Talking Practicum Podcast

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Podcast Transcript

Bob Nations:               Welcome to Wake Forest University department of counseling podcast.  I’m Bob Nations, assistant teaching professor, associate director of the online counseling programs and I have with me –

Shannon Warden:       Dr. Shannon Warden, also an assistant teaching professor in the department of counseling.

Bob Nations:               And we’ve come together to talk about practicum.  That seems to be an interesting question for a lot of students when they are looking forward to entering the counseling program and it’s the first level of experience that they have.  So, Dr. Warden and I will be talking about practicum today.

Shannon Warden:       That’s right Bob, and, you know, often times students, one of the very first questions they have is when does practicum happen?  How does it happen?  How do I find a practicum site?  We tell folks, we’ve been doing this for years and we have a very strategic process.  Usually, 4-5 months out from the semester students start into practicum, our clinical coordinator, Dr. Carla Emerson, enters into contact with them through emails, sometimes face to face, talks, and begins giving them the information they’re gonna need to find the site.  So, that’s usually, again, about a 4-5 months, sometimes even six months out where students begin the process of looking for a site.  And that happens, usually – it varies, but it usually happens at least after four or five or six classes into the program.  So, they’re not gonna do practicum immediately in their counseling program.  We tell students breathe easy, you don’t have to do this today.  Not now, not yet.  And then as they get into the program a little bit, then it becomes very strategic and are helping them find those sites.

Bob Nations:               And I think we do a really good job about assisting our students in locating sites and following some of their interests.  What do you think about how students select sites?  Is it something they really wanna go into or do you kind of encourage them to explore areas that may be they’re not interested in or want to learn more about?

Shannon Warden:       Well, I know I’ve heard you tell students too, this is practicum, practice.

Bob Nations:               Exactly.

Shannon Warden:       And so while they may have an opportunity to go into a site that fits perfectly with their professional interest, it is also very valuable to go into a site that differs some.  Ultimately, students are asked to, or required I should say, to get 200 hours of practicum time.  And so some of that is direct practice with clients on their sites.  Some of it is indirect, just sitting in on meetings.  Attending trainings that the agency or the school may provide.  And they do supervision hours, both with a site supervisor and with a university supervisor and one of us as the faculty.

So, those 200 hours really, as important as it is to match up with professional interests, it’s as important to get those 200 hours.  If a site is a great match, but can’t provide the training hours, then, in fact, it’s not a great match.  We encourage students, yes, pursue a site that’s professionally interesting to you, but let’s also be realistic and look for sites that can give you good training opportunities, good training hours.  So, it’s a logistical type of option or mindset as well, I should say, of finding a site that’s gonna meet the academic requirements.

Bob Nations:               And we focus says faculty supervisors of practicum students on attaining the hours, making sure everything gets completed on time, the recordings that occur, the experience that they have and process that.  What’s most important though is what happens at the sites, what they do.  Practicum is a beginning place.  A lot of students are kind of anxious about starting out, about doing the right thing, about making mistakes, getting started.  And I find myself continually encouraging them to realize that this is a place where you’re learning to be a counselor.  You’re learning about what it’s like to be a professional counselor and what it’s like at your site.  So, it’s a place where they start and get their feet wet, so to speak.

Shannon Warden:       And these are well vetted sites.

Bob Nations:               They are.

Shannon Warden:       Dr. Emerson and many of us who help with the process are looking at the sites for certain criteria.  We’re not gonna allow our students to go into a site that we don’t feel that, no. 1 they’re gonna meet the academic requirements, and two, that it’s gonna be a safe, supportive, learning environment.  So, I know students often have a very understandable level of anxiety.

Bob Nations:               Yes.

Shannon Warden:       I did.  God remember that, we did.

Bob Nations:               Oh wow, yes.

Shannon Warden:       And, you know I tell students, listen as best you can trust us.  We’ve done this for a while.  We have your best interest at heart, and we are vetting these sites.  We are thinking about what type of training opportunity you’re gonna have.  We’re gonna walk with you the entire way, through those regular, weekly, meetings, talking about any of the challenges.  Talking about the successes and overall just their professional and personal development that’s gonna happen at that practicum site.

Bob Nations:               I always tell students too, I said particularly when you’re doing a recording, show me your worst stuff, your mistakes, that’s where you learn ‘cause a lot of times, and I know I did this too, I wanna show my best stuff when I recorded and make sure I was looking good, so they want to do well.  But it is really growing time where you look at some of the things that you’re learning about, that you’re starting to make some mistakes and I tell them often, I say you are counseling students and probably the worst thing that can happen, ‘cause they’re very anxious at times about doing the wrong thing or doing something that will harm a client.  And I said, you know at the worst you probably will be embarrassed if you make a mistake.  I said I’m glad I’m not teaching surgeons because those mistakes would be fatal.

Shannon Warden:       Little bit of a room for error.

Bob Nations:               I know, there’s always room for error.  So, I try to alleviate some of that kind of anxiety about them wanting to do just exactly the right thing and make everything so well and wrap it all up in each session so it all ends just perfectly well.

Shannon Warden:       Great.  One of the best pieces of advice and encouragement a supervisor of mine gave was make mistakes.

Bob Nations:               Yes, yes.

Shannon Warden:       Doesn’t that just – it gave me a lot of comfort, permission even –

Bob Nations:               It does.

Shannon Warden:       – to make some mistakes.  So, very much – in fact, I tell students you’re gonna get more supervision now likely than you will ever after you graduate.  You will still receive supervision as a newly licensed counselor, usually for a couple of years in most states.  But right now, you’re under close supervision, lots of support.  And that is a great comfort to know, hey I can make some mistakes, there are people that I can consult with, people I can learn from.  So, practicum, you and I, I hope folks here are our passion for practicum and are just, love if you will, for students and for that developmental time in their training.

Bob Nations:               Yes.

Shannon Warden:       So, we are gonna start out from the beginning, helping them in selecting sites, encouraging them, supervising them.  And then Bob you mentioned referenced recordings.  We’re actually gonna listen to their work as part of the academic requirements students typically submit three recorded sessions –

Bob Nations:               Yes.

Shannon Warden:       – and wow doesn’t that cause a lot of anxiety.

Bob Nations:               It does.

Shannon Warden:       Oooh.  And so there again we say, as you said, give us your less than great work.  I’ve heard that said, this is some of your growing edges.  Let’s talk about those growing edges.  Absolutely.  Show us and share with us some of your better work.  Feel good about that, but let’s also look at some of those areas you’re struggling in.  Why?  For that development, for that training and we also tell students often that we want them five years from now, 10 years from now to be successfully practicing in their communities.

Bob Nations:               Yes.

Shannon Warden:       So, the practice they’re doing today, those recordings are shared review of those recordings, our processing of those recordings.  That helps 5, 10 years from now.  They are gonna be competent, successful community members, counselors, professional counselors in their communities.

Bob Nations:               And that is exciting for me and I know for you too is to look at developmentally where they are as they begin to try out these basic skills that they’ve learned, that they begin to see what happens.  I obtain great joy in watching some of the students get it and see what they do and what they could just be present and to listen to somebody, what a great gift it can be for a client.  And how transformation can start to happen in the session.  And also what happens for them as they begin to obtain an awareness of the value of the skills that we teach and that happens in making a difference in people’s lives.

Shannon Warden:       It does.

Bob Nations:               That’s a great joy for me.

Shannon Warden:       Oh it is, me too.  And that’s why they came, say this is why you came.

Bob Nations:               Exactly.

Shannon Warden:       You wanted to help people, you wanted to be a counselor and here you are now doing it.  We understand there is that – your feeling of scrutiny.  Oh no, they’re watching, they’re gonna see and I’m gonna find out that I’m in fact not a good counselor.  I shouldn’t be here.  I hear that so often.

Bob Nations:               I do too.

Shannon Warden:       And I love to tell students, that’s so normal and so typical.  That we have all that anxiety, that self-doubt.  What do we call it Bob,  imposter syndrome?

Bob Nations:               Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Shannon Warden:       Here I am now playing a counselor, but I’m not a counselor.

Bob Nations:               I know it, I know it.

Shannon Warden:       And it’s so much anxiety, but we do our best to encourage students and as you said, there is that process.  You just can’t get the product without that process.

Bob Nations:               Exactly.

Shannon Warden:       So, we can tell students, hey, hang in there.  Yes, all of us were anxious, all of us saw new counselors are gonna be anxious.  And if you can just hang on and enjoy the work.  Wow, clients teach us so much.

Bob Nations:               They really do, yeah.

Shannon Warden:       Supervisors, faculty, all of those are very important players, but wow, some clients I have had in my counseling career have taught me as much and more as I have sometimes learned.  And that’s just trial and error and actually engaging with the people.  Being a part of that process.

Bob Nations:               It is, it is.  And it’s enjoyable and meaningful too to be part of this journey for folks becoming a counselor.

Shannon Warden:       Mm-hm.  As they move along that semester and their – sometimes starts out slow.  We tell students they’re gonna be those first few weeks that you are acclimating into the site.  That the site is becoming familiar with you, training you, learning who you are.  And then as you get into those middle weeks, that’s when those hours start to pick up.

Bob Nations:               Exactly.

Shannon Warden:       You know, when students see the academic requirements they think oh my goodness, how am I gonna get 50 direct hours?  And they look and they’re in week four, I only have three direct hours, Dr. Nations, Dr. Warden.

Bob Nations:               Help me.

Shannon Warden:       I know, help me.  And we say, okay this is very normal.  And again –

Bob Nations:               Yes.

Shannon Warden:       – what’s happening?  You’re adjusting, you’re acclimating into the site.  You’re becoming familiar, learning their ways.  They are learning you.  Becoming more confident in who you are, which is great.  I personally didn’t wanna start on day one.

Bob Nations:               Yeah, and they will.

Shannon Warden:       Some sites will start you on day one and talk about anxiety, oh my goodness.

Bob Nations:               Some jump right in, right.

Shannon Warden:       Mercy.  I don’t know if that’s a blessing or a curse, but either way you’re gonna get into the deep end of the pool.  It might be day one or it might be week four.  But those hours, little by little start to come in such that they are at the very end of the semester, they’re looking back and they’re thinking oh my goodness, I did it.  I got all those 200 hours, which the 50 direct and the 115 that are indirect.  And we outline all of this in the training manual –

Bob Nations:               Yes.

Shannon Warden:       – so students, that’s another important resource for students just to know specifically what are those academic requirements.  I would say too Bob, you know we’re talking about hours and just the overall process toward the end of practicum, students begin to think immediately about internship.  In fact, that’s an additional anxiety producer there about midway through practicum.  Dr. Emerson is alerting them of okay now it’s big time.  And really, she’s already spoken to that some months ahead, but it becomes more critical there about midway through the practicum semester, students are looking ahead to internship.  All right, you already have practicum, you’re thinking how am I gonna do this and so they were saying little by little you’re gonna do it.  But then the anxiety kicks in again of oh my goodness, now I gotta think about an internship site.

Many students do internship at the same site.  Many choose another site.  A lot of that depends on, again, the vetting of the site.  If the site is capable of taking internship students.

Bob Nations:               Yes.

Shannon Warden:       Those hours kick up some.  That goes from the 200 hours to the 321 hours for internship.  We require two internships.  So, that’s three semesters of clinical fieldwork.  Practicum leads to internship.  Right?  I mean that’s not such a huge revelation there.  But everything those students are doing, the skills building, the confidence building, that’s gonna then lead into internship where they’re gonna gain additional confidence.  Yep, they’re gonna have different challenges, but the good kinds of challenges that are getting them ready for professional practice beyond Wake Forest.  Beyond practicum, beyond internship.  So, while we are focused on practicum, we’re also wanting students to see this is part of the big picture, it’s part of these 20 semester hours that you’re gonna do through Wake Forest University’s counseling program.  And so, of course Bob, you know, this is probably a good time to mention we have our campus class, but we are also now some years into a very successful online masters in counseling program.

Bob Nations:               Yes.

Shannon Warden:       That’s exciting to see how that is flourishing.  Our students, sometimes ask, is practicum different for us in the online, or is it different for us on campus?  No, it is not different.  These are the same academic requirements, the same vetting, the same anxiety, the same supervision, the same preparation for internship and beyond.  So, that’s all the same for campus or for our online master’s degree in counseling.  So, it’s such a great privilege and it’s exciting, as you said, and there’s a lot of joy that we take in investing in these students as they’re transitioning through these various stages.  But it’s absolutely the same.  And I’d like to say it was easier for one or the other, but guess what?  No, it’s not.

Bob Nations:               No, not at all.

Shannon Warden:       It’s the same beautiful challenge for both the campus and the online students.

Bob Nations:               It really is, it really is.  I was meeting with a supervision ___________ group this morning and we were talking about, since we’re at the end of the semester, I was asking them, okay now what are you moving into now for internship that’s gonna be different than practicum?  What are you looking forward to?  What kinds of skills?  What kinds of emphasis do you want to go into?  And they were talking about their sites and both those ________ were going into a campus counseling centers, into looking at that.  So, that kind of transition to look at the population that you’re going into and I can see the excitement.  And now that I’ve learned this, I’m ready to go and have more clients and have more ongoing sessions ‘cause a lot of shots where they were – they were seeing a couple of individuals for a short term.  And so they’re looking for continuing with their internships in a way.  And it’s just kind of exciting to see what they’ve learned and how they want to grow and to look at developing more of a theoretical approach and learning more things about counseling centers.  And so, it’s that level of excitement and energy about moving forward that just inspires me at times with our students.

Shannon Warden:       Isn’t that great?

Bob Nations:               It is, yeah.

Shannon Warden:       The excitement replaces the anxiety.

Bob Nations:               Yes, yeah.

Shannon Warden:       I love it.

Bob Nations:               They’re having a little bit more confidence now about themselves and about their ability and they’re looking forward to it, rather than being anxious about it.  So, that’s a nice transition when that happens.

Shannon Warden:       It is.

Bob Nations:               Yeah.

Shannon Warden:       And I think as we do that in all of the stages –

Bob Nations:               Oh yes.

Shannon Warden:       – for a lot, we kind of – as the anxiety goes down, the excitement can go up –

Bob Nations:               Yes.

Shannon Warden:       – and the peace.  It’s fun to think about too as you’re talking Bob the differences in sites that are available.

Bob Nations:               Oh absolutely.

Shannon Warden:       That’s one of the reasons we are drawn to counseling.  There are so many avenues for helping people, be it a college counseling center, be it a community mental health center or substance abuse agency, school counseling.  Being in elementary, middle, high school doing school counseling, private practice.  Marriage and family.  I mean there’s so many, we can go on and on of all the opportunities that are out there for students.  That’s why they came.  They feel a calling or led to help, led to serve.  That’s, of course, one of Wake Forest’s hallmarks is pro humanitate, that idea of helping the community and helping others.  So, that’s why students come.  They sometimes get sidetracked by the heavy load of academic work, of master’s level work.  But in the end, when they’re here they are at the end of a semester now celebrating their successes for the semester, they’re able, with some excitement to look ahead again of why did I come?  Who do I wanna serve?  And wow, look at all the opportunities I have.

Bob Nations:               That’s nice.

Shannon Warden:       That is.

Bob Nations:               That is.

Shannon Warden:       It’s very exciting.

Bob Nations:               All right.  So, this has been a conversation about practicum.  Is there anything more you want to add Shannon?

Shannon Warden:       I don’t think so, Bob.

Bob Nations:               Okay.

Shannon Warden:       Hopefully students are hearing that it is a very supported process.  They’re not blindsided by any of this.  It’s all very much laid out for them in terms of the structure.

Bob Nations:               Yes.

Shannon Warden:       They then have to get in and do the hard work and the good learning, let’s call it.

Bob Nations:               That’s it.

Shannon Warden:       The hard work and the good learning.

Bob Nations:               I like that.

Shannon Warden:       But it’s fun, it’s fruitful.  It’s certainly for why they came and where they’re going in their paths.  It’s what they need.  Not only for licensor purposes, but for personal development –

Bob Nations:               Yes.

Shannon Warden:       – professional development.  We can’t ask of clients what we’ve not been willing to experience ourselves.  And sometimes that is heavy anxiety, heavy burden even of the challenge of what am I working through?  Always with that goal in front of us.  In the case of our students, that goal of being professional counselors.  So, it’s a great process, much support, challenging at times, but all very productive, very fruitful in the end as they’re working towards professional licensor as they’re a clinical mental health counselor or as a school counselor.

Bob Nations:               Yes.

Shannon Warden:       So, again, I think Bob we’re saying too, I hope folks are hearing.  There’s a lot of pride that we have –

Bob Nations:               Oh we do, have a lot, yeah.

Shannon Warden:       – in our masters counseling programs.

Bob Nations:               Yes.

Shannon Warden:       But the online counseling degree that Wake Forest University has and also our campus program, both they’re resulting in a masters in clinical mental health counseling or masters in school counseling.  So, we’re proud and very invested and we hope students hear that and hope that they will hear and then see the truth and how much support we’re offering.

Bob Nations:               Excellent, good.  Thank you for listening, this is Dr. Bob Nations and –

Shannon Warden:       Dr. Shannon Warden.

Bob Nations:               Completing our podcast and we hope you’ll continue to listen as we provide more podcasts as we move forward.  Thank you.

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