Those who choose to take up a career in psychology can specialise in face to face interactions through counselling or take a more distant and observational role as a researcher.
Both halves of the same profession push forward the boundaries and common understanding of the human mind, but those who choose to specialise in talking through the common issues people struggle with on a daily basis can require more forethought and preparation than one might expect when it comes to working as a counselling psychologist.
To those brave few who take the struggling or the unsure under their care are a special breed with a need for patience and understanding of their field as well as a healthy working knowledge of how to analyse and break down problems from an outsider’s point of view.
Preparing to play the part of a shoulder to lean on while also solving problems requires extensive preparation and isn’t to be taken lightly, which is exactly what this list might help you prepare for.
1. Know the expectations of the field. – Some fields of psychology focus on the detached and clinical aspects of the human mind. Counselling requires almost daily interaction with patients and those who work in your field, necessitating some level of comfort with taking a more social role in the mental health field. For those with an aversion to helping strangers open up, a job in the medical side of psychology might be a wiser path to follow.
Those who choose to stick to the path will find social abilities to be almost as important as their psychological knowledge. Without being able to make others feel comfortable enough to be open and truthful, garnering positive results from a counselling session can be nearly impossible.
2. Pursue your bachelor’s degree. – Beginning with a degree in fields pertinent to your future field of study can be vital in ensuring you gain an understanding of what counselling will be like as a career path. Looking into psychology journals while pursuing a degree that revolves around psychology, sociology, and other pertinent fields might help keep you ahead of the curve when it comes to modern techniques and studies. (You might also be interested to see the world’s top universities for psychology in 2017.)
For additional experience, seek out a volunteer or internship position that accepts university students with a counselling angle. First-hand experience of the field and a history of interfacing with patients can only help you in the future.
3. Secure a doctorate. – Students looking to join the field of psychology are generally given an option between two fields of specialisation: becoming a Doctor of Philosophy in Psychology or a Doctor of Psychology itself. Between the two, those who choose to specialise in the the philosophy of psychology tend to work in the medical research side of the equation while doctors of psychology are trained to work in counselling environments with a specialisation in putting their knowledge to practical, real-world use.
4. Stay on top of continuing education. – Leaving university is hardly a mark of someone who has learned all they will ever learn. In the US, most states and employers require their psychologists and counsellors to undergo continuing education of a certain number of hours per year in addition to training and regulation updates as required by their area and board of overseers.
While the regulatory aspect of continuing one’s education might seem like a burden, remember that the act of being a counselling psychologist is more than just knowing how to interface with other people in a healthy manner.
Knowing how best to treat symptoms and guide troubled individuals through difficult periods of their lives can occasionally require techniques that have evolved through recent study. Again, this makes the act of following psychology journals an even more helpful pastime as it can help you familiarise yourself with training material before studying it in an educational setting.
5. Keep your counselling relationship strong. – Counseling isn’t a one-way street. Counsellors and patients enter a relationship that requires honesty, integrity, and empathy between the two, especially on the side of the psychologist, to best employ effective healing methods. If a patient’s trust is breached or if incorrect information is provided due to not feeling comfortable with one’s counsellor it is entirely possible to waste time that could be spent healing.
At its core, being a counselling psychologist is likely to be a difficult and occasionally draining task. Most people do not seek mental health assistance under the best circumstances. There will be days of stress and little progress. This is natural and to be expected.
Choosing to counsel means taking on the issues of those who are unable to solve them for themselves, making it a noble endeavour to anyone brave enough to put in the work necessary to become a clinical psychologist.
Amanda Wilks is a contributing author for School Choices and a motivational writer with a great interest in education and social activism. For as long as she can remember, Amanda has been fascinated by psychology. She strongly believes that in order to genuinely understand a person’s behaviour, before anything else one has to discover the motivation and reasoning behind their words and actions. Amanda thinks that psychology helps us gain a better understanding of the way people function as social beings. If you want to find out more about Amanda, connect with her on Twitter @AmandaWilks01