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Tips for the New Intern

January 27, 2017 - - 0 Comments

Tips for the New Intern

By: Michelle Ghirelli


Nothing will fully prepare you for being a drug and alcohol counselor like actual experience in an internship.  You can read books, attend lectures, and write papers but the real learning will happen when you are working hands-on in the field.  With that being said, here are just a couple of things I would tell anyone starting their internship.


  • Self-care is crucial

Before I started interning and working I was told over and over again that my job was not my program of recovery.  Each person that I talked to emphasized the importance of self-care and the importance of keeping up with my program while embarking on my new career.  I listened to everyone but didn’t entirely understand until I started working.  When I began interning I was so focused on others and their wellbeing that I forgot to prioritize my own.  Our clients come in trusting that we are capable and emotionally healthy to help them get through this difficult time in their life.  If we aren’t regularly practicing self-care, we aren’t just hurting ourselves, we are hurting each client that we come into contact with.  While interning, make sure that you have a healthy balance of work and home life, and make sure that you keep the two separate.  Find activities that you enjoy doing and do them.  And if you are in recovery keep up with your program; running groups does not substitute for your own meetings.


  • Don’t be afraid to make mistakes

When I started my internship the last thing that I wanted to do was make a mistake.  I was going to study every book I was given, review every note I had written, and read every article I could find so that I could prevent a mistake from being made.  This was the most unrealistic way of thinking possible.  PLEASE, don’t be afraid to make mistakes when you’re interning.  Being afraid of messing up held me back from growth at the beginning.  It wasn’t until I realized that mistakes were a part of the process and a part of the learning experience that I opened up, relaxed, and felt comfortable enough to try new things.  This is your opportunity to learn, and if that means messing up a few times along the way, then you’ll only be a better counselor down the road because of it.


  • Get out of your comfort zone

There are two things that I consistently tell my clients when we are in group: 1) I’m not going to ask you do anything that I wouldn’t do (or haven’t already done) myself and 2) you need to get comfortable with being uncomfortable.  With this being said I had to remind myself, almost daily, to get out of my comfort zone.  Any real learning is not going to happen when you are doing something that you are comfortable with and that you have done before.  Real learning is going to happen when you are put in a new, uncomfortable situation that makes you think, question, and communicate in a way you haven’t before.


  • Make sure you love what you are doing

Entering this field I was scared for two reasons: 1) this was a career change for me.  I had previous worked in education for 10 years and the thought of changing careers terrified me.  And 2) I was always warned about the burnout rate of drug and alcohol counselors.  It didn’t take long for me to fall in love with this career.  I know many counselors who are so passionate about what they do and what they stand for.  But I also know counselors who, over the years, have become hardened and their passion is gone.  This job and this field is not an easy one.  If you do not love it from the beginning I urge you to pause.  Yes, there will be long days, difficult clients, and lots of paperwork.  However, if the passion for recovery and for the program is there none of that will really matter.

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