From student to professional

Courtney Dunbaker has just made the leap from apprentice to professional, a process commonly celebrated but rarely described. 

Dunbaker, who graduated in 2011 with a bachelor’s in psychology and earlier this year with a master’s in counselor education, started her first job in November as a licensed professional counselor. 

What’s it like between your last day of class and counseling your first client?

“It’s scary. It’s sink or swim. But once you get in the setting, the knowledge you gain in school starts coming out, and you realize you know more than you think you do. After the first session is over, you know exactly what to do and you make the change between focusing on your needs to focusing on the needs of the client.” 

And what are the kinds of things the classroom might not prepare you for? 

“The rejection related to looking for a job! I knew it would be tough. But I wasn't prepared for that, and it was hard not to take it personally. Also, the licensure exam constantly requires you to use your own judgment. For every question, all four answers seem right.”   

What inspires you about your work?

“As a counselor, your sole purpose is to do good. There is so much chaos in the world, and you see all these things that you can’t change — things like typhoons and school shootings. But you can help one person in one small way. Making a teeny difference in the world is the most rewarding part.”  

In your new position, you work in a variety of settings, including in-patient, out-patient, group and individual counseling. How do you recharge after an intense day at work?

“I’m pretty good at leaving stuff once I leave the counseling room. It can get to you, though. Especially if it’s a well-known case and you know people directly affected by it. I try to unwind by spending time with my husband, playing with my three dogs and kayaking when it’s warm outside.”


USC's psychology program in the College of Arts and Sciences

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