So you’re thinking about going to school for your master’s in counseling. Maybe you just finished a bachelor’s degree in psychology and don’t know where to go from there. Maybe you’re several years into your career and looking for a change. Maybe you’ve been helped by a great counselor yourself, and you want to pass that help along.
Whatever your reason, you’re considering pursuing a noble career where you can really help people become emotionally, physically, and spiritually healthier.
But it’s not an easy decision. Graduate school is tough, and getting a degree in counseling can be personally and professionally demanding. How do you know if this field is right for you?
How do I decide if I should pursue a career as a professional counselor?
The best way to know whether or not you should pursue a career as a professional counselor is to get educated about counseling. Here are a few helpful ways to learn more about the field of counseling:
- Research different types of counseling. “Counseling” shows itself in lots of ways. Some counselors specialize in art therapy, using creativity to help clients heal and grow; others take a more “standard” approach, studying “talk therapy” and the elements of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy or Psychodynamic Theory. Still others use counseling skills in vocational advising or school counselor positions. You might know your general direction but research exactly what kinds of counseling are out there.
- Speak with current counselors. Do you know any counselors personally? Has your own counselor been particularly helpful in your life? Ask counselors you know what they really enjoy about their job. On the flip-side, ask what is difficult or unenjoyable; being a counselor can get complicated and stressful, and that’s something to consider. Talk to as many counselors in a variety of fields as possible, especially fields you might want to go into, in order to gain a broader perspective of counseling.
- Volunteer or get an administrative position at a counseling center. Getting inside an actual counseling agency will give you the opportunity to observe the day-to-day activities of counselors. This will get you connected with more counselors to learn about the field as a whole. Plus, if you end up becoming a counselor, these insider connections can help you start to build your network.
- Learn about counseling requirements. Counselors have licensure and certification processes to maintain in order to practice. Look into what it takes in your state to complete a counseling program and the licensure exam. This will show you a lot about the level of investment you will need to make.
- Read current literature on counseling. If you choose to enter a graduate counseling program, you will read all about counseling and therapy as part of the curriculum. But you don’t have to wait until then. Reading up on current research and the process of building the counselor-counselee relationship will help you determine if this is the kind of work you’re built for. A great place to start is with resources from the ACA and the AACC.
Counseling is a big task, but if you’re called to it, it can be a challenging and satisfying career. A graduate counseling program can provide you with the skills and experience you need to help well.