When we talk to people who are interested in becoming counselors, they’re usually excited about the positive aspects of the career: helping others, exploring the human psyche, seeing someone attain that «a-ha!» moment and reach an important milestone in his or her life. But many people are also a little bit hesitant about the time commitment involved.
In order to become a counselor, a person needs an undergraduate degree, a graduate degree, and passing grades on a whole bunch of exams. What if, after doing all that work, you find out that you don’t like counseling? That’s a valid concern, and so we’ve put together a list of things you can do to find out if a career as a counselor is for you. Take a look, and if you have any questions—head down the comments section and let us know! Get an Internship There is no better way to find out if a career is the right choice for you than to give it a practice run. If you are a student, contact your school’s internship program director, and let him/her know that you want to learn more about a career as a therapist and that you would like an internship to explore your interest.
They will most likely have a selection of internships you can choose from, and while you might have to compete for a particular program, the work of finding an internship has been done for you. If you are not a student, you can create your own internship. In most towns and cities, there are hundreds of counselors, and usually at least one mental health clinic that provides counseling services for the local community. Give a call, be professional and polite, and share your story. Let them them you are a student/career changer/whatever, and that you’re interested in a short internship to find out if a career as a therapist is for you. After all, most counselors are «people persons,» and they’re usually willing to help in any way they can. While you may not be able to sit in on a therapy session, you’ll be able to get a feel for the work, and interview the counselors about their jobs and their experiences. And, remember—internships make an excellent addition to a resume. If you do decide to pursue a career as a counselor, having a relevant internship experience can be very valuable.
Attend a Support Group Support groups promote an atmosphere where people share the most difficult and painful details of their lives. If you are interested in becoming a counselor, it is an excellent opportunity to see how you feel when people discuss their deepest and darkest secrets. Are you interested? Uncomfortable? Do you want to help? Do you feel burdened by listening to someone bare their soul? Your reaction to hearing the intimate details of another person’s life will be a good indicator of how you will feel when listening to actual clients discuss their problems. In every town, there are churches, hospitals, and recreation centers that host support groups, and there are support groups for every problem imaginable: a quick internet search reveals that there are support groups for spina bifida, support groups for anxiety, and support groups for people who are divorced.
If there is a problem that people are dealing with, there is a support group to help. So, just as you would approach someone for an internship, find out the group leader’s name (you can usually find the information online), and give a quick call to share your story (that you’re interested in counseling, and would like to sit in on a session to observe). Don’t just show up, and pretend you are dealing with the issue yourself; that’s unfair to group members and puts you in a very weird situation if someone talks to you. One thing to remember: you want to make sure that there is a licensed counselor running the group. Many support groups are independent, and don’t have a trained professional guiding the conversation. Ideally, you want to be able to discuss the meeting with the counselor afterwards and ask questions. Your best bet to find a support group being led be a counselor is to do an internet search for your nearest mental health clinic.
You can enter the name of the town or county you live in, and then «mental health clinic.» Give a call, explain your situation, and they’ll see what they can do for you. Take a Class If you are an undergraduate student, use one of your electives to take a class related to counseling. A word of advice: an «Intro to Psychology» course will probably not shed any light on whether or not you’ll enjoy a career as a counselor. There’s a saying among college students, that «psychology is biology, biology is chemistry, chemistry is physics, and physics is math.» A Psych 101 class may go over some interesting psychological theories, but it’ll mostly be the history of psychology (Freud, Adler, Jung) and biology (regions of the brain and their importance). You will find very little information on actual counseling. Instead, see if your school offers a counseling class, as that will provide you with a much better idea of what actual counseling is like.
If your undergraduate program does not offer a counseling class, check the night school, and then check the graduate programs that your school offers. If you can’t sign up for a class, you can contact the professor to see if you can sit in on a class (If you’re shy—don’t be! Most professors like to see ambitious students, and would be glad to have you sit in on a class. If you are hesitant to reach out, muster up your courage and make the call)! If you are not an undergraduate student, you can contact a local community college to see if they offer classes. Again, it’s not as good as an internship, but it’ll give you an idea of the philosophies and interactions that counselors have.
Go to a Therapy Session
Attending a therapy session will probably be good for you! And while you won’t understand the techniques and methods the counselor will be using to interact with you—after all, they receive years of training—you will be able to get a feel for what a day in the life of a counselor is like. Keep in mind, the experience of sharing your story is a LOT different than listening to someone share theirs. But being in a clinical setting, and seeing how a counseling spends part of the day, can be a very informative experience. Is A Career as a Counseling For Me? For many counselors, meeting with clients and providing therapy is a fascinating and fulfilling experience.
Many counselors finish the day and feel that they have helped others get closer to living the lives they want to have, and that they may have made someone happier and healthier. One of the most important things you want to find out is how you react to hearing the difficult details of someone’s life. Does hearing the painful details of a person’s life make you feel burdened? Does it make you feel depressed? Or are you fascinated by the details of a person’s life, and want to find a way to help the person help themselves? If the idea of listening to someone bare all sounds interesting, then you might be a good fit to become a counselor!