For those interested in a career in counseling, what advice do you have?
(Thanks, Kathleen Duncan)
I’m doing my Friday Counseling Issues on Saturday this week. I didn’t want to break the flow of the the story in my normal Bible study posts.)
The first thing you need is a sense of humor. Seriously. If you can’t laugh easily, you’ll never survive as a therapist.
Now, a little more serious.
There are some things to look for.
Do your friends come to you with their problems? Do people who are complete strangers tend to talk to you randomly about their personal stuff? Are you a good listener? (This one is something you can develop if you really want to do this work. Takes practice!) Do you have a practical turn of mind that allows you to stay objective when people tell you heartrending stories?
Can you tell if someone is lying to you? Do you have a sense that something may not be quite right in someone else? Once someone has dumped on you, are you able to give some sensible advice and then walk away, or do you have a compulsion to go home with them and fix everything for them?
Are you gullible? You can’t be gullible and be an effective therapist.
Do you have empathy? Can you cry for someone else’s pain? And while you’re crying, can you offer that person some practical advice?
Are you willing to accept that you can’t help everyone who comes to you? Some problems are beyond your scope, even when you have done all the training. Not every client is a good fit with every counselor. Sometimes, personalities just don’t mesh.
Are you willing to do the schooling necessary? You must have a bachelor’s, then a master’s; you must take the licensing test if you want to earn money for your work; you must, in my state, do 30 hours of CEU’s every two years.
Are you willing to accept and offer peer supervision? Your co-workers may have insights that escaped you; you may have an idea for them that will help. But you have to be willing to accept that maybe your approach has been incorrect. You have to acknowledge you’re not omniscient.
Are you able to compartmentalize? If you take your clients’ issues home with you, you won’t sleep well. You’ll bore your friends and family members with your work stories. And you shouldn’t talk about work too much anyway, especially if you live in a tight community where everybody knows your name.
My master’s degree is in social work. I have never been a social worker. I chose that path because an MSW is a highly respected, versatile degree that allows you to do private-practice counseling.
And now, finally, I want to address the spiritual aspect. I work in a Christian counseling office. Most of the people who come to us are either looking for Biblically-based counseling, or are willing to go in that direction. Personally, I don’t know how anyone counsels apart from the Word of God. There is no problem for which an answer can’t be found in scripture; sometimes it just takes a little work to find that answer.
This is my third career. First I was a stay-at-home wife/mom with an occasional foray into substitute teaching. Then I taught full time until I was about 50. At 50, I started working on my master’s to do this work. Sometimes I’m empty by the end of my day. Sometimes I don’t think I can go back. But then a situation I thought could never be resolved falls together beautifully, and I’m so delighted and surprised that I can’t wait for the next tough one to come along.
God is able, always. So my best advice to anyone thinking of entering this field is to realize that “My strength comes from the Lord, Who made heaven and earth.” (Psalm 121:2)