Board Certification in Counseling Psychology
Adrienne M. Barna
In November 2008, I completed the board certification process in counseling psychology, administrative track. The actual application process was completed in less than one year; the journey took approximately twenty years. I have been asked to share my experience in the application process since I am one of the first individuals to pursue the administrative track option. I am happy to so do but hope that readers will bear with me while I share both earlier and later parts of the journey as I believe these are relevant and could be helpful to others who may be "stuck" at earlier places in the journey.
There were barriers along the way and some pretty straightforward ways to overcome these barriers. I have to acknowledge these barriers are all self-imposed and therefore overcoming them required recognition and action on my part. First, early in my career was a lack of confidence: "How could I possibly put myself in front of this ‘elite’ group of psychologists and be seen as a competent psychologist and as an equal to these board certified colleagues?" This was probably the biggest hurdle. It can be overcome in talking with others, seeking a mentor who is familiar with the Board Certification process and generally giving oneself more credit for accomplishments. (A half-full glass will work far better in this process then a half-empty class.) At some point, I believe it takes a big step to overcome these thoughts of "I can’t do it" and just prepare a video and a case write-up. The second barrier for many years was "I just don’t have the time. I have many personal and professional responsibilities which prevent me from pursuing this opportunity." As I review the process, I see that it did not take significant amounts of time. Much of the work that I needed to do was already a regular part of my work and all I had to do was reflect upon myself, pull together much of what I had done and take the step of sharing it with others. This process felt risky but it also was very helpful in reviewing where I was professionally. The third self-imposed barrier was "why should I do this and what would be the benefits to me?" I would say both the process and now having the credential is very affirming and satisfying professionally and personally. For me there has been a renewed commitment to the profession, expanded connections to colleagues, a stronger sense of professional identity, and personal pride.
One of the basic principles of our professional work is to manage barriers by building supports. The application process, in my experience, is replete with supports. My mentor was a tremendous support in multiple ways. He was available to provide support as I made the decision to begin the process and prepared materials; he repeatedly reminded me that both the later application process and the satisfaction after successful completion would be very rewarding; and he was critical in helping me to decide on the administrative track option. Over the years, my responsibilities had increasingly taken me on a more administrative then clinical trajectory. While I continue to provide clinical services and develop my clinical skills, I spend much of my time in administration of clinical services, consulting with staff colleagues, and generally making a large contribution to the administrative success of a counseling center. I was overlooking how important these functions are in the mental health field and that my strong skills in the administrative area combine clinical experience with leadership and management skills. Once we began to explore the multiple options for certification, it became clear that the administrative track would build on and affirm both my administrative and clinical strengths. Given my years in the profession and in administration, we decided that I could use some of the administrative materials I had developed on the job as a senior option work sample and some of my experiences in administrative roles as a case study. With this foundation for the application process identified, the next major step was development of my professional self-study.
I was quite successful in "obsessing" over my self-study. "What could I meaningfully say that would take ten pages?" (Sounds like some of the students we see in our counseling centers!) or "how could I limit all my thoughts to just ten pages?" There was probably some regression to student days during this obsessing! For a few months I reflected in my head on my journey into the profession, my accomplishments, growth edges, and future goals. One day, I just decided enough of this flowing in my head – just write it. As I wrote, it all flowed together very nicely (more than ten pages!). After my first draft, I sat back, sighed a big relief and gave myself a "pat-on-the back" for completing the draft and also for pulling together many months/years of reflection. It felt great! It has also been very useful as I have referenced this self-study for myself in both personal and professional situations over the past year. The self-study has proven to be a strong grounding tool for me.
The next step in the process was to prepare my work samples for submission. My mentor and I had agreed I would use the counselor policy and procedures manual that I had developed over many years. This publication is a "labor of love" that reflects how our center has grown and functions within professional psychology practices and guidelines as well as state statutes and university procedures. It is an ongoing, ever changing document that reflects hours of team work and preparation. Behind each policy and procedure is a story of how we got there – some are great stories and some are stories we sometimes would prefer not to recall. I updated the manual which was again very helpful to our office and to me as I reflected on my work and accomplishments.
The second work sample I submitted was a case study of an ethical situation I encountered in my administrative role. I found it very helpful to again reflect on this situation, to study once again the ethical issues, to again consider how I, as a leader in the organization, handled the situation, the outcome and how the organization and its members had responded to my actions. It was a wonderful opportunity to reflect on what had gone well and to revisit what had not gone well and how I might handle such a situation differently in the future.
Once these materials were submitted, I knew that I was well on the way to moving forward in the process. I had been my primary block and I had overcome this block through both my efforts and the support of a mentor. While waiting to hear how my materials were received and if I would have to make significant changes, I experienced some anxiety. After all, here I was at the point that had long been a block – "how could I put myself in front of this group of colleagues?" Fortunately for me, I was accepted for the examination without any changes to my materials. If there had been required changes, I was at risk of delaying the process. However, I also know that my mentor would have worked with me to encourage integrating the feedback into new versions of my material.
Examination day came quickly and with it some anxiety about actually being "in front" of those colleagues who now would make a decision about my success in this process. During the half day exam, I met with three groups of examiners to explore my work sample as well as general issues in consultation and ethics. Time flew by in each examination session! Anxiety was quickly reduced as I learned from firsthand experience that the examiners were truly treating me as a colleague and in the case of the work sample as the "expert" on my work. Throughout the sessions there was a supportive curiosity from the examiners who affirmed my accomplishments while also challenging me to broaden or consider different perspectives. At the end of the process I was encouraged to take on new activities such as writing more about my experiences and my work and ideas. I left feeling supported and affirmed, like an equal to the psychologists I had so long worried would not see me as "up to snuff." I felt charged up and had many new areas to develop.
A year later, I am very pleased that I was able to complete the certification process. I enjoyed the entire process, particularly the exam. It was exhilarating and very rewarding to interact with colleagues, to feel so affirmed and supported. Now, I am beginning to mentor other peers as they move through the process. As we have often said when successful in the job search it sure is nice to be "on the other side." I hope that after reading about my experience, some of you will move your journey forward, if appropriate in the administrative track, and come to "the other side." I am certainly available to talk with anyone who would like to contact me.