Exploring Careers in Counseling? Check Out These Insights!
For empathetic types, there are few careers more fulfilling than those that are aimed at helping others. Anything from community service, to nonprofit work, to nursing could be a perfect fit for you.
However, if you’re also interested in the human condition, then there is one particular calling that might really appeal to you: counseling. Counselors are people trained in providing guidance to others for personal, social, or psychological problems — anything from discussing confidence at work to suffering from serious post-traumatic stress disorder could be a topic of discussion for counselors.
Of course, there is also far more nuance to exactly what a counselor does on a day-to-day basis and what is required for their training. You may be wondering if counseling is the right calling for you, so let’s go over some of the most essential aspects of the counseling profession and careers in counseling.
Training and Requirements for Counselors
Counseling is a fairly wide field that encompasses many different forms of the profession. Some counselors will have training within nursing and healthcare, while others might only need training in social work and the social sciences.
In general, the field of counseling is a rapidly growing one, as many people are eager to seek out the valuable guidance of these professionals as the awareness and acceptance of mental health increases. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) lists many counseling specialties as some of the fastest growing jobs in the country.
One of the most common associations with counselors is the specialization of substance abuse, behavioral, and mental health counselors. According to the BLS, this specific branch of counseling could see an increase in employment of about 23 percent over the next 8 years.
These counselors typically receive training in social work and may require up to a master’s degree and an internship in counseling in order to receive the appropriate licensure to be an authorized behavioral or mental health counselor in their state. However, substance abuse-focused counselors may not need such a high degree and may only require a bachelor’s or high school diploma in order to work with those suffering from addiction.
Other forms of counselors — such as psychiatrists and psychiatric nurse practitioners — may require even more training as they are focused on a combination of social work and healthcare. Psychiatric nurses, especially, are required to first receive their Registered Nurse (RN) license and a Bachelors of Science in Nursing (BSN) before taking the National Council Licensure Exam for Registered Nurses (NCLEX).
With the addition of clinic hours and specialized training in psychiatry, RNs can work to become psychiatric nurses after completing all the necessary steps. Of course, states have different expectations for healthcare professionals, so some states may not require completion of all these steps. RNs may work within psychiatric nursing without the additional training — although most professionals prefer the pay increase and experience that comes with added training.
In all, RNs with a focus on psychiatry and mental health counselors are in high demand, and will continue to be for the foreseeable future. Because of this, post-secondary schools that focus on nursing and counseling will become more frequent and, in turn, more competitive. If you’re interested in pursuing an education in nursing or counseling, be sure to check with your local state-run Board of Nursing to ensure you will be receiving the proper required education and licensing in order to practice in your state.
Careers in Specialty Counseling
Besides mental health, behavioral, substance abuse, and psychiatric counseling, there are also more specialized forms of the practice. These typically revolve around a particular demographic, as some counselors can relate directly to that population or have more experience in issues that affect them.
One example is working with the elderly population — either through assisted living care, grief counseling, or end-of-life care. Even those in hospice or palliative care require mental healthcare counseling alongside their physical care, and with the help of counselors, terminal patients can often find the peace they need before they die.
Another specialty in counseling may be working alongside those in the LGBTQIA+ community, as many members of this community struggle with mental health issues that are often originate due to oppressive societal expectations or standards. In fact, according to a 2012 study from UCLA, about 40 percent of homeless youths in America are LGBTQIA+, as many of these young individuals have been estranged from their family and lack a support system that could adequately shelter them. Through their experiences, many teens may be lacking in adequate healthcare, and as a counselor that specializes in LGBTQIA+ issues, you may be able to work directly with this population and provide guidance and the tools needed to develop healthy coping mechanisms to combat mental illness.
Of course, there are also other callings within counseling that are less focused on mental illness and more focused on guidance. Guidance counselors are one specialty that work within schools to help students find their purpose, decide on a postsecondary school, or work through personal problems that the student may have with teachers or classmates. There are also marriage counselors that help couples and career counselors that help adults make career decisions.
If you’re curious what counseling with specific groups may be like, you can always seek out local volunteer opportunities to work one-on-one with those demographics. Whether you’re volunteering at an assisted care living facility or with a local homeless shelter, there’s nothing like hands-on experience to help you better understand the stories and situations of others.
There is no shortage of opportunities for those that are interested in becoming a counselor, but each specialty may require different licensure and educational levels. Be sure to investigate each option that interests you, and consider if you have what it takes to become a counseling professional.
Is Counseling Right for You?
Finally, now that you know the expectations and the many opportunities that exist within counseling, how can you be sure if counseling is right for you? Do you have what it takes to help other people and provide guidance for even the most intense of circumstances?
Counseling is certainly a high-demand and intense profession. There is a common misconception that therapists and counselors simply have to sit and listen to patients for an hour in order to do their job. Of course, this couldn’t be farther from the truth, as counselors are regularly taking notes, making behavioral observations based on research, recommending mental coping techniques, and even monitoring prescriptions in the case of psychiatric nurses.
You also have to be extremely receptive to human behavior and be able to easily read a person and how they will respond to certain advice. If you’re a very empathetic person, it may be difficult for you to take on some of the more intense callings of this profession, but empathy is also an important trait to have for the job. Without it, your patient may not feel heard, and you may struggle to grasp the severity of their condition or their story.
Within counseling, the sole focus of the career is helping your patient. Each hour you spend with them, you should be focusing solely on their story and needs and trying to find ways to offer support, advice, or guidance. If that sounds like an ideal career situation for you, then counseling may just be the perfect career path to pursue.
This guest post was authored by Brooke Faulkner.
Brooke Faulkner is a writer, mom and adventurer in the Pacific Northwest. She spends her days pondering what makes a good leader. And then dreaming up ways to teach these virtues to her sons, without getting groans and eye rolls in response.