Counseling is a unique profession requiring a particular set of qualities. Do you have what it takes?
In order to be successful, all counselors need to have the following qualities:
- Comfort with ambiguity. Many times, as counselors we cannot clearly see the results of our work. For example, counseling “results” are often biased or slanted because they are usually presented via client self-report, clients sometimes don’t return for that final session that provides closure, and occasionally, clients will lie. Therefore, you have to be comfortable in situations where you won’t always have all of the facts.
- Empathetic. Although this quality may seem obvious, counselors need to have a particular kind of empathy. A good counselor must balance empathy with accountability. Simply feeling sorry for clients isn’t enough; a good counselor must also hold clients accountable for their actions. We are there to help them grow–we are not friends who side with them against the world.
- Good boundaries. Counseling is a profession that has a higher risk for burnout. Therefore, if you are a person who has trouble defining boundaries and maintaining boundaries, your counseling years are limited. A counselor with good boundaries:
a. Understands his or her limitations, and is able to say “no” when necessary in a firm, but kind, way.
b. Knows where his or her responsibility for the change process ends and where the clients’ begins.
c. Establishes policies and procedures, and applies them consistently. For example, not allowing sessions to routinely exceed the pre-established time, since clients will sit and talk to you forever if you allow them to.
- Believes in the capacity for change. Good counselors believe that people can, and do, change, and provide optimism and hope when there is none. However, good counselors are not blindly optimistic. Rather, they are realistic about the change process and are able to help the client set attainable goals.
Some of these qualities can (and will) be enhanced during your education and practicums. However, these are important considerations for anyone thinking of entering the counseling field.
Yours in the Joy of Knowledge,