Whether you are a starting as a camp counselor or wrapping up your graduate degree to become a professional therapist you run into the question: Am I really doing a good job?
I have found throughout my seven summers at Vanderkamp Christian Summer Camp and Retreat Center (www.vk.org) and through studying mental health counseling at Alfred University (www.alfred.edu) that whether you are in the profession of creating outdoor learning recreational experiences or conducting therapy the counselor undergoes a similar developmental process. According to H. Dan Smith (2006) we go through stages of unconscious incompetence, conscious incompetence, conscious competence, and finally unconscious competence (to see attached pdf file click here). The idea behind this stage development theory is that as practitioners we are at first given the information we need to succeed in helping others and slowly over time through supervision and practice we gain the confidence and competence to do our jobs effectively. For professional counselors this practice starts in our graduate degrees through any in program training, through internship experience, and later on through our supervised work before licensure [especially if you live in New York]. Camp counselors go through a similar process except at a paraprofessional level that begins the first day of staff training. The camp counselor walks through the door and gains the information to be an effective and competent camp counselor through staff training [camp counselor education requirement]. The information can be very similar to the information presented to professional counselors [though an overview instead of in-depth study] when incorporating therapeutic theory and techniques into the summer camp experience [see previous posts about camp counselor and professional counselor similarities]. The anxieties and other concerns that a beginning helper experiences have been described by Corey, Corey, and Callanan (2011) as being:
Our willingness to recognize and deal with these
anxieties, as opposed to denying them by pretenses, is a mark of courage.
That we have self-doubts seems perfectly normal; it is how we deal with
them that counts. One way is to openly discuss them with a supervisor and
peers. The possibilities are rich for meaningful exchanges and for gaining
support from fellow interns who probably have many of the same concerns,
fears, and anxieties.
Whether you are working at a camp, school, or agency where the philosophy is based on a therapeutic or research based philosophy such as subscribing to self-determination theory as a building block for your organization’s philosophy the individual who is learning to be a good and competent counselor will inevitably go through the highs and lows of learning how to do their job effectively. As a camp counselor, I slowly learned how to apply my own style and understanding of the world into bible lessons which eventually allowed me to be considered competent enough through years of practice and multiple staff training sessions to become summer program director. Did I feel that I was 100% without a doubt ready to take on that responsibility? Not even close but I knew I would give it my best shot. A similar experience has occurred through my studies in mental health counseling. Not only have I taken the plunge into a helping profession but I have started the process of developing competence as a counselor. What is the reason I am sharing this story about myself? The answer is that I have run into plenty of times already where I have found myself being more self-critical and tense than I needed to be. After supervision with my supervisor I was reminded that as a counselor we are having conversations with the client so why was I being so tense? I found in the next session with a client [and as a camp counselor] that by taking a deep breath and letting the experience happen is about all you can control; from there it is how to react.
You might be asking yourself “So what Jon, Why did you find it important for us to make the connection between camp counselors and professional counselors?”. It is important to recognize this connection because not only do professional counselors but a helper in any capacity goes through a process of development that can leave the individual wondering “Am I really doing a good job?”; especially if they are as self-critical as I am. Hopefully by reading, or sharing this post can realize that the answer is most likely “I’m right where I should be.”
Corey, G.; Schneider-Corey, M., & Callanan, P. (2011). Issues and Ethics in the Helping Professions (8th Ed.). Belmont, CA: Brooks & Cole, Cengage Learning.
Smith, H.D. (2006). A Stage Development Theory of Counselor Competence. California State University, Fresno, CA. Retrieved from: http://smith.soehd.csufresno.edu/stagetheory.pdf