The company you keep (beware the grumps!)

Feb 1, 2014 by

chain linksLet’s face it:  the company you keep can make or break your post-graduate experience.

Think about it.

Most people spend 40+ hours a week working.

LPC internships in Texas last 3,000 hours.

That’s a long time, right?

Factor in the pressures unique to the counseling profession, when you’re working with people who are feeling lost, discouraged, anxious, confused, depressed, and possibly even suicidal.

That’s a lot to hold!

So, it’s key that you have good people in your corner—supportive folks in your world who can be kind, encouraging and helpful.

Let’s take a fresh look at who’s on your team.

And then I’ll offer some pointers for helping you make some changes, if you’re not happy with what you see.

Who you hang with:  why it matters

blackboard chalkConsider times when you’ve worked in a supportive, nurturing environment.

When you had someone available to show you the ropes.

When you felt appreciated, valued, and recognized for a job well done.

(If you can’t envision this kind of work environment, then we need to talk!)

Now consider times when you’ve worked in a toxic environment.

When you had a boss that was harsh, demanding, critical, indifferent, or even downright unreasonable.

When you had colleagues who were discouraging, pessimistic, and gossipy.


Now think about your current circumstances for a minute.

Are you happy with things?  Or are you bogged down by a group of grumps or stuck with a warm body supervisor?

Who is on your team?

There are a lot of people who help shape your experience as a beginning counselor.

Professional contacts.  This includes your supervisor, your boss or employer, your therapist, your coworkers, your colleagues, your office mates, your mentors, your professional organizations and affiliations, and your graduate program faculty, staff, and former classmates.

Personal contacts.  This includes all the people in your personal life.  So, your partner if you have one.  Friends.  Acquaintances.  Family.  Neighbors.  All the folks in your local community.

Now what?

crowSo you’ve taken an honest inventory of who is on your team.  Do you like what you see?

If you’re happy with what you’ve found, keep up the good work!  Continue to cultivate thoughtful relationships with supportive people.

If you’re not so pleased with what you see, it’s time to make some changes.

Maybe you ended up with a group full of grumps.

You know what I’m talking about:  grumps are people who are really negative and talk about how hard everything is all the time.

So, ask yourself a couple of questions:

How did this happen?

birds on a wireHow did you fall in with this group of grumps?

You know the old saying, “Misery loves company”—are you, in fact, feeling pessimistic, burned out, or discouraged?

Did you draw certain people in because you wanted them to commiserate with your pain or dissatisfaction?

Or, did you take a job expecting more support than you ended up getting?

A boss who seemed enthusiastic during interview, but seems distant, disconnected, or burned out now?

We can’t always fully size up a situation before making a choice.

birds on a wire 2Sometimes we have to make a change smack dab in the middle of things.

But understanding how you ended up in the company of a pessimist or naysayer can sometimes help you avoid making the same mistake in the future.

Where can you make changes?

You know that particular classmate who always complains about the assignments, program, and bleak job market for post-grads…

Or your colleagues at work who tell you that setting up a private practice is impossible

You don’t have to sit next to them.  Or go to lunch.

You can’t change them, certainly.  You may still have to work with them.  Attend meetings and classes together.

But you can probably minimize the amount of contact you have with them.  You can seek out sunnier, more optimistic people.

You can say, “Thanks, but no thanks!” to the grumps.

Let’s talk about a common sort of grump that beginning counselors face: the warm body supervisor.

Problem-solving a difficult scenario

So, let’s say your clinical supervisor—and let’s complicate things further and say that this supervisor is also your boss—is burned out.

That they fall asleep during their supervision session with you.  Or they’re never around.

What do you do?

apple bookWell, depending on how bad the situation is, you probably want to approach the supervisor first and see what’s workable in the relationship itself.

But let’s suppose this is a worst case scenario and that’s a dead end.

What else can you do?

+ You may consider seeking supervision privately in the community—even if you have to pay out of pocket for it.

+ Or you may choose to discuss more cases with senior colleagues you respect in your department.

+ You might see about cultivating a relationship with a clinical “mentor” outside of work altogether.

+ Or maybe you join a peer consultation group in your community.

The bottom line is that you have choices.

You are likely to run into some grumps.  But do you invite them into your inner circle?  Do you make them a part of your team?

Or do you wish them well and bring in genuine, heart-felt supporters who can hold space and hope for your plans?

Take charge

You’re the coach: you pick the players on your team.

If you affiliate with people who are pessimistic, burned out, and negative, you’re likely to adopt those same views.

Internship is hard enough without bringing a negative attitude into the mix.

And while it’s fine to vent every once in a while about your frustrations, doing too much of that can just stoke the fire of your discontent, making things harder than they have to be.

So choose carefully the company you keep.

Find a mentor.

Make a new friend.

And beware the grumps!

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