A Comprehensive Guide to the Different Career Pathways in Counseling

Whether you have just graduated with a psychology degree from a reputable college or university, are still in your first year as a fresher, or else are only now starting to consider moving back into education to pursue a career as a counselor, then you have certainly come to the right place.

To find out more about counseling as a vocation, continue reading for a comprehensive guide to the different career pathways in counseling.

What Exactly is Professional Counseling?

Essentially, people enlist a counselor’s help, advice, services and guidance of a counselor for a number of different reasons. So, a professional relationship between the counselor and the client is born, cultivated, and developed over time.

Apart from a few exceptions, individuals choose to go and make an appointment with a counselor when they need help and guidance to manage a specific issue or problem, and this decision is the first move to getting better.

Skills Required to Become a Counselor

As with any other career choice, particularly one centered around psychology, mental well-being and dealing with sensitive and personal information, there are a certain set of personality attributes and key skills required for a successful counseling career.

These include the following fundamental skillsets, all of which will be of great benefit should you want to pursue such a career:

1. A Strong Ethical & Moral Compass

First and foremost, to be an ethical counselor, you must have your own set of morals and ethics, which you naturally and automatically apply to your professional work, as well as your personal life and relationships as well.

A solid code of ethics is needed to ensure the well-being and overall safety of every client. It is essential to remember that the words, tone and phrases you use will all impact the individual psychologically, so use them wisely.

2. A Certain Level of Emotional Stability

Obviously, not everyone who decides to become a professional counselor is walking around in a permanent state of euphoria.

However, it is worth noting that, in order to objectively and ultimately successfully help and guide an individual through their own issues and problems, you must be able to handle the emotional turmoil and stress that the client is dealing with in a calm manner.

3. Strong Observation Skills

Another key pre-requisite of someone who is intent on becoming a counselor, regardless of the specific field of counseling in which they are entering, is that their skills at observation are frankly second to none.

When diagnosing and helping a client work through the issue, or indeed issues, which are troubling them, you should not only be able to use verbal clues and hidden contexts in what they are saying but also to observe their body language and facial expressions and interpret accordingly.

4. An Open Mind

As previously mentioned, in the vast majority of cases, the clients you will see have chosen themselves to make an appointment; however, in the case of, for example, people who have been released from prison and have to see a counselor as part of their bail conditions, an open mind is a necessity.

Whether or not you, in your personal life, have particularly strong views and opinions on certain subjects or not, it is absolutely vital to be able to put such ideas aside and concentrate fully on the client.

5. Patience, Patience & Patience

It can often be incredibly frustrating when you can see a clear path to helping your client to start on their path to getting better, and they just don’t seem to see it themselves.

This is a common theme amongst not just counselors and their clients but also psychiatrists and psychologists as well, and that is why a substantial degree of patience is needed at all times.

6. Compassion & Empathy

Finally and arguably, most importantly of all, a strong level of empathy and compassion are both needed in order to genuinely and professionally help and guide your client to reaching their goals, hitting their targets, beating depression, getting a hold of their anxiety or whatever else they have come to see you for.

A natural desire to help other people and an automatic sympathy and feeling of empathy will help you to be able to see the client’s issues and problems from their point of view, which will, in turn, help you to help them.

The Main Types of Counseling & Their Main Purposes

Now you are familiar with some of the key skillsets and personality attributes that are necessary for a long and successful career as a counselor, it is now time to look into the main types of counseling in terms of different careers and each type of counseling’s main underlying purpose for the client.

1. School Counselor

A school counselor is a professional career pathway that has seen a great deal of change in recent years and as a result of mental health issues finally becoming more prominent, this particular counseling role is much more at the forefront now than ever before.

The fundamental roles of a school counselor include the implementation of school programs to combat certain issues, such as bullying and substance abuse, and helping and guiding individual students in the progression and development of their academic and career targets and goals.

School counselors are also involved with conducting regular assessments both on individual students and the school as a whole in terms of interests, strengths, and weaknesses in terms of social interactions and student levels of contentment and satisfaction.

Often, school counselors who have been working in the field for some time are also assigned the task of mediating between different relationships for the students; those of students and their parents and students and their teachers.

2. Mental Health Counselor

Mental health counseling is simultaneously the most challenging and emotionally draining, at times, type of career in counseling, yet also the most rewarding.

Mental health counselors work in a wide variety of different locations and settings and work with people of all ages and from different proverbial walks of life.

Typical roles and responsibilities of a qualified mental health counselor include:

  • The provision of regular mental health assessments, referrals, intervention services, and counseling to individual clients in a confidential setting
  • Writing and sending reports to schools, the court, and other official agencies as and when necessary
  • Working together with other professionals in the field of psychiatry
  • The provision of a wide array of different mental health services in an outpatient setting
  • Maintaining official documentation in both an accurate and timely manner that all adhere to state and federal guidelines

3. Grief Counselor

The third main type of professional career pathway in counseling is that of the grief counselor. The aforementioned required pre-requisite of having a naturally strong level of emotional strength is even more pertinent.

Grief counselors, alternatively known as bereavement counselors, work with their clients to help them process the death of a loved one, whether the death was sudden and unexpected or else their loved one had a long and terminal illness.

Typical duties of a grief counselor involve the following:

  • Determining the individual needs of each client to develop a personalized treatment plan
  • Dealing with different types of grief, such as the loss of a child, divorce, miscarriage, and even the loss of a beloved pet
  • The facilitation of both group and individual therapy sessions
  • Closely monitoring the progress of their client and making timely and important adjustments to their customized treatment plans as they attend more counseling sessions
  • Working together with other medical professionals as well as talking to the family members and even close friends of the client as and when appropriate
  • Being a steady and sturdy psychological support

4. Marriage Guidance Counselor

Finally, and perhaps the most recognized job title within the professional field of counseling, is the role of the marriage guidance counselor, which is a fascinating branch of counseling.

Marriage guidance counselors are responsible for helping and assisting couples in committed relationships to work through their differences and are often touted as the person who ‘saved the marriage’.

Typical duties and roles of a marriage guidance counselor include the provision of counseling sessions every week or more frequently to couples who are dealing with various issues that are affecting their relationship. Depending on the specific situation, they will develop individualized and appropriate treatment and action plans.

Marriage guidance counselors work together with other medical professionals if there is an additional issue that needs treatment, such as substance abuse or a mental health issue.

Other duties involve investigating their clients’ emotions and feelings regarding certain issues within the relationship as well as empowering both individuals, as well as the unified couple as a whole, to discover different ways of coping with their current situation as well as improving upon it.