I started as a counseling intern at The Community School back in the beginning of August. I had been assigned to the School-side and knew to expect adolescents with autism as my client population. As open house happened and the first day of school approached, I was super nervous; even throughout the first few weeks I often felt like a fish out of water, flapping around uncertainly without accomplishing much.
Slowly weeks turned into months and I got more comfortable with the students, young adults, and my co-workers. I became more confident as I went into my counseling sessions or stepped in when someone was having a hard time. I even took a couple stabs at helping out with math homework during study hall (a huge accomplishment for someone who hasn’t really thought about math since early high school).
I can even pinpoint the exact moment when I really felt like I was a part of the TCS community: the Southern Soiree. For those of you who aren’t familiar with it, the Soiree is TCS’s big fundraising event for the year. As interns, we’re not required to attend or help set up, but I opted to be a part of it. Obviously the main function of this event is to raise money for TCS, but it’s also a meaningful opportunity for the Atlanta community to see what we’re all about. Parents of students and young adults come and share their experiences and that’s what sets this event apart from the many, many fundraising events that happen all the time.
At one point in the evening, I found myself sitting with the parents of one of the young adults that I work with. After I introduced myself and how I was connected with TCS this parent looked me in the eye and asked, “Well, what have you gotten out of the experience?” I’m sure I probably blushed (because I always do, especially when being put on the spot) and started to say about how rewarding it is to work with people that have autism, and how great TCS is (the usual stuff) but I paused to think instead. What was I getting out of this experience? It’s my internship, right? This is supposed to prepare me for the world of counseling and beyond. How was I going to apply the specific training I was getting at TCS to life beyond graduate school?
After a quick evaluation of my time at TCS, the answer sort of jumped out at me. Relationships. It’s a part of the DIR (R = Relationship Based) Floortime model. If you know anyone with autism, you know relationships aren’t the easiest thing for them. There’s something weirdly special about forging a relationship with someone who isn’t necessarily interested in building one. But at TCS I have seen more change enacted, not through specific interventions, but through the relationships that have been built. It’s kind of spectacular to see, really.
That’s something crucial that I think I’m taking away from this experience: the importance of what we call in the counseling world “therapeutic alliance.” I feel that the relationships I’ve made throughout the past eight months (both with participants and co-workers alike) have truly enriched my life and made me not only a better counselor, but also a better person. I’m inspired by the work that is done at TCS through these relationships and am so glad to have been a part of it.
My chorus teacher from high school has a lot of sayings and one of them is “Remember what happens here.” I’m fairly certain The Community School is going to be a hard place to forget.
– Kelsey Bohlke, Counseling Intern