"Getting The Most Out Of Your Learning Experience"

-Written by Cheryl Leong,
B.A. in Psychology, Minor in Philosophy (USA)
M.A. Counselling Psychology (USA)
Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist (Board of Behavioral Sciences, USA)


Micro-Skills

When learning and practising micro-skills it is important to remember that there is no standard formula to paraphrasing, active listening or communicating empathy. The skills learnt may seem awkward or clumsy at first but over time you will develop a personal style of utilising these skills. The skills become a part of you. Taking on these skills is like learning to play a new musical instrument or learning to ride a bicycle: they become second nature or intuitive over time.

Refrain from criticising or judging yourself while experimenting with these micro-skills. Remember, you have to make these skills work for you. In fact, I would encourage thinking of it as 'playing around' with these skills as opposed to a 'practice makes perfect' attitude. There is NO perfection in counselling. Give yourself permission to stumble and experience nervousness. It's natural.

Utilize individual clinical supervision to receive feedback. Your supervisor can give valuable ideas about using these skills more effectively with clients.

Theory and Knowledge

As you get to know the various theoretical counselling frameworks you can feel overwhelmed or even confused. Here are some things you can do to ease the information overload:
  1. It is helpful to imagine yourself as a client receiving these different styles of therapy. How would you respond to a cognitive approach or a humanistic approach? Would it work with you?
  2. It might also be useful to imagine working with a client using the different approaches. For example: Would you be comfortable asking your client the miracle question? Would you be comfortable challenging a client's faulty thinking? What do you think you will be most comfortable using? Try it all out! Experiment!
  3. Another good question to ask yourself is what do you consider 'therapeutic'? Does it mean getting new cognitive perspectives, experiencing unconditional positive regard or getting help with problem solving?
  4. What type of clients would you like to work with in the future? What field of mental health do you want to pursue? Depending on the type of client you meet, different approaches may or may not work as well. For example, some theorists feel that using a person-centred approach with grieving clients is best. Others may feel that SFBT works best in the school system or a CBT approach works best with addiction/psychiatric clients. Some theorists also believe that a systemic approach is best with couples therapy.

Preparing for Practicum

This is often an exciting yet stressful time for students. Some of you may already have a full time job and making the extra time for practicum can be challenging. Students have experiences of nervousness seeing clients and utilising your theory and skills for the first time. You may be holding ideas about what the 'perfect' counsellor should act and be like. That can add to the stress. I suggest the following things to ease your stress:
  1. Professional Ethics and Boundaries. The most important thing before beginning practicum is familiarizing yourself with your professional ethics code. Prepare to maintain your professional boundaries and adhere to counselling ethics. You may read what is required ethically by The Singapore Association of Counselling here:http://www.sac-counsel.org.sg/ethics.html

  2. Self Care. Take a few minutes to take deep breathes and affirm yourself before each session. This will help clear your mind and open yourself to what your new client brings to you. When you are feeling nervous, slow things down and pace your responses or questions. You don't need to have all the answers. Take a few minutes after each session to reflect on the case and celebrate the successful parts of the session. This is an important part of self-care and it prevents burn out. Few students realise that self-care is just as vital as providing care.

  3. Clinical Consultation. Make a note of areas you need support with. Maybe you had trouble with rapport building or had difficulty with developing a therapeutic goal. Bring this to your individual/group supervisor.

  4. Site Confusion. Sometimes staff members of practicum sites may not completely understand your role in a school or an aged home. You may feel disempowered or disheartened. It helps to have a clear idea about the role you play as a counsellor as well as your professional boundaries and ethics. This will navigate how you work through a confusing site. Do not be embarrassed to educate others about the counselling profession, but strive to do so respectfully. They may appreciate the information and appreciate your professionalism. Always consult with your supervisor or the clinical director when you have concerns about your site. ECTA staff members want to offer support and help when you need it.


Resources and Referrals

It is probably worthwhile developing a list of established individuals and organizations in the field that can be a resource to you or your future clients. For example, you could have a list of psychiatrists that are bipolar specialists or a list of family service centres that provides social worker support for lower income families.


Suicide, Homicide and Child Abuse

It is probably worthwhile developing a list of established individuals and organizations in the field that can be a resource to you or your future clients. For example, you could have a list of psychiatrists that are bipolar specialists or a list of family service centres that provides social worker support for lower income families.

Journals and Articles

Associations & Affiliate Facilities