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How can I best prepare myself for working in the world of counseling?

Just graduated high school.
Going to major in psychology next academic year in university.

I am really interested in counseling and as I continue studying I will be able to figure out how to narrow down what kind of counseling I want my focus to be.
I want to be doing things outside of school that will also be helping me to prepare for the counseling world. Any suggestions?
Thank you!

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Annah’s Answer

Izabela, yay! We need more counselors in the world! Studying psychology is a start as you will learn about the history and research. As an undergrad you might look for volunteer or paid positions as a peer (student) counselor. Sometimes schools have anonymous hotlines for struggling students. You could consider working for a crisis line or other type of support hotline. Even working as an RA (if your program has this position for dormitory residents)- an RA is the touchpoint for other residents in the dorm and has a lot of interaction with individuals. It is also a leadership role. Counseling agencies sometimes hire administrative support- this is an entry level position where you can soak up the atmosphere and network. When you do look at graduate programs, as you will need an MA to be fully licensed, there are several ways to go. You might study clinical counseling, marriage and couples counseling, or child and family counseling. With all these programs you will get a greater understanding about what it means to be a counselor, counseling theory, and practice with clients. As an undergraduate you might think about whether you prefer working with adults, children/youth, or couples. Do you prefer one on one type interactions or find working with groups more stimulating? Couples work can be dynamic, but the therapist takes on a more direct role due to conflict that may arise. Family work is complex but very rewarding. Start experimenting with how different interactions feel for you and what you find most exciting. If you have never worked with children, maybe spend time with them. Volunteer or take a job at a preschool or public school. Simply getting to know a certain community or population will be useful and guide your choices later on as you progress through school. Studying counseling is as much about who you are as a person as it is about who you will be working with. You will be learning about your own behaviors, impulses, thought process, emotions, and generational influences. If you have never been in counseling as a client, begin meeting with someone or join a support group. It is critical to know what it is like from the client perspective. Many graduate programs require a certain number of therapy hours anyway. Also, something to consider is whether you have a special interest in expressive arts therapies or a specific therapy modality. Some graduate schools are eclectic- meaning they teach a variety of modalities, and others teach only one modality. As a counselor your learning will be life long, yet if you find yourself leaning in a certain direction it might be worth your while to attend a program that suits your immediate needs. My program was eclectic which I found stimulating at the time. I also studied art therapy- something I knew I wanted to do from the start. Since graduating I continue to train annually (as continuing education is necessary for state licensure); this has definitely influenced the way I practice. Give yourself time to explore and practice. You will find your way!
Thank you comment icon Thank you so much Annah! This was exactly the kind of insight and information I was looking for. Izabela
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Michelle’s Answer

Hello, Izabela !

Congratulations on recently graduating high school ! Yey !

Since you will begin your studies for Psychology, there are things you can do to obtain experience. My advice is to begin slowly and become familiar with the social service agencies in your location, most preferably through volunteer work. Keep in mind that it may be some time before you actually do counseling because you will need to know many things before you can start. But volunteer work in a social service agency or any non-clinical program would be ideal to begin with. Many internships connected to psychology are not on the internet so you can inquire about internships or volunteer work. Volunteering may be a quicker opportunity.

Your opportunities abound since you live in a major city. Chicago has a program called Wright Way Association that would be wonderful to volunteer at. You can volunteer there as someone who provides information and referral, assist people with housing and supportive services. The thing about internships is that if you ask about one, they may say no they do not offer one, but if you ask about volunteer work, organizations are always pleased to have extra helping hands. My advice is to focus on volunteer work and later on through college, you will learn about internships.

Also visit and inquire at the Bridge Teen Center and ask them if you can be a volunteer peer counselor. This could possibly be your first experience with counseling, but you must feel ready and comfortable and have a structured idea of how you will do it. Peer counseling is basically meeting with fellow teens and providing them the opportunity to discuss issues and receive support and feedback from you. It is not therapy.

It is excellent that you will take your path a step at a time and let your niche happen naturally. In this field, there is so much to learn, very diverse populations, age groups, and situational populations. It is always best to train with all populations and all issues.

The next time you apply for financial aid, choose the work study option. This will make it possible for you to get a work study job in the Psychology Department or the Student Services Center. It will be convenient for you to be able to work on campus and save time commuting to an off campus job.

Consider online courses for counseling. I have left some links for you below, but try to search for more free ones. The free courses in counseling I found are based in the UK, which would, in my opinion still be useful to take.

I think that you are approaching your preparation on the right track and you should do well and I think you will catch on fast. Keep your spirit, drive and motivation up and you will go far !

Best wishes in all you do !

Michelle recommends the following next steps:

WRIGHT WAY ASSOCIATION FOR VOLUNTEER WORK https://www.facebook.com/WrightWayAssociation/
LIST OF POSSIBLE AGENCIES AND PROGRAMS FOR VOLUNTEER WORK https://greatnonprofits.org/city/chicago/IL
THE BRIDGE TEEN CENTER IN CHICAGO FOR VOLUNTEER WORK https://thebridgeteencenter.org/about
ONLINE COUNSELING COURSES https://www.coursera.org/courses?query=counselling
THE OPEN UNIVERSITY FREE COURSES FULL CATALOG https://www.open.ac.uk/courses/careers/counselling
Thank you comment icon Thank you so much Michelle! This is amazingly helpful. Izabela
Thank you comment icon You are very welcome, Izabela ! Michelle M.
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James Constantine’s Answer

Hello Izabella,

To best prepare yourself for a career in counseling while studying psychology in college, consider the following suggestions:

Gain Practical Experience: Seek out opportunities to gain practical experience in counseling settings. This could include volunteering or interning at mental health clinics, schools, or community organizations. These experiences will provide you with valuable insights into the field and help you develop essential skills such as active listening, empathy, and communication.

Join Relevant Organizations: Get involved in student organizations related to counseling and psychology. These groups can offer networking opportunities, access to resources, and chances to attend workshops and conferences. Joining such organizations demonstrates your commitment to the field and can help you build a professional network.

Develop a Well-Rounded Knowledge Base: Expand your knowledge beyond your major by reading widely on various topics related to counseling and mental health. This could include books, academic articles, and reputable websites. A well-rounded understanding of the subject matter will make you a more effective counselor and enhance your credibility with clients.

Enhance Your Soft Skills: Counselors rely heavily on their interpersonal skills to connect with clients and facilitate positive change. Focus on developing soft skills like active listening, empathy, patience, cultural competence, and effective communication. These skills can be honed through extracurricular activities like group projects or leadership roles within student organizations.

Stay Informed About Current Trends: Keep up-to-date with current trends in counseling by attending workshops, webinars, or conferences offered by professional organizations or universities. Stay informed about evidence-based practices and emerging research in the field to ensure that your knowledge remains current and relevant.

Consider Pursuing Additional Certifications or Degrees: Depending on your career goals within counseling, you may choose to pursue additional certifications or degrees beyond your undergraduate degree in psychology. For example, you might consider obtaining a Master’s degree in
Counseling or Social Work or becoming certified in a specific area of expertise like substance abuse treatment or marriage and family therapy.

Network With Professionals: Connect with practicing counselors and mental health professionals through informational interviews or mentorship programs offered by your university or professional organizations. Building relationships with experienced professionals can provide valuable insights into the field and open doors for future job opportunities.**

Authoritative References Used:

American Psychological Association (APA) - Careers in Psychology (apa.org/education/gradprograms/careers/)
National Board for Certified Counselors (NBCC) - Career Development (nbcc.org/career-development/)
American Counseling Association (ACA) - Student Involvement (counseling.org/knowledge-center/student-involvement/)

God Bless You, Richly, JC.
Thank you comment icon Thank you so much for sharing this information, it is really helpful! Izabela
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Patrick’s Answer

Izabela, as you set off on your path towards a counseling career, starting with a psychology major, it's admirable that you're proactively seeking ways to equip yourself both scholastically and practically. To optimally prepare yourself for triumph in the counseling sphere, think about participating in extracurricular activities that foster pertinent skills and experience.

Offering your time at mental health institutions, crisis helplines, or community hubs can grant you invaluable firsthand experience and a glimpse into diverse counseling settings. Furthermore, pursuing internships or part-time roles in mental health services will provide practical knowledge and aid in establishing a professional network. Staying updated with the latest studies and methods in the field by attending workshops, seminars, and conferences on counseling and psychology is also beneficial.

Becoming a member of psychology clubs or societies at your university can present opportunities for peer assistance, mentorship, and career advancement. Additionally, honing your communication and empathetic listening abilities through activities like peer counseling or mentorship programs can be extremely advantageous.

Izabela, it's important to realize that by diving into these experiences, you will attain a profound comprehension of the counseling profession and be more capable of pinpointing your unique area of interest within the discipline.
Thank you comment icon I appreciate you taking the time to answer this. Thank you for your insight! Izabela
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