College Career Counseling: Making an Authentic Connection
By Lashay Taylor
As taboo as it may seem, counselors may not always connect with their students right away. Commonalities like age, gender, and ethnicity do play a major role in a student’s ability to feel connected and therefore open up in session. If you’ve got “putting the final touches on an upcoming presentation” on the brain and your student has “choosing a major-phobia,” an even greater wedge may develop and distract from progress. Historically, the counseling profession has provided us with a plethora of theories to facilitate greater rapport building and openness in the client-counselor relationship. For example, Carl Rogers' theory of client-counselor relationships (1961) emphasized the belief that the client inherently knows what their challenges and respective best solutions are, and simply needs the counselor to give them the freedom to grow by showing understanding. While these counseling theories provide a foundation for our work, the following are a few eclectic, creative “tricks of the trade” to help develop rapport and connect more authentically with clients.
Include Their “Real World”
Humor and an awareness of pop culture may help break through any number of differences that the counselor and student may experience. If you naturally find the humorous side of many situations, you may be able to share that perspective with students who sometimes approach counseling with major trepidation. Additionally, the counselor can gauge the client’s sense of humor to get an idea of their overall mood and how serious they see their presenting issues. Interjecting humor may lighten the mood while still identifying and addressing key concerns of a student. While modeling a strict code of professionalism in a career services center may come with the territory, once students hear even one mention of a TV character, movie, or song that they are familiar with, some nervousness and fear may subside.
Keep an Open Mind
The ability to remain neutral and objective is essential in the helping professions. Throughout your study of the counseling profession, as you assess your choice demographic with which to work, consider your ability to keep an open mind. To measure your level of objectivity, solicit feedback from friends, family members and co-workers. If being open minded is a natural tendency it will prove beneficial in practice with the client. If it’s not normal for you to approach situations from a neutral stance, challenge yourself by identifying your current approach and then envision an impartial view. Practice, practice, practice. It may even help to recognize your own opinion for what it is and then dismiss it. Nonalignment is the only way to have your client make their own decisions and for you to be successful.
Feed Your Curiosity
If you instinctively dig deeper and are uneasy with lack of conclusion, you’re more than half-way there. By genuinely wanting to know about your client, including their plans, motivations, and influences, your ability to work with the client to develop goals and action plans is enhanced. During any down time that you may find, surf the web for issues that are of concern or that you’ve been stumped by in session—decision making strategies, local community resources, competing school’s curriculum plans, and the like. From that, an ability to connect with the client, who has probably already reviewed these web resources, will emerge. The discussion will go smoother because both parties may have the same background knowledge and understanding of resources, which will cause your credibility to increase.
Sharing Your Story
Offering self-disclosure in the form of your own career path can be especially beneficial for the first-generation college student who may have had limited exposure to college graduates. Through simply explaining your personal planning process for attaining a degree or career the student will realize that (1) this degree or career is possible, (2) this is one way that it can be achieved, (3) this person is open to answering questions about my biggest concerns and perceived barriers. The willingness to share your story makes you relatable to the student, provides them a frame of reference in which to better understand the career development process, and helps them feel less alone in the process of navigating decisions about majors and careers, especially if they are unable to talk with family and friends about these topics.
Variety Is the Spice of Life
The adage “variety is the spice of life” rings true in the world of college career counseling. As each individual sits in session, try to see the fullness of their individuality. Seek out what makes them unique, and perhaps experiment with a new, creative counseling intervention that suits their unique personality. By doing this, the counselor will be better able to address the student’s distinctive needs. Sessions will also become more interesting and it won’t seem like every student is coming in to find out “What can I do with a major in…..?” Focus on the reason the student is unable to see their options and the best way that information can be presented to them meeting their distinctive understanding. By challenging yourself and discovering the unique attributes of your student, you’ll help them develop greater self-awareness, in turn enhancing their ability to promote themselves in the world of work!
Lashay Taylor, LPC, counsels freshmen and sophomores in the Career Services Center at Clayton State University. She holds a Master of Science degree from Georgia State University and a Bachelor of Arts degree from Indiana University-Bloomington. She has taught a variety of counseling and human services courses including Gender Studies, Human Development, and Theory and Methods. She has a combined 12 years working in various college environments including Institutional Research, Testing, and Counseling. She speaks to Clayton State classes and organizations on topics of Career Development including gaining self-awareness, decision-making, and major and career selection. She can be reached at 678-466-5400 or firstname.lastname@example.org.