Deciding if a Career in Counseling is Right for You

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  • People are drawn to psychology and counseling for a variety of reasons.

    For some, it’s an opportunity to help a community and find a sense of purpose.

    For others, it’s because they’ve experienced a trauma in their life and are inspired to help people through similar experiences.

    Having the drive to improve another person’s life is fundamental to being a successful counselor. The job is demanding and can be emotionally exhausting, causing burnout and frustration for those who pursue the career for superficial reasons like money.

    If you’re curious about a career in counseling, or what type of counseling you’re best suited for, there are a few factors to consider. First, what’s your driving motivation? If you’re looking for a lucrative career, there are paths that require less time and energy (and student loan debt) to break into. Second, which of the big five personality traits do you demonstrate most strongly? Are you predisposed to a helping career? Finally, what type of people do you want to work with? If you get easily annoyed by children or find teenagers petulant, then school or family counseling probably isn’t a great choice. Keep these three factors in mind as we explore what it takes to become a counselor and the different specialties available.

    Becoming a Counselor

    The first step in becoming a counselor is to obtain a bachelor’s degree. While some schools do offer counseling undergraduate degrees, you’re certainly not limited to those programs. It’s common for undergraduates to choose majors in psychology, sociology, education, social work, or even business. You’ll have to work hard in undergrad so that your graduate school applications are strong.

    Once you’ve earned your bachelor’s, it’s time to head to grad school and get your Master’s in Counseling. There are programs available all across the country. You may want to have an idea of your specialty while you’re applying, but don’t feel the need to make a final decision — it’s not uncommon for students to change their mind once in the program.

    While finishing your graduate degree, you’ll need to complete an internship, residency, or practicum to get some real-world experience. These are often worked in your specialty and can serve as fantastic references for your job applications, or even become your first employer.

    After your internship is complete and your master’s degree is in hand, all that’s left to do is take an exam to get your final certification. Each state has slightly different requirements for the initial exam, but most are pretty standard. Once you’ve passed, all you need to worry about is staying up on your continuing education and being the best counselor you can be.

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    Counseling Specialties

    Once you’ve completed the educational and exam requirements, it’s time to start practicing. While you’re in grad school, you’ll make a decision about what specialty you want to work in. You’ll likely have classes that give an overview, faculty from different sectors, and opportunities to job shadow to learn more about each option. Here’s a quick overview of the more common treatment arenas:

    • Marriage and family counselors may work with an individual, a couple, or an entire family. Their primary focus is on exploring and resolving issues that impact interpersonal relationships within the family unit, such a marital disputes, infidelity, domestic violence, or adolescent behavior issues.
    • Rehabilitation counselors work with physically or mentally disabled individuals to improve their quality of life. Duties may involve providing resources to the patient for career advancement or job placement, training in basic living tasks, or support for educational struggles. Work environments range from private practice to schools or hospital settings.
    • Career counselors focus on guiding their clients to a fulfilling career that utilizes the individual’s strengths. Many career counselors are employed by high schools and higher education institutions, though they may also work in employment agencies or be available for professionals looking to make a career switch.
    • Substance abuse counselors, or addiction counselors, work with people who struggle with drugs, alcohol, and other forms of self-destructive addiction. Sessions may be held one-on-one, though group therapy is common in this sect of counseling.
    • Mental health counselors focus on individuals coping with depression, anxiety, PTSD, bipolar disorder, or other psychological issues that impact a person’s mental health and well-being. They may be employed by large health organizations, or they can pursue private or cooperative practice.

    There are other specializations in the field of counseling, but those listed above are the most common. If nothing jumps out at you, don’t despair. There are plenty of unique work opportunities in the field of counseling. Or, becoming a counselor may not be the path for you — consider seeing a career counselor to find the perfect opportunity for you!

    Image Credit: Pixabay

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