WHAT IS COUNSELING?
There are as many helping professions as there are ways to help people in need, such as social work, human services, marriage and family therapy, psychology, psychiatry, nursing, coaching, counseling ... the list goes on and on. So how is counseling different from the other helping professions? What exactly is counseling anyway? Counseling is unique in its developmental approach to the individual challenges and life circumstances that people face. The American Counseling Association (ACA) offers an official definition: "Counseling is a professional relationship that empowers diverse individuals, families, and groups to accomplish mental health, wellness, education, and career goals” (Kaplan, Tarvydas, & Gladding, 2014, p. 368).
The counseling profession is relatively young compared to other helping professions such as social work and psychology. Even in its youth, counseling is one of the fastest growing helping professions. According to a recent study by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, which provide information about insurance reimbursement for healthcare services, counselors comprise 37% of all helping professionals, the largest of all professional groups that include social workers, psychologists, psychiatrists, and marriage and family therapists. Chapter 2 will provide a more thorough perspective on the history of the counseling profession and its evolution to what it is today. But, for the purpose of this introduction, try to picture yourself 3, 5, and even 20 years from now as a counselor. Who is sitting with you? What are you saying and discussing? Where is your work taking place? These are some of the defining points of counseling as a distinct profession and how you can make sure that this is the right decision for you. As a counselor you can work with many types of individuals in multiple settings. Counselors help individuals, groups, and families with a broad spectrum of issues. Sometimes counselors reach out to students in a school to help them manage social challenges such as bullying and making friends or with career decision-making for life after formal education. Counselors can also be found in community and clinical mental health settings, such as agencies, hospitals, and treatment facilities, where they serve clients struggling with a wide variety of issues like substance abuse/addictions, eating disorders, depression, and other conditions that adversely affect mental health and overall wellness. Regardless of the setting and specific issues, counselors help by considering the developmental and social context of the individual. This includes a holistic and wellness orientation that considers the capacities that a person has to manage challenges and look at ways to work through them in the future. Your graduate studies will teach you strategies for working with this orientation and applying principles to the populations and settings that you choose.
Counseling is a rewarding profession, and also a challenging one. You are privileged to see the innermost feelings and thoughts of the people you will help. You are empowered to help individuals identify the real and perceived challenges they are struggling with, and then work with them to find solutions to these challenges (without giving advice). With these great opportunities also come challenges in making sure that you are not taking on too much of your clients’ struggles as your own and taking your work home with you. Later in the book we will discuss professional selfcare: strategies that students and counselors use to take care of themselves and make sure they are able to provide quality services and avoid burnout. Most importantly, we want to make sure that you are entering a profession that is consistent with how you see yourself, at least philosophically at this point, working with people who seek counseling.