Nick Bryant is a counselor with 10 plus years of experience working in community/mental health services. Nick earned his bachelor of psychology and administration of justice from Texas Southern University. He writes for his website, called HoustonCaseManagers.com, which provides easy-to-understand instructions on connecting citizens with Houston community resources.
When did you realize you wanted to be a rehabilitation counselor? Was it something that always?
Growing up, I was truly blessed. I'm fortunate to have two loving, hard-working parents, an older brother who always set good examples, and tons of other supportive family members. During the tough times, I've always had someone to bounce ideas off of and get encouragement from. Not sure if I aspired to be in this position, but one of the reasons I am here is that I believe everyone deserves the same level of support I received growing up.
What did your career trajectory look like after you graduated? How did you end up in your current position?
To be VERY honest, after graduation I had no idea what I was going to do. Parents, teachers, the TV all tell us to go to college and get a degree, but that's where their advice stops. I had a psychology degree, but absolutely no game plan as to what kind of job I wanted in the field.
Essentially, my background is this: After graduation, I started out working overnights as a suicide counselor on a local crisis line. I did this for three years. The next three years, I worked as a mobile crisis outreach counselor, so I got a chance to see all the things I heard on the crisis line in person.
After that position, I took a break from this field to work in the chemical plants here in Houston. Although I loved the new experience in oil and gas and the lessons learned, I knew I had to eventually return to this field. I've been back for the past four years and could not be happier with the decision.
What do you love about being in your position?
The unknown is what I enjoy most about my position. No two clients are alike. No two work days are alike. At first thought, "the unknown" might cause anxiety, but I really enjoy the challenge of trying to find a solution to someone's problems, whether it be a client or coworker.
I have worked jobs in the past (hello, Home Depot!) where I rejoiced when my shift was over. This job is different. Many times, I find myself amazed that it's already 11 a.m., 2 p.m., 4 p.m., quitting time. It's crazy how fast your days go by in this position because you are so focused on trying to find solutions for your clients.
What are some of the most challenging aspects of your position?
Like every position, this one also comes with challenges. A lack of community resources and funding, miscommunication with management, workplace gossip, a lack of direction, someone broke the printer and didn't fix it, etc.
I could name a handful of other challenges, but one thing I will say is to seek out those challenges. When there is chaos in the workplace, there is also an opportunity. Simply put, your pay will reflect your ability to solve problems. If you are seen as the office problem-solver, this will greatly help your career. There is nothing wrong with having a vent session about a workplace challenge, but also take time to think about how you might fix that problem. Again, when you see a challenge at work, don't run from it — run to it.
How much time do you spend on continuing education, either as a requirement for your profession your own personal growth in the field?
Honestly, my whole life is a continuing education! When I'm not searching for CEU hours to satisfy my community health worker certification, I'm constantly learning about different resources, benefit programs, and counseling strategies to help my clients.
While college is a great experience, having the freedom to study/pursue your own interests and things that you see benefitting your career is even more enjoyable. If I had to guess how much of my free time is spent learning on continuing education, it would have to be at least 30 hours a week. Listening to podcasts on the way to and from work, attending networking events, and Google (lots of Google) are the main ways that I stay motivated and learn more about this field.
What advice would you give to individuals considering pursuing a degree and a career in counseling?
Never paint yourself into a corner. Upon the first interaction with your clients, outline everything you can and cannot do for them. As much as you want to help them, there are limitations to the things you can do. For the first year of my career, I would dive head first into trying to solve my client's problems without considering realistic expectations.
The problem with not setting guidelines from the very first interaction is your client expectations sometimes exceed the help you can actually offer. The best thing you can do for your client is tell them the truth from the start. If you are not the right person to help them with their problem, let them know right away so that they can seek out that help. We cannot get our time back, so again, be sure to let clients know upfront the things you can/can't do so that they can make the best decisions for themselves.
What are some of the necessary skills someone considering pursuing a career in counseling, and rehabilitation counseling, must have to be successful?
Definitely time management. Working as a rehabilitation counselor, you will have to find a way to juggle time spent with clients and time documenting those discussions. To be honest, documentation is even more important than your ability to build rapport with clients. You can provide every service that a client needs, but if your interactions are not documented, they do not count.
Communication — specifically writing and speaking — is another skill that you should possess. One thing that's helped me to communicate better is the study of copywriting or the study of sales letters. Technically, your job isn't a sales job, but then again it is. Life is selling your ideas to other people, and this is what copywriting teaches.
Studying copywriting will help you to really think of how your words will be received by someone else. It also helps you to organize your thoughts better. Neville Medhora, Gary Halbert, and Ben Settle are some of the best copywriters to help you improve your writing, and you can find videos of each all over YouTube.
What can students do while earning their degrees to best prepare themselves to enter the workforce?
If you have time to intern or volunteer, do so. Pick any nonprofit in your city, and I promise they will be thrilled to have you come to their office to help out. Not only will working for free give you confirmation that the industry is or isn't for you, but it also gives you an advantage if you decide to apply there.
Hiring an employee is expensive and risky, while taking on a volunteer is the complete opposite. Because of this, it's much easier to get your foot in the door as an unpaid worker, and that's all you really want to do if you are just starting your career. Get in, hustle, learn as much as you can, and meet people during your volunteer experiences.
There is a free ebook called "Recession Proof Graduate" that walks you step by step through the process of landing your dream job by working for free. It sounds crazy, but trust me — its sound advice. Read this book now and it'll definitely help you to advance your career later.
What advice would you give to recent counseling graduates seeking a job after graduation?
Don't focus too much on the salary because there is no getting around it: You will have to pay your dues. To my surprise, companies didn't roll out the red carpet when I showed up with my degree after graduation. They probably won't do it for you, either.
While your degree is a major accomplishment, it's not what determines your success. Your ability to build relationships/trust is what will make or break your career. It takes time to break into the inner circles of companies. Instead of solely focusing on the salary, aim to find a company that truly interests you. Again, it will take time to climb the ranks, so don't feel pressured to get that corner office immediately after graduation! Take your time, learn from people 10 years ahead of you, help EVERYONE, and I promise you — the money will follow.
Any final thoughts for us?
It's a given in this field, but truly try to help every person that you come in contact with. This goes for clients seeking benefits and coworkers and supervisors who need help with their tasks. Do this not because you want something in return from them, but because it's just what you do. Make it a habit. Live your life in abundance and you will be amazed at the doors that will open for you in your career. Best of luck to you!