Starting at a new training site can be stressful, whether it’s your first placement or your fourth. There are several things you can do to feel more confident and grounded. As you read the suggestions below, you will probably find that some seem more relevant than others, based on your typical response to a new situation.
It is often helpful to review the requirements and procedures for your new site during the first week or two before you see your first client. Some training agencies have a formal period of orientation and training and others are more informal. Whatever the practice at your site, you will feel more prepared if you know 1) the treatment frame, i.e., where and when you will see clients, whether and how the client pays for sessions, how long sessions last and whether there is a limit on the number of sessions you will have; 2) the forms to be completed and signed by you and the client in the first session; and 3) agency procedures for clinical emergencies and back-up emergency supervision. If this information isn’t provided in a formal orientation process, you can ask your supervisor or another more experienced colleague.
A second way to reduce anxiety is to think about ways to connect empathically with your assigned clients or the client population at your training site. Often you will be working with clients who have survived serious trauma and are living with discrimination, prejudice, and poverty. Instead of focusing on the client’s history and current circumstances, which can leave you feeling inadequate to make an impact, think about what your client may be feeling in coming to a session with you. It is likely that she/he brings fear, shame and distrust to your first encounter as well as coping strategies that have enabled her/him to survive painful experiences. Remember that your desire to understand your client is an essential and powerful first step in your relationship and will instill hope that you may have something helpful to offer.
Another very important aspect of managing the stress of starting in a new training site is to pay attention to your own physical, mental and emotional health. You may be juggling school, job and family responsibilities in addition to your field placement limiting the time you have to take care of yourself. In addition, many of us come into the behavioral health field with patterns of caretaking and self-neglect. Working to balance our own needs with those of our clients is as much a part of the learning process as gaining clinical knowledge and skill. You can start with something relatively simple like taking a 10-15 minute break to walk, stretch or do a mindfulness exercise during your day or bringing a healthy snack to work. Supportive personal and professional relationships are also important, and personal psychotherapy is especially useful during clinical training.
I hope some of these suggestions help you in this overwhelming time. Please email me with comments, questions or suggestions for future blog topics.