You have struggled to decide what career path to pursue. You’ve haggled with yourself and tried many things, and finally settled on what you want to do with your life: You want to be a counselor. I have worked as a counselor for 10 years and will share with you my top five tips on how to navigate the profession.
1. Research school programs carefully in order to decide what major to pursue. There are many routes you can take: psychology, mental health/clinical counseling, school counseling, and counselor education. Talk with an admissions representative to be sure your following the track you need to becoming a counselor; the requirements for each program will vary to a degree. Ensure that the college program is CACREP accredited and preferably a 60-hour program. This is at the masters’ level of course; most people cannot become counselors without pursuing a master’s degree. There are some substance abuse counselors in certain states at the bachelor’s level but they cannot work independently.
2. Research your state’s requirements on working as an independent counselor and the guidelines for becoming licensed. Often the completion of a master’s degree isn’t enough; you must also pursue licensure to practice independently. For example, in my state of NC, you can go to the state licensure board’s website, www.ncblpc.org, and find any information necessary to becoming licensed. Each state will have its own set of rules to follow. A simple Google of the state requirements for licensure should get you to the information you’re looking for. Remember: your license does not have portability meaning you cannot take it to another state to practice.
3. Have a realistic view of what a counselor does. It may even be best to do some volunteer work for an agency or nonprofit mental health center in order to gain firsthand experience. Some people may find that the work is just not for them. Often times, people think that being a counselor is a glamorous job sitting in a comfy office talking to people all day long; it’s much more than that. You will often be working with clients with serious mental illnesses as well as those who are often in “crisis” mode. The profession requires mental and emotional endurance. You will often be called on to respond to crises after hours as well.
4. Ensure that you are also emotionally and mentally balanced. In my experience, most counselors go into the profession to help others due to their traumatic childhood or experiences. This type of work can and often does trigger the counselor to re-experience their own traumas and thus can take a toll on their life. I would even go as far to say if you have not been through counseling yourself, do so before entering the profession, even if simply for the experience of it.
5. To do this type of work it takes an empathic person who can pick up on subtle clues of what a client is experiencing. Practice listening to your loved ones, friends, and coworkers when they talk and be responsive to what they are saying. Most of the time it’s not what a counselor says, but how well they listen that makes the difference in helping someone through their issues.
I hope these simple tips will help you in deciding if the Counseling profession is truly for you. I wish you the best in preparing for whatever profession you may choose.