day before.”
The job requires a lot of time and effort. Farrar said this profession is like a mission; students go into the career field not hoping to get rich but to help people who need it.