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Counselors assist people with personal, family, social, educational, mental health, and career decisions, problems, and concerns. Their duties depend on the individuals they serve and the settings in which they work.
School and college counselorswho work at the elementary, middle, secondary, and postsecondary school levels-help students understand their abilities, interests, talents, and personality characteristics so that the student can develop realistic academic and career options. Counselors use interviews, counseling sessions, tests, or other tools when evaluating and advising students. They may operate career information centers and career education programs. High school counselors advise on college majors, admission requirements, entrance exams, and financial aid, and on trade, technical school, and apprenticeship programs. They help students develop jobfinding skills such as resume writing and interviewing techniques. College career planning and placement counselors may assist alumni or students with career development and job hunting techniques.
Counselors also help students understand and deal with their social, behavioral, and personal problems. They emphasize preventive and developmental counseling to provide students with the life skills needed to deal with problems before they occur, and to enhance personal, social, and academic growth. Counselors provide special services, including alcohol and drug prevention programs, and classes that teach students to handle conflicts without resorting to violence. Counselors also try to identify cases involving domestic abuse and other family problems that can affect a student's development.
Counselors work with students individually, in small groups, or with entire classes. Counselors consult and work with parents, teachers, school administrators, school psychologists, school nurses, and social workers. Elementary school counselors do more social and personal counseling, and less vocational and academic counseling than secondary school counselors. They observe younger children during classroom and play activities and confer with their teachers and parents to evaluate their strengths, problems, or special needs. They also help students develop good study habits.
Rehabilitation counselors help persons deal with the personal, social, and vocational effects of their disabilities. They may counsel people with disabilities resulting from birth defects, illness or disease, accidents, or the stress of daily life. They evaluate the strengths and limitations of individuals, provide personal and vocational counseling, and may arrange for medical care, vocational training, and job placement. Rehabilitation counselors interview individuals with disabilities and their families, evaluate school and medical reports, and confer and plan with physicians, psychologists, occupational therapists, and employers to determine the capabilities and skills of the individual. Conferring with the client, they develop and implement a rehabilitation program, which may include training to help the person become more independent and employable. They also work toward increasing the client's capacity to adjust and live independently.
Employment counselors help individuals make wise career decisions. They help clients explore and evaluate their education, training, work history, interests, skills, personal traits, and physical capacities, and may arrange for aptitude and achievement tests. They also work with individuals in developing jobseeking skills and assist clients in locating and applying for jobs.
Mental health counselors emphasize prevention and work with individuals and groups to promote optimum mental health. They help individuals deal with addictions and substance abuse, family, parenting, and marital problems, suicide, stress management, problems with self-esteem, issues associated with aging, job and career concerns, educational decisions, and issues of mental and emotional health. Mental health counselors work closely with other mental health specialists, including psychiatrists, psychologists, clinical social workers, psychiatric nurses, and school counselors. (See the statements on psychologists and social workers elsewhere in the Handbook.)
Counselors can specialize in a particular area, such as marriage and family, multicultural, and gerontological counseling. A gerontological counselor may provide services to elderly persons who face changing lifestyles due to health problems, as well as help families cope with these changes. A multicultural counselor might help employers adjust to an increasingly diverse workforce.
Most school counselors work the traditional 9- to 10-month school year with a 2- to 3-month vacation, although an increasing number are employed on 10 1/2- or 11- month contracts. They generally have the same hours as teachers.
Rehabilitation and employment counselors generally work a standard 40- hour week. Self-employed counselors and those working in mental health and community agencies often work evenings to counsel clients who work during the day. College career planning and placement counselors may work long and irregular hours during recruiting periods.
Counselors must possess high physical and emotional energy to handle the array of problems they must address. Dealing with these day to day problems can cause stress and emotional burnout.
Since privacy is essential for confidential and frank discussions with clients, counselors usually have private offices.
Counselors held about 165,000 jobs in 1994. About 7 out of 10 were school counselors.
In addition to elementary and secondary schools and colleges and universities, counselors worked in a wide variety of public and private establishments. These include health care facilities; job training, career development, and vocational rehabilitation centers; social agencies; correctional institutions; and residential care facilities, such as halfway houses for criminal offenders and group homes for children, the aged, and the disabled. Counselors also worked in organizations engaged in community improvement and social change, as well as drug and alcohol rehabilitation programs and State and local government agencies. A growing number of counselors work in health maintenance organizations, insurance companies, group practice, and private practice. This growth has been spurred by laws allowing counselors to receive payments from insurance companies, and requiring employers to provide rehabilitation and counseling services to employees.
Generally, counselors have a master's degree in college student affairs, elementary or secondary school counseling, education, gerontological counseling, marriage and family counseling, substance abuse counseling, rehabilitation counseling, agency or community counseling, clinical mental health counseling, counseling psychology, career counseling, or a related field.
Graduate level counselor education programs in colleges and universities usually are in departments of education or psychology. Courses are grouped into eight core areas: Human growth and development; social and cultural foundations; helping relationships; groups; lifestyle and career development; appraisal; research and evaluation; and professional orientation. In an accredited program, 48 to 60 semester hours of graduate study, including a period of supervised clinical experience in counseling, are required for a master's degree. In 1995, the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP) accredited 105 graduate counseling programs in counselor education, and in career, community, gerontological, mental health, school, student affairs, and marriage and family counseling.
In 1995, 41 States and the District of Columbia had some form of counselor credentialing legislation, licensure, certification, or registry for practice outside schools. Requirements vary from State to State. In some States, credentialing is mandatory; in others, voluntary.
Many counselors elect to be nationally certified by the National Board for Certified Counselors (NBCC), which grants the general practice credential, "National Certified Counselor." To be certified, a counselor must hold a master's degree in counseling from a regionally accredited institution, have at least 2 years of supervised professional counseling experience, and pass NBCC's National Counselor Examination for Licensure and Certification. This national certification is voluntary and distinct from State certification. However, in some States those who pass the national exam are exempt from taking a State certification exam. NBCC also offers specialty certification in career, gerontological, school, clinical mental health, and addictions counseling. To maintain their certification, counselors must complete 100 hours of acceptable continuing education credit every 5 years.
All States require school counselors to hold State school counseling certification; however, certification varies from State to State. Some States require public school counselors to have both counseling and teaching certificates. Depending on the State, a master's degree in counseling and 2 to 5 years of teaching experience may be required for a counseling certificate.
Vocational and related rehabilitation agencies generally require a master's degree in rehabilitation counseling, counseling and guidance, or counseling psychology for rehabilitation counselor jobs. Some, however, may accept applicants with a bachelor's degree in rehabilitation services, counseling, psychology, sociology, or related fields. A bachelor's degree may qualify a person to work as a counseling aide, rehabilitation aide, or social service worker. Experience in employment counseling, job development, psychology, education, or social work may be helpful.
The Council on Rehabilitation Education (CORE) accredits graduate programs in rehabilitation counseling. A minimum of 2 years of study-including 600 hours of supervised clinical internship experience-are required for the master's degree.
In most State vocational rehabilitation agencies, applicants must pass a written examination and be evaluated by a board of examiners to obtain licensure. In addition, many employers require rehabilitation counselors to be nationally certified. To become certified by the Commission on Rehabilitation Counselor Certification, counselors must graduate from an accredited educational program, complete an internship, and pass a written examination. They are then designated as "Certified Rehabilitation Counselors." To maintain their certification, counselors must complete 100 hours of acceptable continuing education credit every 5 years.
Some States require counselors in public employment offices to have a master's degree; others accept a bachelor's degree with appropriate counseling courses.
Clinical mental health counselors generally have a master's degree in mental health counseling, another area of counseling, or in psychology or social work. They are voluntarily certified by the National Board for Certified Counselors. Generally, to receive certification as a clinical mental health counselor, a counselor must have a master's degree in counseling, 2 years of post- master's experience, a period of supervised clinical experience, a taped sample of clinical work, and a passing grade on a written examination.
Some employers provide training for newly hired counselors. Many have work-study programs so that employed counselors can earn graduate degrees. Counselors must participate in graduate studies, workshops, institutes, and personal studies to maintain their certificates and licenses.
Persons interested in counseling should have a strong interest in helping others and the ability to inspire respect, trust, and confidence. They should be able to work independently or as part of a team. Counselors follow the code of ethics associated with their respective certifications and licenses.
Prospects for advancement vary by counseling field. School counselors may move to a larger school; become directors or supervisors of counseling, guidance, or pupil personnel services; or, usually with further graduate education, become counselor educators, counseling psychologists, or school administrators. (See the statements on psychologists and education administrators elsewhere in the Handbook.) Some counselors also may advance to work at the State department of education.
Rehabilitation, mental health, and employment counselors may become supervisors or administrators in their agencies. Some counselors move into research, consulting, or college teaching, or go into private or group practice.
Overall employment of counselors is expected to grow faster than the average for all occupations through the year 2005. In addition, replacement needs should increase significantly as a large number of counselors reach retirement age.
Employment of school counselors is expected to grow as a result of increasing enrollments, particularly in secondary schools, State legislation requiring counselors in elementary schools, and the expanded responsibilities of counselors. Counselors increasingly are becoming involved in crisis and preventive counseling, helping students deal with issues ranging from drug and alcohol abuse to death and suicide. Despite the increasing use of counselors, however, employment growth may be dampened by budgetary constraints-some counselors serve more than one school. Also, counselor positions are usually cut before teacher positions when funding is tight.
Rehabilitation and mental health counselors should be in strong demand. Under managed care systems, insurance companies increasingly provide for reimbursement of counselors, enabling many counselors to move from schools and government agencies to private practice. Counselors are also forming group practices to receive expanded insurance coverage. The number of people who need rehabilitation services will rise as advances in medical technology continue to save lives that only a few years ago would have been lost. In addition, legislation requiring equal employment rights for persons with disabilites will spur demand for counselors. Counselors not only will help individuals with disabilities with their transition into the work force, but also will help companies comply with the law. An increasing number of employers are also offering employee assistance programs which provide mental health and alcohol and drug abuse services. More rehabilitation and mental health counselors will be needed as the elderly population grows, and as society focuses on ways of developing mental well-being, such as controlling stress associated with job and family responsibilities.
Similar to other government jobs, the number of employment counselors, who work primarily for State and local government, could be limited by budgetary constraints. Opportunities for employment counselors working in private job training services, however, should grow as counselors provide skill training and other services to a growing number of laid-off workers, experienced workers seeking a new or second career, full-time homemakers seeking to enter or reenter the work force, and workers who want to upgrade their skills.
Median earnings for full-time educational and vocational counselors were about $36,100 a year in 1994. The middle 50 percent earned between $26,500 and $46,200 a year. The bottom 10 percent earned less than $20,000 a year, while the top 10 percent earned over $50,000 a year.
According to the Educational Research Service, the average salary of public school counselors in the 1994-95 academic year was about $42,500. Many school counselors are compensated on the same pay scale as teachers. School counselors can earn additional income working summers in the school system or in other jobs.
Self-employed counselors who have well-established practices, as well as counselors employed in group practices, generally have the highest earnings, as do some counselors working for private firms, such as insurance companies and private rehabilitation companies.
Counselors help people evaluate their interests, abilities, and disabilities, and deal with personal, social, academic, and career problems. Others who help people in similar ways include college and student personnel workers, teachers, personnel workers and managers, human services workers, social workers, psychologists, psychiatrists, members of the clergy, occupational therapists, training and employee development specialists, and equal employment opportunity/affirmative action specialists.
For general information about counseling, as well as information on specialties such as school, college, mental health, rehabilitation, multicultural, career, marriage and family, and gerontological counseling, contact:
American Counseling Association, 5999 Stevenson Ave., Alexandria, VA 22304.
For information on accredited counseling and related training programs, contact:
Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs, American Counseling Association, 5999 Stevenson Ave., Alexandria, VA 22304.
For information on national certification requirements for counselors, contact:
National Board for Certified Counselors, 3 Terrace Way, Suite D, Greensboro, NC 27403.
For information about rehabilitation counseling, contact:
National Rehabilitation Counseling Association, 1910 Association Dr., Reston, VA 22091.
National Council on Rehabilitation Education, Department of Special Education, Utah State University, Logan, UT 84322-2870.
For information on certification requirements for rehabilitation counselors and a list of accredited rehabilitation education programs, contact:
Council on Rehabilitation Counselor Certification, 1835 Rohlwing Rd., Suite E, Rolling Meadows, IL 60008.
For general information about school counselors, contact:
American School Counselor Association, 5999 Stevenson Ave., Alexandria, VA 22304.
State departments of education can supply information on colleges and universities that offer approved guidance and counseling training for State certification and licensure requirements.
State employment service offices have information about job opportunities and entrance requirements for counselors.
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