Advocacy: It Makes the Applicant Phase Worth It

Advocacy work is the bread and butter of preparing oneself to pursue any type of career in counseling. It’s what has helped me and many others know counseling is the right path. Luckily, a strong commitment to advocacy can overshadow many weaknesses on an application to genetic counseling school, or any kind of counseling school for that matter.

I will openly admit that I, like many grad school hopefuls, have weaknesses in my transcript and / or GRE scores (hello C from the first time I took Molecular Bio!). But I hope that by getting in to school one day, I can be one more example that it doesn’t take numerical perfection, rather a love for counseling mixed with a desire to constantly learn and apply science. Showing a commitment to help and counsel won’t look the same for every GC hopeful, so I’m excited to share both what it has looked like for me, and what others have done to gain that experience.

I started advocacy work at the local crisis hotline near BYU, Utah County Crisis Line. My first cycle applying, this experience was my only advocacy. I had volunteered there 1.5 years when applications were due. The crisis hotline is what many programs refer to as “traditional advocacy”. A crisis hotline can include general crisis lines, parent stresslines, sexual assualt hotlines, domestic violence hotlines and more. Probably over half of each accepted genetic counseling class will have some of this hotline experience.

Hotlines teach the principles of validating, risk assessing, active listening, empathizing, etc. The hotline connects well to genetic counseling because both crisis counseling and genetic counseling involve helping others cope with situations that the counselor cannot fix. I have counseled numerous people with lifelong depression that is not going to change over the course of one phone call. Mental illness, even when treated, can challenge the patient throughout their life and sometimes there aren’t great answers about how to cope. Similarly, genetic disease is not easily “fixed”. Solutions can range from difficult, invasive, or completely non-existent. In my opinion, the most valuable skill a future GC can learn at a hotline is how talk people through a myriad of imperfect options.

When I graduated and moved away from Provo, I looked into volunteering in a similar capacity up here in Salt Lake, but found that opportunity was only open to U of U students. So, not wanting to give up hotline volunteering, I turned to Crisis Text Line, and that turned out to be a great choice for me. I could (and lowkey probably will) spend a whole post talking about CTL and why I love it, but I don’t want to get too off track here. Outside of the plentiful opportunities to save lives, the best thing about CTL as an advocacy experience is the opportunity for progression and therein the opportunity for a letter of recommendation. CTL does not normally offer letters of recommendation and this restriction can be a downside of using it for grad school. However, they offer twice-yearly opportunities to progress to leadership and work directly under one or more of the organization-wide supervisors. With that leadership role, you can get a letter if needed. I highly recommend anyone using CTL as their advocacy to go out for the leadership roles! First, I adore being a spike captain and supporting the other counselors on my team. I now also have a truly unique aspect of my advocacy that I can highlight in apps. Fingers crossed that it does something for me!

Here’s my dog supporting me on one of my shifts 😍

Some programs will also say they like to see potential students working with people with illness or disabilities. A program director shared with me that this kind of work shows an awareness of what it’s like to live differently than yourself, which is a key of empathetic counseling.

To gain this exposure, this year I started volunteering at Primary Children’s Hospital and guys it’s a blast. My husband volunteers with me so that’s a bonus. We make putty, play board games, color, run a pumpkin patch, and hear the most incredible and interesting stories from kids in the hospital. We aren’t allowed our phones on shift so this is the only photo I have and honestly that preserves the playroom magic.

What I’m saying is advocacy is fun and, for me, the best part of still being in this applicant stage. I may never again have the time or energy to stay up all night texting people in crisis and I may never have another Magentix build-party with a child as they tell me about airplane (helicopter) that took them to the hospital. Having advocacy to look forward to makes this whole year of being a lab dweller worth it.

Advocacy can take many forms. Many students do hotlines, but others work as autism aides, sexual assault outreach support, camp counselors, HIV clinic or planned parenthood advisors, and more. Even if you’ve gained counseling insight from clerical work or tutoring, it can apply! The main principle is learning to talk people through their options, guide them, and allow them to make choices for themselves. And my personal principle, find advocacy work you really enjoy. The hotline works for me, but not for everyone. Explore until you find work that excites you and gives you clear insight into why you want a counseling career.

Because honestly…

This piece of applying to GC school sure beats studying for the GRE. 😂

Talk to y’all next week. If you have any topic requests, do get in touch by comment here or on FB/Insta/Reddit, wherever Laura Cooper-Hastingses are found.

-Laura Cooper-Hastings

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