Heraclitus once said, “No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.” Each day as a living person, people experience life, and counselors recognize that their own experiences affect their worldview. In addition to this knowledge, when counselors go to work, they may have the same desk, but the clients they see are different than yesterday. Their clients experience life and transform who they are every second; the person the counselor saw in the previous session is a little different during the current session because they experienced life, which is shaping their worldview.
Counselors in all settings need to be flexible in order to be in the here-and-now for each and every client and address their current needs. I have had similar days as a counselor, but besides doing the action of clocking in and out of work, not one aspect has been exactly the same. Counselors must prepare for the unknown by simply being present with the client during every session.
Many master level counselors in training inquire about the “normal day as a counselor”, and their curiosity in regards to how their career will look is understandable. The simple answer is: there is no such thing as a "normal day." A counselor never knows what a client will present. The only thing a counselor can do to prepare for their workday is be in the here-and-now with each and every client, each and every session.
The counseling profession offers counselors varied career paths that provide for diverse opportunities. As a school counselor, substance abuse counselor, psych unit clinician, and military liaison counselor, I never experienced a “typical” day within each setting or comparable to another setting. This might be best explained with an example of a random Tuesday workday among different settings.
Substance Abuse Counselor within a School District
• 7:00 AM: Clock-in
• 7:15-8:00 AM: Female student- pregnancy
• 8:00 – 8:45AM: Group session on mindfulness approach for students in recovery) (During this time, 1 student came down to request appointment.)
• 9:00 – 10:30 AM: Returned phone calls to probation officers and out-of district placements for students with repetitive offenses of being under the influence on school grounds
• 10:30-11:00AM: Lunch
• 11:00 -1:30 PM : Follow-up with 10 students: substance abuse, anxiety, eating disorders, parent incarceration, parent deployed
• 1:00 - 1:45PM: Parent meeting- outside resource inquiry
• 2:00 – 3:00PM: Staff member presentation- current substance trends
• 3:00 – 3:30PM: Reviewed the next day’s schedule including the rescheduled students.
School Counselor within a School District
• 7:00 AM: Clock-in
• 7:30-8:05 AM: Cafeteria duty
Check-in with the students in the morning and see how their day is starting as well as provide some coping exercises to those who had a rough start. Radio for coverage and security due to an altercation between students.
• 8:05 – 8:45AM: Working with the students individually and then together concerning the event.
• 9:00 – 10:30 AM: Three classroom visits: Positive Character lesson
• 10:30-12:30M: Facilitated lunch groups: anger management, social skills, knowing the true me, body awareness
• 12:30 -1:00 PM: Lunch (fire drill)
• 1:00 - 1:45PM: collected and analyzed data of students in the Intervention and Referral Services (I&RS) process
• 1:45 – 2:05PM: Classroom - student was having a difficult day
• 2:05-2:20PM: Student observation
• 2:20-3:00PM: Plan school and community wide events for red ribbon week
• 3:00 – 3:15PM: Return parent phone call
• 3:15 – 3:45PM: Student check-ins
• 3:45-4:15PM: Bus Duty
Psychological Assessment Counselor (3rd Shift)
• 7:00 PM: Clock-in
• 7:05-8:45 PM: ER requested psychological assessment of an inmate
• 8:45 – 9:15 PM: Assessment report, data entry, made contact with the Psychologist on call about patient
• 9:15 – 10:30 PM: Reassessment; patient’s mental health commit warrant expiries in 2 hours
• 10:30-11:00 PM: Locate the ER nurse for follow-up with Diabetic patient; contact security to seclude and supervise a patient due to threat of violence towards others
• 11:00PM -1:00 AM: 2 psychological assessments; contacted the psychologist on call, admitted 2 patients to the psych unit, discharged 1 with referral resources
• 1:00 - 1:45 AM: reviewed police report for a mental commitment, no beds available; made contact to nearby facility to check availability
• 2:00– 3:05 AM: Visited with clients who could not sleep
• 3:05-3:35 AM: Food break
• 3:40- 4:20 AM: ER toxicology report review
• 4:30-6:00 AM: client check-ins
• 6:00 – 7:00AM: Assessed client who has just awakened
As a substance abuse counselor and school counselor, the only consistency in my days was in the role of a counselor for students and a resource for staff, parents, and the community. The topics presented varied vastly. Fire drills, CPS visits, child advocacy cases, departmental meetings, I&RS case review days, and preparing for state testing were all “typical” components of the day. As a mental health clinician in a Psychiatric unit within a hospital setting, I can never predict who and how many are going to come for an assessment, nor how many will be admitted or discharged. Every assessment varies in time it takes to complete as well as all of the information needed in order to complete. Regardless of the setting, being a counselor requires the ability to take a breath and being flexible.
Career counseling is highly valuable and especially so when turned on one’s self. As counselors, we do not control the lives of the clients. We have no say if they show up to sessions, are truthful during the session, or even if they are at counseling for reason which dictates their investment to the therapeutic process. The bottom line for graduate students is, “know your field” and recognize the variation in the field, even among jobs titled “counselor”.
Nicole Arcuri, MS.ed, LPC, NCC, DCC, SAC, is in pursuit of a doctoral degree in Counselor Education and Supervision. Currently, she works as a Department of Defense Education Activity (DoDEA) District Military Liaison Counselor and is completing her dissertation. Previously, she has served her community as a Substance Awareness Counselor, School Counselor, Psychiatric Assessment Counselor, Anti-Bullying Specialist, and teacher. Nicole can be reached via email: firstname.lastname@example.org.