Cultivating Empathy for Lasting Impact in Counseling with Juliana Trombley: Ep. 27
- Episode Topic:
In this episode of Mastering Counseling, we delve into the world of therapeutic counseling with our guest, Julianna Trombley. Join us as we explore the unique challenges and rewards of therapeutic counseling young students, and how Julianna’s journey led her to a fulfilling career as a passionate School Counselor at Jefferson Elementary School. This episode provides valuable insights for aspiring therapeutic counseling school counselors and sheds light on the critical role they play in nurturing the next generation’s mental health.
- Lessons You’ll Learn:
Discover the importance of flexibility and adaptability in the field of elementary school counseling. Gain insights into building genuine connections with students and creating a safe space for them to express their emotions within the context of therapeutic counseling. Learn about the proactive strategies Julianna employs to support students’ social and emotional well-being, and how she collaborates with teachers and parents to provide comprehensive therapeutic counseling care.
- About Our Guest:
Julianna Trombley is a passionate elementary school counselor at Jefferson Elementary School with a background in clinical counseling. Her journey from clinical work to therapeutic counseling for school students reflects her dedication to supporting the mental and emotional growth of young students. Julianna’s commitment to making a difference in the lives of children is evident in her approach to counseling and her belief in the power of genuine connections.
- Topics Covered:
In this enlightening conversation, Julianna Trombley shares her experiences and insights as an elementary school counselor. She discusses the challenges and rewards of therapeutic counseling working with young students and the importance of providing a judgment-free, safe space for them within the context of therapeutic counseling. Julianna emphasizes the value of flexibility and adaptability in her role, along with the significance of being a non-anxious presence for students. She also highlights the proactive measures she takes to support students’ social-emotional well-being and how she collaborates with teachers and parents to create a holistic therapeutic counseling support system.
Our Guest: Julianna Trombley – A Compassionate Therapist and Supportive Partner
Julianna Trombley is a dedicated therapist, committed to guiding individuals through life’s challenges with empathy and respect, particularly in the realm of therapeutic counseling. With a firm belief in the power of strong therapeutic counseling, she walks alongside her clients on their unique journeys to success. Her commitment to helping others led her to begin her career in the mental health field, starting in child and adolescent inpatient therapeutic counseling at Grand Rapids.
After several months in psychiatric care, Julianna transitioned to foster care in the Grand Rapids area, dedicating two years to this important work. However, her path took a significant turn when she discovered the School Counselor and Clinical Mental Health Counseling program at Oakland University. Moving back to Sterling Heights, she continued working in foster care while pursuing her master’s degree in therapeutic counseling at Oakland. She graduated from Sterling Heights High School in 2014 and went on to earn her bachelor’s degree in psychology from Michigan State University.
While completing her master’s, Julianna began her school counseling internship at Troy Athens High School. Surprisingly, she found her true calling working with elementary school students, a departure from her initial career expectations. She enthusiastically embraced a full-time school counseling position at Jefferson Elementary, where her passion for helping young students flourished in the context of therapeutic counseling. She also briefly explored the clinical mental health field, working as a therapist with Tree of Life in early 2023, further expanding her therapeutic counseling experience.
Julianna Trombley: I was a little bit of a strive-for-perfection type of person, and there is no perfection at all in the world of counseling. So that was a huge learning curve for me, but one I greatly enjoyed. And I think that’s also relaying into a lot of other parts of my life too. So being open to what the experience brings and kind of accepting that it’s going to be a lot of different curveballs and a lot of trial and error, but it’s so, so worth it in the long run and if you’re even questioning it, take the plunge.
Becky Coplen: Welcome to Mastering Counseling, the weekly business show for counselors. I’m your host, Becky Coplen. I’ve spent 20 years working in education in the role of both teacher and school counselor. Each episode will be exploring what it takes to thrive as a counseling business owner, from interviews with successful entrepreneurial counselors to conversations with industry leaders on trends and the next generation of counseling services, to discussions with tech executives whose innovations are reshaping counseling services. If it impacts counseling, we cover it on Mastering Counseling.
Welcome back to another enlightening episode of Mastering Counseling. I’m your host, Becky Coplen. And today we are honored to have a remarkable guest joining us. Julianna Trombley is a passionate school counselor at Jefferson Elementary. Welcome, Julianna and it’s so good to have you here. I got the privilege of meeting you probably about a year ago when you started working in the district. I did. Is that right?
Julianna Trombley: Yes, roughly around last October, because I started late.
Becky Coplen: All right. Well, we are glad to have you because we were short on counselors in the district and with you and a couple of others, we finally filled every role. So we’re so thrilled to share your experiences of what you were doing and now what you’re doing in your school. So we’ll get right to our questions. Let’s go ahead and talk about your early years in this field. And you started working with child and adolescent children in psychiatric units. So tell us about those early years and how you got into that.
Julianna Trombley: Yeah. So I got my bachelors from Psychology at MSU and one of the professors there I got really close with and he actually had a couple of connections at the psychiatric hospital, which is out in Grand Rapids. So I ended up moving over that way and started working over there for a couple of months and got exposed to really the inpatient side of mental health. Unfortunately, very quickly realized that that was not the most ideal position for me, just very burnt out, but still wanted to be in the mental health field. So really started exploring some of my other options and that actually led me to getting into foster care over in the Grand Rapids area. So stepped away for more of that inpatient mental health role into a little bit of a different role, but still had a lot of mental health components tied to it as well.
Becky Coplen: Thank you. Yeah, all of the roles that we’re going to talk about today are so needed. But I do have a soft spot for foster care as I’ve been a foster parent. And so, yeah, why don’t you talk about your transition into that and what that looked like comparing to the hospital work and what are some things you learned there?
Julianna Trombley: So vastly different positions, but it allowed me to work more with both children and with parents, where the psychiatric hospital was definitely working with the children and adolescents, but it was a hands-off approach. It was more of psychiatrist stepping in, the nurses, and whatnot. It sounds bad to say, but it was almost like kind of glorified babysitting just to make sure that they were staying safe. Where the foster care role, I was able to connect with so many different community resources for parents, for the children, for families as well, since a lot of the families I worked with were fostering some of their nieces, nephews, grandchildren, things like that. So it exposed me truthfully to a world I didn’t know much about. Foster care was never something I was even aware of as a child growing up myself.
So working in that field and just building those connections, it was something that really fulfilled me but also was quite exhausting and emotionally draining at the same time. So every day was a new adventure. It was a little bit of organized chaos, mostly disorganized chaos, but it was something I found myself enjoying and really getting attached to the children and even the families that I worked with, the parents as well, and wanting to be a strong advocate for everybody that I was working with. So I think it helped me develop into my early years of adulthood as well while supporting some of these families going through really difficult times in their life.
Becky Coplen: Well, thank you for your service on that and all the things you’re saying, like networking around the community and working with every aspect I know has been applicable in the current position that you have for sure. So I love how all those things tie together. Then You also were a therapist at an organization called Tree of Life from March to August 2023. So let’s bring that angle in and what are you doing with that group?
Julianna Trombley: Yeah, so I really wanted to get into the clinical side of mental health and just took the plunge. I had a couple of friends from the university I graduated from that actually were working there, so they encouraged me to just reach out and jumped right into that. So I started working primarily with teens and then actually opened up the age range to more so adults, which I had started to really enjoy, which was definitely a different population for me as I’m used to working with children. But it was a fantastic experience, I enjoyed having the ability to actually apply a lot of those clinical skills that I learned through my program into the work that I was doing each and every day. I did step away from that because I love the school. I could tell as the school year was getting closer that was where my heart was. I wanted to be back there and balancing the two was quite a lot. So from March 23 until June 23. I would work in the school and then go do private practice till about 8 or 9 o’clock on most evenings. It was very, very burnt out by the end of the school year. So I just made myself a promise that I wouldn’t put that burnout on my plate again and made the really tough decision to step away from private practice. But I think that has me even more excited for this school year to start because now that’s completely where all of my energy will be able to go.
Becky Coplen: That would be so much to do this all day and then go in the evening. And it’s important, especially for our listeners, considering going into the field. As we know, we have to take care of ourselves in order to take care of all the things and situations that are very emotionally draining. So I’m glad you went with the schools. I’m sure they miss you there and you never know in the future, or there are the summers you could get back to it. So let’s talk about the contrasting of being in an elementary school counseling program and then with what you learned, with your master’s in counseling program. How did you know that this is your true place to be at this point in your life?
Julianna Trombley: So I will say my entire program. I was adamant I would never work in an elementary, never wanted to work with young kids. And I actually spent a couple of months working at a high school and then I had to do Shadow Days for my internship and one of the shadow days was in the school district that I grew up in, and it was with a fantastic counselor. And immediately finishing up that day, I looked at her and I said, this is where I want to be. This is exactly what I want to be doing every day. And ironically, I would say a week later, an email went out saying that the school district was looking to hire elementary school counselors. So I applied. I heard back from them, I interviewed and within, I would say, eight hours, I got a call that offered me the job. And I have never looked back. I come home every day, even if it was one of the most difficult days that I have faced, still, with some good stories to share and still excited to go back the next day. And I think that was something that was missing from that high school component for me, which was ironic because that was exactly where I wanted to be my two years in my grad program. But I love it. I look forward to seeing the kids every day and it really does motivate me when that alarm clock goes off at 5 a.m. to get up and to get going and get ready for that day so I could be maybe one happy face that they get to see.
Becky Coplen: That’s amazing. Let’s go ahead and talk a little more specifically about some of the experiences or things that you’re seeing in the elementary school environment from the role of counselor, which I would say around the country, we are very common. But we’re both in Michigan and there are many districts who do not even have this role. So you can talk about that as well, especially for our Michigan listeners.
Julianna Trombley: I, of course, did not have an elementary school counselor while I was growing up, but the more that I show up each and every day, the more I see that it is so needed. Unfortunately, I think just because of everything over the last few years with the pandemic and just all of the things that have been shifting, there’s such a high need for social-emotional support right now in the school, and that counselor role is able to help fit that a little bit. I’m seeing a ton of just dysregulation as a whole. Not necessarily knowing how to express feelings, I think is a lot of what I’m seeing with the younger children learning just the social norms and things like that, and the community or the school district I’m in is very diverse.
So learning about the backgrounds of the students as well, and how can we all come together cohesively and work with one another and where do I fall in that situation? So a lot of groups we’ve been running within the school, a lot of classroom lessons, a lot of checking in with teachers of, hey, where can I support you? What support do you need? And it’s something that I’m seeing each and every day is so vital to the functioning of the school. We’re really trying to shift this year to it being more proactive than reactive. Of course, we’re still going to have those cases where it’s a lot of reactivity going on, but trying to get ahead of things as best as we can, especially now since I have actually time to prep before the school year starts. But it certainly is so very needed in the schools and it’s nice just to see the progression too with some of the students, to seeing them implementing coping skills, to seeing them knowing which teachers or which staff they’re to go to for support. It’s really fun to be on that other side of it as well.
Becky Coplen: That’s so good and gives us a whole view of how the elementary counselor fits into the rest of the staff. So I understand reading that a pivotal person in your life was a high school teacher who was very supportive to you. Can you talk about this person and the role that they played in your life?
Julianna Trombley: Yeah, So I’m not sure if I can share names. Is that something that I can do?
Becky Coplen: Probably. Maybe just first names or maybe the class you had with them?
Julianna Trombley: Yep. So my 10th grade chemistry teacher, second semester, one of the most fantastic people I’ve ever met. I am still very close to her. She is a big reason as to why I have the job that I have today. She was just one of those people that you just connected with right away. I loved chemistry to begin with, so I think that really contributed to our relationship. But she took me under her wing. My senior year, I went through quite a lot with family divorce, a lot of transition going on, and she was a big sense of stability for me. Each and every day that I went to school, I knew if I needed something, I could go to her room and just talk to her lunchtime. I usually would find myself spending some time in her room and just talking and venting things out. So she provided a lot of support and stability and many more ways than I think she was even aware of. So by the time I finished up high school, I was adamant in some way, shape, or form. I knew I had to be a teacher, but I was going to be in a school. I wanted to be in the school. I wanted to be just that support that she was for me and her passion was fantastic to watch each and every day for teaching these students and lightning students and to be part of that. It was a really great experience and I think watching that further encouraged me and motivated me to figure out a path to get back into the school and to provide that for other students. And she is somebody that, if I would say every week I’m checking in with her of this happened at our school tell me what happened at your school. So she is truly one of the most important people in my life and I can never thank her enough for just being that little guiding light to help me determine what career path I wanted to take. Even at 17 18 years old, I think I knew just had to figure out the details.
Becky Coplen: That’s such an inspiring story and what a cool relationship that’s even going beyond high school. It’s definitely a rare gift, and I love how it springboarded you into working into school in the role that you’re in. You talked about her room being like a safe space at lunch or a place for you to go to talk when things maybe felt unstable outside of school. How have some of those ideas or you having a safe space for students where they have a genuine relationship and care with you? What did you pull from this chemistry teacher that you are doing day to day with the students in your school?
Julianna Trombley: I think just making it a judgment-free zone and really being adamant about having a genuine connection. She wasn’t doing it just to do it. You could tell that she genuinely cared about what I was bringing to her, what was going on in my life. And that’s something that I try to do each and every day with the students that I work with, whether it be in my office or a quick two-minute chit-chat in the hallway as they’re getting ready to start their day just to show them I’m thinking about you. I care about you because oftentimes they might not always have somebody physically showing them that or verbalizing that to them. So being that little reminder that if you need something, my office is nine times out of ten, always open for you to come step into and actually had a very fun time the last couple of days, setting it up and just making it a comfortable inviting space to where they didn’t have to worry about, is she going to go say something to another staff member or is it going to stay here? Is it going to stay between the two of us? And of course, with the elementary kids incorporating those fidget toys and those little things that really help just make their time in my office a little bit more enjoyable. And that was often what that teacher would do for me. It would be donuts or some snacks that we would have to start our day. So getting to know them and taking a genuine interest in who they are as a person, I think those are the big things that I like to hit on, especially with new students that are coming in to visit my office.
Becky Coplen: As this episode is brought to you by mastersincounseling.org. If you’re considering enrolling in a master’s level counseling program to further your career, visit mastersincounseling.org To compare school options via our search tool that allows you to sort by specific degree types tuition, our costs, online flexibility, and more. I’ve heard the word genuine a few times and I just think that’s such a key character trait of anyone working with kids because they know you really can’t fake it and they’ll let you know, as we know that. How would you say that your therapeutic background has enhanced your role as an elementary school counselor and looking at the holistic view of children and their well-being?
Julianna Trombley: I think it allows me to look for certain actions, behaviors, repetitive behaviors to get a better understanding of where that child is at and where do I need to meet them. And I think that too, that therapeutic background allows me to connect with parents because a lot of that language can be over their head. I get that it’s been over my head a couple of times as well. So just bringing it to a normal conversation with parents so they understand this isn’t a label, this isn’t a stigma. This is just us trying to find a better way to help support your child. So I think having that therapeutic background and having the experience of working with mental health disorders, that allows me to better understand what ways can I support the child, but the parent as well, and even the teachers that are spending the majority of their day with that student in their classroom. So I think it’s given me a good amount of experience and understanding of where again is my role. How do I best fit in that role and what is needed on my end to try and move things towards more of a functioning system for everybody rather than going really great? And then we have this really big plummet and then going really great. How do we just kind of stabilize things as well? So I’ve definitely appreciated the clinical side of things and that therapeutic experience as well.
Becky Coplen: Yeah. Meeting everyone where they’re at, whether it’s the teacher, the parent, the school, the student, and how you mentioned a long time ago. I think working with all those different parts in a therapy setting has helped because sometimes it’s difficult to work with parents. But if you take that approach, I think it is easier. So let’s get a little bit even more detailed into school days. And I know we’re looking at the kids in our school and the people we worked with last year. What are some really specific strategies and approaches that you use at your school to help the kids feel welcome or to help with that stabilization of their emotions or whatever it is they’re displaying? I had a really great.
Julianna Trombley: Working relationship with a couple of our third-grade teachers and they had no issues. Just when some of the students needed a break, sent them down to my office. And I feel like I got to a point where I knew the knocks. I could tell whose knock was coming on my door, but just allowing them to take breaks and having that relationship too, with the teachers to know if they need a break from the classroom, that’s okay. Send them my way. Let’s reset a little bit. We would identify what emotions they were feeling and rate those on a scale of 1 to 10. And after a couple of minutes of whether we were doing some breathing exercises, I had a couple of students. We even did some yoga moves with, but just doing some of those coping skills re-evaluate, and see where they were at. Hopefully, that was a lower number on that scale of 1 to 10 so we could send them back to class. But just providing a variety of coping skills that they could do on their own if they were able to do them in class if they needed to do them. In my office, I had some students we would just take walks with, but really just trying to make myself very visible in the hallways as well. So teachers and students knew that if you needed a break, my door was open. I was there to help provide and support that because sometimes we just needed a couple of minutes to reset. And I think normalizing that too, for students and not necessarily ostracizing them because they needed a break, letting them know sometimes we as adults need breaks too. So really coming alongside them and just informing them that they weren’t alone in the journey. They had so much support at that school, positive support, and then using that to praise them because they needed some praise in those situations just as much as they needed some redirection to regulate themselves a little bit.
Becky Coplen: And you talked earlier about trying to be a little more preventative instead of reactive. And I don’t know if this is even a question on here, but what are some of those things that you’re looking to do with your program to be more preventative?
Julianna Trombley: Definitely getting groups running as quickly as I can once we start this school year. We had a lot of self-control or self-regulation groups last year, some anxiety groups, a lot of friendship groups because that was a huge thing that we were struggling with our relationships in the elementary, but trying to get that ball rolling and again, just making myself visible. I am a huge advocate for being outside during the students’ lunch time, lunch, recess as well, gives them an opportunity to walk and talk with me as we like to call it. Just checking and really making it obvious to students and staff that I am there for support in whatever capacity is needed. So trying to do those things to start creating a little bit of a routine for the students early on so they understand, okay, if I do need something, the counselor is available or I know where she is or I know how to get a hold of her. So just starting some of those things off this year, still navigating since I am pretty fresh to the field, navigating how I want my program to look. But I can already see that getting those groups growing, making myself as visible as possible and just checking in to I’m very adamant about checking in with teachers to see, especially after these first few weeks of what areas do you feel like you need support in? What are you noticing? Where are some of maybe, the areas of growth that need to be addressed and how can I do that? So just really connecting and networking I think are some of the biggest things that I want to do more so this year.
Becky Coplen: Sounds awesome, I think. Yeah. The presence and I bet the kids at your school, even though you haven’t been there too long, they definitely know your role and, why you’re there and how they can get support from you. So that is really key. Let’s just talk about the ripple effects of your dedication in thinking a little bit. Back to your chemistry teacher and now with your own students. We’ve talked a lot about this, but are there any other things that you feel translate well from your time to now as you are the adults for these kids?
Julianna Trombley: Knowing what I needed at that time or having a better understanding of what support I needed at that time and trying to make myself available to provide that, I think each day does bring new challenges. So it’s definitely a kind of on-the-fly type of job, but learning what needs are, and I think just being open to providing for those needs too. I could definitely see that with that chemistry teacher I had spoken about, she was very flexible and if it was something small or something big, she wasn’t straying away from it. She was still going towards it and wanting to help out with it. So I think that just unconditional passion is something that I’m really trying to incorporate into my role as the school counselor and trying to just allow the students that I work with to see that too, so they don’t feel that there’s a need that they can’t bring to me. I want them to bring whatever they need to me so I can help them navigate those things because they are 5 to 10 years old that sometimes they carry a lot on those shoulders. So how can I at least take a little bit of that weight off or give them the tools to better help with that? And that’s a lot of what my chemistry teacher had done for me. So wanting to do that as well for those students I work with.
Becky Coplen: I hear that a lot of times children’s problems are put down as like, this really does not matter, but it is huge to them and it’s a child-size problem. And honestly, when they have an actual child-size problem as opposed to an adult problem put on a child, those are the really rough days. So we I personally enjoy the problems that seem more appropriate. So all right, good. Let’s talk about. Well, you haven’t been out of your program too long, but what are some things you’d like to comment on for people either considering going into the field, whether it be clinical or into schools, or what kinds of things they might experience if they were taking a mastering online program, What would be some of your thoughts in your educational career?
Julianna Trombley: Yeah, I think the biggest one is if you’re even thinking about it, go for it. Took a long I shouldn’t say a long time, but I definitely took longer than I had originally planned to actually take the plunge and jump into it. And I’m beyond grateful that I have as much as I got to learn about school counseling as a program itself, I think I learned a lot more about myself during it. I learned just who I am and who the type of person I am and then who I want to be in this field as well. So really just jumping into it and not really having expectations, just being open to whatever the experience is going to bring you. I have greatly appreciated the endless training opportunities that I’ve been able to jump into because I didn’t have a whole ton of guidance. I had my own supervisor. But elementary counseling is still very new to the field as a whole, so it’s been like a trial and error each and every day, and those trainings have been fantastic. The staff that I work with are wonderful and if I don’t know something, somebody else is going to in that building. So being able to connect with them. And I think that was a huge part of why I enjoy the school that I’m at because I did feel so welcomed and so appreciated. But I think, just like I said, not having expectations, I was a little bit of a strive-for-perfection type of person. And there is no perfection at all in the world of counseling. So that was a huge learning curve for me, but one I greatly enjoyed. And I think that’s also relaying into a lot of other parts of my life too. So being open to what the experience brings and kind of accepting that it’s going to be a lot of different curveballs and a lot of trial and error, but it’s so, so worth it in the long run. And if you’re even questioning it, take the plunge. Just just go for it and let the experience come your way and enjoy whatever it brings you.
Becky Coplen: I agree. I probably tell most people I as I am also a school elementary school counselor. It is never boring. Like sometimes I long for ten minutes of boredom. But you make a plan for the day and for the week and the month, and then maybe 20% of the time you follow the plan. It just depends on the day. But definitely, it’s a whole team thing and you are always learning. And yeah, there is often so much training and now with all the online training and things, that’s really helpful as well. And even being able to connect with other colleagues who it was more difficult always trying to meet in person before. So one bright spot of the pandemic for sure. Were there anything in the courses specifically that you took in your master’s of counseling? Anything specific that you feel has really helped you in the clinical side or on the school side?
Julianna Trombley: I think as you were kind of sharing there, just the concept of being flexible. I’m a very type person. I love my routines, I love my schedules, and that is not something that will happen consistently, especially in an elementary school. So being okay, my to-do list while it’s sitting there, I might not get to all of it. So learning to just roll with that a little bit and learning a lot about how can I tie a lot of the mindsets and behaviors into the counseling program that I’m trying to establish. I think that gave a really great outline for me and then from there, it’s just how do I put all those puzzle pieces together to try to make this the most functioning program that I can. But still, keeping in mind, I might not get to it today or next week, but I’m going to get to it at some point during this school year.
Becky Coplen: As we conclude this enlightening conversation, let’s take a moment to appreciate the insights that were shared by Julianna Trombley, her diverse journey in this field from going from clinical counseling to the heart of school counseling, reminds us the profound impact that educators can have on shaping young lives, including the teacher that was part of her life in high school. We are really grateful that you took the time to come on here and share your inspiring story and to really let us see a glimpse of what the elementary school counseling day can look like as we are personally about to embark on it in less than two days, the kids will be through the door. So we’re really it’s in the forefront of our minds. For our listeners, please join the ongoing dialogue by subscribing to our podcast. We love to hear your reviews and we love when you connect with us. I am signing off today with gratitude and anticipation for our next episode on Mastering Counseling. Remember, in the world of counseling, every story holds the potential for great growth. Have a beautiful day. We’ll hear from you soon. Thank you.
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