Stress and conflicts are creeping into every sphere of life. Be it marital discords, adolescent and child behavioral problems, career problems, financial constraints, health issues or psychological or emotional difficulties, a trained family counselor can provide the much needed support, guidance and an objective view.
Marriage counselor, licensed counselor, mental health counselor, grief counselor, family counselor, counselors offer specialty services in a variety of issues. A career in counseling is indeed financially and emotionally rewarding. Is a career in counseling right for you? Check out if your traits match with the desired personal qualities required for a successful family counselor. You can choose specialty area depending on your interests and work to create a niche for yourself.
How to become a family counselor
A masterís degree or a doctorate in psychology, sociology or counseling from a regionally accredited college or university is a pre-requisite. However, there are states that offer a bachelorís degree along with appropriate counseling courses. The marriage and family counseling course curriculum is designed to typically cover areas such as substance abuse, adolescent psychology, counseling theories, group therapy, human growth and development, human sexuality, marriage and family systems, principles and techniques of counseling.
There are many counseling specialties. One can choose to specialize in counseling areas like marriage and family counseling, substance abuse counseling, rehabilitation counseling, grief counseling, student counseling, community counseling, mental health counseling, career counseling etc. Besides, the education, in order to become a licensed counselor it is required to complete a practical internship duly supervised by a professional where you will receive hands-on experience in the chosen specialty field.
The course and the internship prepare students to experience the real world. You will be required to pass a state licensing examination conducted by the National counselor examination for licensure and certification or the national certified mental health counselor. Upon completion of the requirements, universities grant licensure or a licenciatura to the students. A license thus obtained is perpetually valid and does not require renewal.
Those who seek counselorís help look for a neutral and un-biased approach to the problem. And, most of the time counselors don multiple roles. Counselors may require to direct, guide, suggest, convince, advice and educate people who seek help. A successful counselor requires being a highly people-oriented person with a strong desire to help others. The domain knowledge acquired during the course of education and the various counseling techniques and therapies enable counselors to effectively help people and bring about the desired changes.
Role of family counselor
When all is well and stable there is hardly a need for third-party intervention to supervise and ensure happiness in a family. But when conflicts arise and continue, it is likely to disrupt even normal functioning. The stresses of modern life, desire to strike work-life balance, financial crisis or any other kind of family crisis including mental health issues faced by one family member can jolt even the most stable family. If left unattended, it can lead to major harmful outcomes. When all resources available within are insufficient or when problems turn out to be insurmountable, people decide to work with a capable and professional family counselor.
The family counselor would put to effective use various techniques learned in classrooms and fieldwork. Individual sessions with each family member as well group sessions would be held. By doing so, the family counselor tries to understand the core issue. The focus is to understand what goes between people and not with a particular family member. A neutral stage is set for conversations and interactions. The family counselor guides clients to learn new ways of communication to relate to each other, helps to modify perceptions and behaviors, to work through problems, discuss alternatives and decide the best way to proceed. Typical issues that confront a professional family counselor are:
- Family member or members function indifferently.
- When there is a difference in the way a family member reacts.
- Communication between members becomes unusually difficult.
- When a family member prefers to remain isolated.
- Highly stressed, chaotic routine.
- When children show unusual behavior at school.
- When coping with loss of a family member becomes unmanageable.
- All problems related to addiction to drugs or alcohol.
With alarming increase in marital strife and divorce, couples seek services of licensed marriage counselor to resolve conflicts. Couples approach marriage counselors to resolve common marital problems such as sexual incompatibility, infidelity, financial unemployment, conflicts regarding child rearing, physical or mental disturbances, bereavement, domestic violence, divorce, communication problems, infertility, cultural differences, same-sex relationship issues etc.
Ultimately every licensed marriage counselor would aim to save marriages, rebuild relationship, strengthen understanding, resolve differences in a positive manner, heal each otherís wounds and rekindle love amongst couples. Licensed marriage counselors also provide pre-marriage counseling to couples who plan to get married.
How do marriage counselors work? By listening to couples individually and jointly and by holding joint therapy sessions, the licensed marriage counselor helps a couple to understand the root cause of the issue. The couples are encouraged to communicate openly, discuss differences rationally, analyze and arrive at the most suitable solution.
Mental health counselor
More and more people seek professional help to sort emotional and mental disorders. Suicidal impulses, depression, self-esteem problems, addictions, substance abuse, stress management, employment concerns, career issues, family or marital problems, educational conflicts, the reasons are varied.
Mental health counselor works to deal with problems faced by individuals, groups and families. The aim of a licensed mental counselor is to promote optimum mental health. Different types of therapeutic techniques, psycho-educational model for counseling are put to effective use to address issues, to assess and diagnosis.
How do licensed mental health counselor work? By observation, interviewing and through personality, aptitude and psychological tests, the mental health counselor obtains required information. Post a detailed evaluation the best course of action that suits the needs of a particular patient is decided. Often, mental health counselors work in co-ordination with other mental health professionals such as psychiatrists, psychologists and social workers.
Often grieving individuals, couples, families or groups look for reassurance from the grief counselor that what they are experiencing is normal. The grief counselor travels with the grieved, provides support throughout the entire grieving process and guides in the transition- from sorrow and loss to acceptance and recovery.
How do grief counselors work? Spending time with the grieved, the grief counselor observes, understands and identifies the reaction of those who have experienced loss. Individuals react to grief in a unique manner and in varying degrees. Some may express through their feelings, others like to think and engage in activities. The grief counselor aims to create an environment that is conducive so that individuals express emotions.
The process continues and helps the individual, couples, families or group work through the feelings associated with loss or separation. Art and music therapy, meditation, role-plays to recall and share memories of the person who has died, bibliotherapy and gestalt therapy are some of the common methods. Gradually, individuals are assisted to draw on their own strengths, find ways to move on with oneís life and build up a mechanism for self-care that helps them to return to normal routine.
Counselor career opportunities
Finding work as a counselor is not difficult. Government agencies, mental health centers, clinics, hospitals, social service organizations, private shelters, rehabilitation centers, educational institutions, management consulting firms and marketing research companies need qualified licensed counselors to assist those who seek help. Besides finding full-time jobs that require a 40-hour week in an office setting, or part-time employment, licensed counselors may practice privately.
In the US, counselor employment opportunities are projected to increase by 21% between 2006 and 2016, a record high growth compared to other occupations. There are many reasons that continue to contribute to rise in demand for family counselor.
- Absence of internal sources for help within nuclear families.
- Paradigm shift in women work-life balance attitude and approach.
- Substantial increase in old people separated from children.
- Lack of supervision for children as both parents are employed.
- Over exposure and influence of films and other entertainment resources.
- Inability to adapt to fast changing stressful life.
- Experienced family counselors retire or get promoted.
Family counselor skills
The profession demands continuous interaction with people. Talking, listening and communicating with people are of utmost importance. At times, the job may demand just listening uninterrupted or moderating participant involvement, which can be physically and emotionally tiring. In the absence of a strong desire and willingness to help people and compassion for people, a family counselor may not be successful in developing counselor/client relationship.
- High physical and emotional energy.
- Emotionally stable yet sensitive to peopleís feelings.
- Willingness to help people.
- Ability to win trust, respect and confidence.
- Care for emotional, mental and social well-being of people.
- Excellent memory power.
- Ability to analyze and co-relate information.
- Objective and accurate to assess client needs.
- Excellent oral, written and listening skills.
- Ability to organize work and meet appointments.
- Ability to evaluate and determine specific treatment.
- Intelligent to adopt treatments suitable to specific client needs.
- Good writing skills to write detail reports.
- Plan and execute course of action.
- Ability to work independently and in a team.