Career Day: A Counselor’s Primer for Prospective Counselors

Professional counseling is a career within the world of mental health that works with all types of people on any significant stresses in their lives. They can diagnose and treat a wide variety of issues and tend to take a global perspective on their clients’ lives.

To be a counselor, you need a master’s degree in counseling, a national certification, a state license, and a hell of a lot of supervision. But it’s totally worth it.

Here’s why.

MINDSET SHIFT | The training required to be a counselor provides a major mindset shift for most folks. I now understand people and systems infinitely better. Becoming a counselor teaches you how to take someone else’s perspective and NOT give advice, but help them to understand their lives and make decisions that honor who they are. That’s a pretty cool process to be privy to.

VARIETY OF WORK SETTINGS | I’ve done a little bit of everything, from clinical work with couples, to career planning with college students, to case management work with individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Counseling is an incredibly open field, which can be equal parts terrifying and thrilling when it comes to the job hunt.

WHAT’S GREAT ABOUT IT? | Counseling is special type of relationship. Think about that person in your life who is ~IT~. The person you seek out to vent or share your greatest accomplishments. That person who is there for you no matter what and would help you solve your weirdo issues in the middle of the night or as you cry to them over a bowl of cereal.

As great as that relationship is, counseling is even better because the only focus is you, the client (and your problems, including the cereal). It is strictly a one-way relationship that’s goal is to help YOU better YOUR life. Could that be selfish of you? Well, not really, since you’re paying your counselor, and an outside perspective of your life (including that ride-or-die friend) can sometimes be what it takes to realize and make healthy changes.

ARE THERE CONS? | Absolutely. Placing yourself in someone else shoes is something that comes naturally for a lot of wonderful people I know. The catch is, you’ve got to learn how to turn that off as well. Empathy is probably The One™ skill I use that helps people the most. The emotional information I pick up from my clients is the most informative and is what I use to help them discover their next steps.

What’s hard is that, once you open the Empathy Door, you have ALSO got to learn how to close the Empathy Door. Taking a client’s story home with you, letting it marinate in your brain, constantly thinking about it, or trying to “figure them out” is a recipe for burnout. It’s an intricate dance of learning to walk into someone’s life without becoming a part of it. Their suffering is not your suffering, but listening to and supporting them through their suffering IS your job.

TELL ME MORE | A common worry I hear from folks considering the helping fields is that they aren’t 100% mentally healthy, so how could they help a stranger get through their shit? And it’s always this question that makes me smile a little bit because it tells me that this person has what it takes to work
in mental health.

You see, it’s the people with questions – the ones who don’t know everything – that usually make for the best counselors. They’re the ones who are willing to walk alongside other people during their greatest hurts and either just listen, or be willing to learn together.

Becoming a counselor tends to do this funny thing where it shines a spotlight on ALL YOUR OWN SHIT. The people who worry they won’t be good enough for this field are usually the ones who have experience in wrestling with their own shit, or are at least aware of it. This makes for a relatable counselor and someone who clients can trust.

Disclaimer: It also requires you to actually work on said personal shit, usually via your own counselor. Just a head’s up on that one.

This is the second post in Career Day, a series where women in their twenties share their favorite things about their field. If you’re interested in writing a post about your cool, fun job (or at least, the fun aspects of your sometimes grueling job) contact us through our website, shoot us an Instagram DM, or send us a smoke signal.

Nikki is a certified counselor, crunchy mom, and Southern transplant living with her cute babies and ripped husband in New Jersey. She also has talked me down from a dozen or more ledges and, as such, is a certified Treasure in my eyes.

image courtesy of Larisa

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