Essential Skills and Qualities for a Career in Counseling

Essential Skills and Qualities for a Career in Counseling

Counselors are responsible for helping people navigate their social, relationship, medical, psychological, professional or education difficulties. The role of a counselor is to assist people with their problems and give them support. Through conversations and exploration, they help people find strategies to handle their issues. Whether it is stress, addiction, relationship problems, career problems or divorce, a counselor helps people through difficult moments. On the brighter side, the work of a counselor is highly rewarding.

But what does it take to be a great counselor and acquire the necessary skills needed for the job?

Qualities and skills needed to be a counselor

·        Counseling education

It is not essential to possess a degree to become a counselor, as there are some certificate courses available to help with training. Training institutions have a range of courses available for those just starting out. There are also more advanced courses to assist with career growth, and programs for specialized areas, for example, children and young people, trauma therapy or couples counseling. The diversity of the options allows for a versatile program that permits more learning about a certain field of interest.

For licensure, mental health counselors need a master’s in mental health counseling. Completing an undergraduate program in related fields such as education, nursing, psychology or social work could be beneficial as they increase the chances of being accepted into an online mental health counseling masters program, like the one offered by American International College. Other types of counselors may only need an associate’s or bachelor’s degree.

To be a psychologist, on the other hand, one requires either a PsyD or PhD in psychology, and must specialize in diagnosing and treating mental illnesses such as schizophrenia and severe personality disorder. Counselors can also diagnose and treat such issues but may refer clients to a higher level of care if needed, such as a psychologist to do an intelligence test, or a psychiatrist for medication.

·        Active listening skills

The ability to focus entirely on another person without any interruptions and give them undivided attention is a valuable art. It is essential for a counselor to develop a strong relationship with their client, and this includes practicing active listening. Such engagement makes them feel valued and supported.

The client should get the feeling that their worries and dilemmas are acknowledged and comprehended by someone who is understanding, yet neutral.

By intently listening, the counselor not only takes in the client’s words but also motivates them to keep speaking. During meetings with the client, it is essential to be able to find a balance between talking and listening, and to be aware of when each action is necessary. For a successful experience, one should be aware of the physical signs of a client, pay heed to pauses and silences, keep eye contact to indicate that the client’s words are valued, and moderate their own tone of voice to avoid making a client feel hurried.

·        Adhering to professional boundaries and confidentiality

It is of utmost importance that confidentiality is upheld. Only in rare situations can information discussed in therapy sessions be shared with a third party other than the clinical supervisor. Additionally, counselors must be mindful of their legal and ethical responsibilities to their clients, and clients should be encouraged to make decisions without being influenced by the counselor’s opinion.

·        Humility, patience and resilience

Counseling is a taxing job that requires one to provide emotional help to clients every day. If work stress, performance anxiety, and self-inflicted overworking are not kept in check, it can lead to burnout. Therefore, it is essential to maintain an emotionally resilient attitude and be able to practice self-care, as well as being aware of one’s capabilities.

·        Compassion and a non-judgmental attitude

It is not the role of a counselor to pass judgment or give advice — rather, they strive to reach a point where the client can view the situation from a more positive perspective. To enable this, it is essential for the client to feel comfortable expressing their thoughts and emotions without fear of criticism or being dismissed. It is essential that the counselor maintains a supportive and professional stance, and manages their own reactions accordingly.

·        Being genuinely interested in people

Although it is not a skill in the traditional sense, it is still essential. To experience a successful and rewarding career, a counselor needs to stay inquisitive and devoted to enhancing their clients’ emotional health. Demonstrating genuine concern for a client’s individual circumstances will establish a trusting and positive atmosphere between the counselor and their client.

Some other important skills to have include:

  • Great communication skills.
  • Analytical and critical thinking.
  • Ability to work well with others.
  • Empathy and compassion.
  • Ability to adapt to change.
  • Time management skills.
  • Confidence.

Pursuing a career in counseling

In the field of education, there are opportunities to work in schools, colleges and universities, providing assistance to students with their studies and other matters. It is possible to land a job in healthcare, with opportunities to work in hospitals, GP practices or community and occupational healthcare services, providing aid to those with various issues.

The non-governmental organizations (NGOs) can offer a variety of employment opportunities, such as working with charity organizations that specialize in mental health, homelessness, domestic violence, adoption, rehabilitation of offenders and family dynamics.

Counseling is a rewarding career that provides a variety of specialized options, ranging from marriage and family therapy to substance abuse counseling. Once certified, many counselors make a living by setting up their own practice, coupled with part-time work. Nevertheless, having the experience to be self-employed is necessary.

As a counselor progresses through their educational and professional experience in counseling, it is up to them to determine the area in which they feel they would be most successful.