ACA Blog

Jan 30, 2013

Setting Expectations in Line with Reality

This was a quote that I heard during my masters program several years ago now, and it has stuck with me ever since. Whether we are working with a client, supervisee, or student or in our personal lives, this can be applied. Of course, as with any words of advice, it is easier said than done. Several examples come to mind in my work with all those listed above.

One example is my experience as a Teacher’s Assistant to masters-level counselors. Fortunately, I had only one particularly challenging course. My struggle in this course was because my “expectations were not in line with reality.” I expected my students to work at the same level I had for myself. I expected them to have a basic understanding of the material since it was a masters-level course; however, some of them required a more thorough review of the foundational information. I struggled to assess each of their levels of understanding and provide them with the information they needed to learn. Through my experience in this course, I realized that I was the barrier…not the material (although I believe research is a difficult subject in general), not the students, not the classroom environment. Once I was able to have this insight, I was able to shift my perspective and develop a plan on how to be a more effective teacher.

Another example is one of my experiences as a Supervisor. In this case, I was providing supervision to a masters-level counselor who was completing her Internship. I believe assessment is important in any ongoing relationship, especially in the counseling and supervisory relationships. I struggled with a particular supervisee in regards to communication. During our supervision meetings, she presented as genuine, verbalizing her thoughts and feelings in an open manner. However, as we continued working together, I received feedback from my colleagues (other staff onsite) that she was not necessarily communicating information accurately and entirely. I also began observing the discrepancies with in her performance as a counselor and in collaboration with other staff. I attempted to address this issue with her several times and in various ways. I even frankly stated my concerns about our communication issues, asking her why she may not be directly communicating with me and what I could do to help her feel more comfortable with me. I also provided some potential solutions to help facilitate more effective communication. However, this was met with a denial that there was even a problem. This supervisee denied any discrepancy in communicating information among staff. Through the course of half a semester, I finally realized that I kept expecting the supervisee to be forthcoming with me when this simply was not going to be the case (no matter what I did or did not do). Reality was that there was a barrier in our supervisory relationship and as with any relationship, I could not “fix” this problem on my own. Ultimately, I spoke with this supervisee about her transferring sites and working with a different supervisor (I was the only supervisor available onsite), and she was open to this plan.

Lastly, on a personal level, I have struggled in a relationship with a family member for a number of years now. Not surprisingly, I found it MUCH easier to apply this advice in my professional work than in my personal life. I kept expecting this family member to behave differently than she was capable of doing, and in consequence, I expected our relationship to be similar to my other valued relationships. Through time, my feelings of frustration and irritation have waxed and waned and for the most part have subsided some. However, it is still difficult for me to accept the reality of our relationship and the reality of her issues. Of course, I contribute to the problems in this relationship as well and take responsibility for them. I am still in the process of navigating on how to resolve them.

“Expectations in line with reality.” A simple, yet powerful statement. I hope this resonates with and is helpful for you as well.


Grace Hipona is a counselor in the state of Virginia. She currently serves as a Mental Health Therapist for a clinic, a counselor for a private practice and is a doctoral candidate. She operates from a strength-based perspective.

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