In order to help you decide whether a career as a therapist is right for you, we’ve included interviews with different counselors. Today we’re talking with Renatta, a graduate of Rutgers University School of Social Work, to find out more about her career and her journey.
If you have any questions or comments, leave them below, and Renatta will answer them for you! Counseling Career Guide: How did you decide to become a counselor? Renatta: I worked in finance for a long time, and I liked it a lot. But eventually I got to a point where I wanted something different. I wanted my career to be more meaningful. A career in finance can be meaningful—I was in charge of lending money to small businesses, and we helped a lot of people start their business and go after their dreams—but I wanted a more «hands on» experience of helping people. CCG: Have you found that your career as a counselor has allowed you to help people?
Does counseling provide that opportunity for you?
R: Absolutely! I’ve been able to help a lot of people, and it’s been wonderful. It doesn’t always work—a lot of people are in a place where they’re not ready to change, or they are unwilling or afraid to make changes in their lives—but when it does work, and I can help someone get past a traumatic event, or repair or build relationships, that’s a wonderful feeling. I have no regrets. I am very happy that I changed careers.
CCG: Do you think your career in finance prepared you for a career as a therapist?
R: I don’t think so. Becoming a counselor was a totally new experience. I had no prior experience at all, in terms of counseling. I had an undergraduate degree in accounting from Penn State, and I had never counseled anyone, so becoming a therapist was a totally new thing. CCG: So, where did you go to school? R: To become a counselor? I went to Rutgers University in New Brunswick, where I got my masters in social work (MSW). CCG: How long did that take you? R: It took four years. I had to go part-time, because I was still working and we needed the money. My husband and I had two kids in daycare, and going full-time was not an option. If you go full time, you can get your MSW in two years; if you go part-time, it takes four years.
CCG: What did you learn in the program?
R: A ton of stuff. I’m actually really happy I got a degree in social work, as opposed to psychology, because social work has a very political aspect to it that I really enjoyed. It gets really in-depth about how people are effected by their community, and how culture has a big role in a person’s view of the world.
CCG: How does a degree in social work differ from a degree in psychology, or counseling?
R: I really can’t say; I’ve mainly worked with other social workers, and I don’t know much about psychology programs. CCG: So where do you work now? R: I work in a mental health clinic in northern New Jersey. I mainly work with families and do family interventions, but I also work with people who have mental disorders such as schizophrenia or bipolar disorder or depression. I’ve worked with a few people who have severe anxiety.
CCG: Was it intimidating to start working with people with such serious disorders?
R: Totally! I was absolutely terrified for about—I’d say my first year, the entire year, I was terrified that I was going to do something wrong. People come to you, and they need help—counselors have a huge responsibility. So, yes, I was pretty nervous.
CCG: What are your strengths as a counselor?
R: I’ve been a counselor for five years, and I feel like I am continually learning new things. I think it takes a really long time to really get good at it. As soon as you get out of grad school, you can find work as a counselor, but I think to truly become an expert, it takes a while. And, for me, right now I find that I’m really getting good at motivational interviewing, which is a technique that gives clients the push they need to make changes in their life.
CCG: What are your weaknesses?
R: That’s a good question, and I’m going to be telling my colleagues about this interview, so I don’t think I’m going to say what my weaknesses are! But if I had to… I would say that I can become frustrated when I see a client give up. When a client works so hard to change his or her life for the better, and then gets so close, and gives up. That can be really frustrating.
CCG: What aspects of the job do you like the most?
R: For me, it’s the details of a person’s life. Someone walks in, and you think you know this or that about them, and you’re always wrong. You can assume so little about a person, because everyone is so unique. I think it’s fascinating.
CCG: What aspects of the job do you like the least?
R: Well, social workers talk a lot about burnout, because the job can be exhausting, emotionally. So I would say the emotional aspect of it. You have to learn to be empathetic and work with your clients, without feeling the emotions that they’re feeling. That can be tricky.
CCG: What advice do you have for people who are exploring a career as a therapist?
R: That’s a great question, and I would say… be patient. It takes a while to become a good counselor. When I first started, I thought, «I’m going to help people! It’s going to be great!» But the truth is, it takes a while to learn how to help people make positive changes. But once you figure it out—once you hit your stride and really learn how to help people help themselves—it’s worth the wait. It’s wonderful.
CCG: Thank you, Renatta! This has been fun!
R: My pleasure! It has been fun! So, that’s our interview with Renatta—we hope it provides you with some insight on what it’s like to be a counselor! If you have any questions, please leave them below, and Renatta will provide an answer.