The Side Effects of Studying Counseling
I’m studying to be a counselor and there are some weird side effects in this profession that no one tells you about. One is that you find yourself being asked to reflect on personal questions. All. The. Freaking. Time.
This happens in classes, in supervision, at conferences — and within friendships. Because another side effect is that I’m friends with a lot of counselors-in-training. My roommates, co-workers and closest friends are all counselors-in-training. I’m surrounded.
One common reflection question is, “How has studying counseling changed your relationships?”
It seems that people expect an answer like, “My relationships are deeper and more emotional than ever!” Many people in my program have expressed that. But interestingly, I’ve had the opposite experience.
I’ve always had emotionally close relationships — that’s something I’ve always valued. I’ve often been told, “You take life too seriously.” I used to take that as a compliment (though I’m sure that’s not the intention). And I still think it’s important to care deeply.
It’s important to be willing to face the painful realities of being human, of the brokenness in our society, of the harsh realities of inequality. I want to know how the people I call friends are really doing — I don’t want to hear you say, “I’m fine,” if it’s not true.
But when I came to Gainesville for this program, I was ironically the most broken I’ve ever been. My life was a disaster when I was in undergrad — I worked full time while in school, was in an unhealthy relationship, and didn’t have time for friendship or hobbies. I made a lot of terrible decisions because I was suffering.
Because of the things I was healing from and the heaviness of learning to help others heal, I knew that something had to shift. I’ve found that I have a lot more space for silliness and lightheartedness both in my friendships and life in general. Because I had to, to survive.
My friends and I do have a lot of intense conversations. We talk about challenges to our identity, our personal areas for growth, dysfunction within our families and more. Oftentimes, I find that they’re the only ones that can really understand what I’m struggling with because learning to be a counselor has changed everything.
But every week, we get together for what we call “Self-Care Sunday.” During these times, we hang out at the park, play board games, cook together, make art, hang out at the pool and talk for hours. My friends humor me and allow me to drag them to the weird, hipster shows that are so abundant in this town. And through them I’ve learned to love new things — like escape rooms.
In the last two years, I’ve learned how to have friendships that are both serious and silly. We can talk about local politics and our personal struggles — but we can also talk about questions like, “If Disney was going to create a villain based on your personality, what would you be like and how would you be killed?”
We know how to be happy together. For the first time in a long time, I have friends that genuinely care, understand me and give me the space to be all the parts of myself. There have been times I was with my counselor friends that I had to fight tears because I can’t believe how lucky I am to have so many healthy friendships.
Another strange side effect of being friends with counselors — though we make space for joy, counselors don’t let you get away with things. We are trained to challenge our clients, and that often happens in our friendships as well.
My friends dispute my self-disparaging comments or irrational thoughts. There are positive reframes and feeling reflections and if I pull a facial expression, you can bet someone’s going to ask me about it. My friends pay a lot of attention to my body language and can always tell when I’m feeling embarrassed or down.
There are some days when I just want to be able to make a face without someone pointing it out. But for the most part, it’s wonderful to have people so in tune with you. It means you can’t hide. And I’m lucky enough to say I have a group of friends that don’t make me want too.