As a mental health practice consultant, supervisor, and speaker, I enjoy sharing good information. Luckily I have amazing colleagues who share their wisdom with me. In my book “My Next Steps: Create a Counseling Career You’ll Love,” I had a blast learning from five amazing experts in the field. If I could put all of their good advice in a letter to a future counselor, I think it might look something like this:
Dear Future Counselor,
Now that you have decided to become a professional helper, I want to welcome you to the field! It won’t be easy and it won’t always be neat and tidy, but it will be the most satisfying thing you have ever done. As I think back to my own journey from ‘thinking about counseling’ to ‘actually counseling,’ I remember some key elements.
We all have a story that led to our passion.
Ask any professional counselor (and that includes licensed professionals and school counselors) ‘what made you choose counseling?’ and you will hear the story. It is usually a tale of heartbreak, perseverance, pain, and victory. The teller will probably explain how an important person, perhaps a counselor, clergy member, or family member, listened and served as a guide through the fire. The professional counselor may then relate how this experience led to the desire to become a helper and provide hurting people with the same unconditional positive regard he or she received.
Once we decided that we could not live a moment longer without actually becoming a counselor, we started our training. Not gonna lie, the search for the perfect school has gotten a little more complicated (CACREP, non-CACREP, online, etc.). I cannot emphasize enough Future Counselor, the importance of choosing a school that will actually enable you to get PAID once you have your almighty license or certification. Even if you earn your master’s degree and pass your exams, many organizations and third party payers (think insurance panels, the VA, some schools) will NOT hire you (or pay you) if you went to the wrong type or insufficiently accredited counseling program. Choose a good school and choose a good supervisor. You will be supervised for THOUSANDS of hours while you practice your craft as an intern. Make sure you and your supervisor are a good fit. Once you are fully licensed/certified you will continue gaining continuing education. The learning and growing never end!
So, Future Counselor, the Stakes are High
A license protects the public from individuals who may be ‘good listeners,’ but don’t have the skills to help. Ditto with school counselor certification. If you choose to practice without a license, that is grounds for a conviction. If a school district hires you to be their school counselor and you are not certified, then you, and the students you serve, are being set up for failure. So accrue your hours, earn your license or certificate, and get to work. In the end, it is worth it.