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  • Writer's pictureJenna Deubler

Counseling in a Small Rural City

If you had ever told me I would end up counseling in Burlington, Colorado...I would have been incredulous to say the least. I have lived most of my life in the Front Range of Colorado, always close to Boulder. If you're unfamiliar with Boulder culture all you need to know is that it is as opposite as possible from the small, conservative, rural city I live in now.

It has been a culture shock in a lot of regards. There's one grocery store, a handful of restaurants, and very little shopping. Amazon and I were great pals where we used to we're best friends.

It has also presented a wonderful pace of life. The moment we walked in church we were welcomed and were a part of the fold a week in. We can walk anywhere...and I do mean anywhere! The city shuts down on Saturdays and Sundays, so you have to stop too. This is a welcome practice where we used to live at such a high pace. Go anywhere and do anything any day of the week! The city is also wonderful at getting everyone together for free, family oriented events. In summary, Burlington has been a blessing to our family.

What has that meant as a counselor? Well, I started developing my private practice and have gone through several identity crises. Most well established counselors recommend that you find a niche and stick with it. The more I tried that the less comfortable I felt. It finally dawned on me as I was talking to another counselor about specializing, in this community I can't be a specialist, I need to be a "general practitioner". This shift has been instrumental in me opening my perception of my practice. I've listed myself as available for couples counseling (yikes actual bikes!) and have gotten the tools I need for everything from Play Therapy to EMDR. This is against the grain for a lot of what people say and in the end I've discovered that I need to be prepared for a lot of different clients. Now, I have in my mind that I'll need to consider referring out for some cases, but with a team I believe I can treat a lot of variety. For example, treating eating disorders has always caused me to break out in mental hives, but with the support of a team it has been possible. This has been the best kind of freedom, realizing I can open myself to helping whomever in my community that has needs, with the help I need too. Gratefully, there are other counselors around that I can refer to as well.

I wanted to share what I've learned so far in Burlington, in case you are also counseling in a small community and just figuring it all out.

  1. Many people in small communities will prefer in person counseling. I started my business as teletherapy only and thought "no big deal, I'll get plenty of clients this way". I got some, but I quickly learned that people in my community want the option to see you in person. Especially families and older adults. Honestly, counseling online has brought to light my preference in seeing little kiddos in person I guess I'm in agreement for some situations!

  2. There will be overlap. I distinctly remember my professor in graduate school talking about conflicts of interest. I thought to myself, "oh, I'll handle that and just keep myself at a distance". Good luck in a small community, past Jenna. You were so cute and naïve. I see many of my clients at church, where my husband works at the middle school, and at the grocery store. What do you do? Take your clients' lead and be a human. This may sound simplistic, but let your client know you'll take their lead if you see them out in public. Then, remember to be a human. You don't need to spill your life story, but be relatable. The farther I've gotten in my career the less I relate to my professors who told me to be a "blank slate". My clients want to talk to a human. When they see me worshipping, interacting with my family, and buying groceries I'm a real person, not an automaton that waits around for our next session. This increases intimacy, which, with boundaries, can only strengthen the therapeutic bond.

  3. Don't negate the power of word of mouth. Most of the referrals I've had in town are because I "know a guy". No amount of advertising I've done has been as useful as my friends endorsing me. The more you know!

  4. You have to be very careful with what you say. Perhaps there was a time that you processed your day with your family. Never in detail of course, but even broad strokes. Those days are over! When you live in a small community you should say nothing...seriously. EVERYONE knows who you're talking about and even if you're being as careful as possible it is easy to make a misstep. So, do yourself a favor and seek consultation outside of your community. A big city where that person will not know anyone you do would be ideal.

  5. Be visible. The more you're involved the more you'll become a staple as a counselor in your community. Even as I'm writing this my introverted self wants to hide. Go to events, meet people, and again, be human. You just can't be as cut off as graduate school led you to believe...there's no way to do it. So embrace it!

I'm a year into my private practice in Burlington and this is what I've already learned. Imagine what I'll have to say as I "grow up" as a counselor! Word to my other small community counselors! Solidarity!! :)

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