Why Professional Counseling?
Professional Counseling Role, Beliefs and Motivations
Sara M. Rice
Throughout history, the world of psychology has evolved to not only fit the advancing scientific community, but also to meet the needs of the mentally ill and the less fortunate. Whether it is from working on the daily struggles of life or depression, the world of psychology has given way to the professional counselor. Differing from that of a psychiatrist or psychologist, a professional counselor is becoming more accessible for those who are looking for someone to help with depression or work through daily stress and anxiety. In an effort to better understand the role of the professional counselor, one has to understand the role through personal goals as well as religious and spiritual beliefs and how the counselor incorporates these into his or her practice. Furthermore, there is an importance on the offering of such a class as Orientation to Professional Counselor Identity and Function and how it helps to shape the outlook of the future counselor and aids in setting them on the correct path. This information and more like it will be discussed throughout the research to follow and how it connects to one specific point-of-view.
Professional Counseling Roles and Beliefs
The professional counselor is becoming more and more important within the world of psychology as well as within the world of the helping professional. One might consider the role of counselor to be more easily accessible due to society’s current use of the name in such titles as debt counselor or school counselor. In contrast, it seems that quite often there is a disconnect between psychiatrist, psychologist and the outside world. Moreover, they seem to deal with more serious mental disorders like Schizophrenia or Multiple Personality Disorders, issues that appear too far removed from the daily struggles of life, thus enters the professional counselor. Even the term “therapist” seems to stir up shame as the stigma of mental health often does, but the term counselor still remains different from that of a psychiatrist, social worker, pastoral counselor or psychologist. The following research will give insight on the difference between the aforementioned health care professions and delve into other attributes, characteristics, motivations as well as religious or spiritual beliefs in comparison to professional counselors. Included within this information is my personal outlook on professional counseling in regards to professionalism, motivation towards the profession as well as the role that spirituality plays on both the professional and personal world of being a counselor. Lastly, taking the first step down any career path can be daunting, often rather intimidating especially when there are so many unknowns and regulations. Classes that aid in the learning of pertinent new information have become vital in higher education as many students are required to take orientation classes to better acclimate themselves to either college life all together or one’s specific degree. These particular types of classes can inform a student on the basics of his or her degree requirements as well school policy and much more information such as career requirements. As previously mentioned, questions and bullet points my personal point-of-view and how they reflect my personality. Furthermore, I will explore my motivation in becoming a professional counselor and how my struggles and successes have altered my career goals as well as how the Lord continues to work though me on a daily basis.
The Professional Counselor’s Role
First and foremost, there is an importance in understanding the role of a Professional counselor. Without this understanding, one cannot make a full determination on if they would like to venture into this particular career. Counseling can be a demanding career; one has to be fully prepared to take on the demands that listening, processing, and receiving information entails. Professional counseling differs from other roles within the mental health field. They may they share a common thread, but they also differ in requirements as well as methodology in working with each of his or her clients. For instance, social work deals with clients on a “welfare” type basis, in that they work to better a person’s life through community resources. They work to make sure a client has stability and can even assist in finding a proper mental health professional or institution should the need arise. Though they care for the clients overall well-being, they do not “counsel” clients as a counselor or psychologist might. Other mental health professions include pastoral counseling, where there is an intended use of scripture and prayer in resolving problems that may include divorce, adultery or anger issues. Though a counselor can have roots within his or her faith, it is atypical for a counselor to being with a faith based understanding or to pull in one’s professed faith into the counseling session. A professional counselor works with individuals or families with marital, family, behavioral issues as well as other disorders and make up the largest group of those working within the mental health field (American Counseling Association, 2011). Though psychologists are similar, LPC require a master’s degree, passing of a national or regional exam as well as license to work in his or her designated field, as opposed to the psychologist’s doctoral degree and other various requirements. Professional counselors are easily accessible and over a wide array of specialties from addiction, marriage and family therapy and the diagnosis and treatment of disorders such as depression (American Counseling Association, 2011).
Nearly six years ago, I made the decision to become a counselor. I did not know what all of this entailed, but I knew I wanted to help others through similar situations as I had been in. My husband was serving in the United States military and at age 22, I found myself in a new state away from my family as well as taking care of a household while my husband was deployed. Add on top of that, my husband and I had only been married a little over a year when he was deployed and our children ranged in age from eight months to two years. These types of experiences are my motivation for becoming a professional counselor and to work within the military family system. I have learned how to take my real world experiences, not only through being an Army wife but others as well, and put them into a more professional package. Though I desire to work with families and marriage therapy, I also find an intense interest in working with individuals with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) as this is evolving into an immense hindrance on marriage and the military family. While I have not dealt with PTSD in my family, I have connection to those who have as well as an understanding of what military life and deployment can do to a family system. With this in mind, I know I will gain a better understanding of humanity in general and have thus far in my education learned to forgive, remain honest, keep an open mind professional and personally. My faith plays a big role in the decisions that I make and I firmly believe that I am completing the Lord’s work by entering into the field of professional counseling. I continue to feel satisfaction not only because I have the capacity to help others, but because I am continuing on the path created for me.
Due to my motivations and knowledge of where I want to fit in the counseling niche, I am on the correct path to finding my “identity” as a professional counselor. This concept empties into the realm of professionalism because without an identity, one cannot be sure of which direction to take themselves or their clients. Professionalism includes the way one dresses, communicates, identifies themselves in not only the professional setting, but in one’s personal life as well. Following ethical codes are not only meant for consistent across the board, but for an overall sense of integrity also. Another ethical consideration is balancing the role of being a helping friend or family member and when the parameters are being preached and boundaries must be set. Just as doctors cannot treat family members, as it is a conflict of interest, nor should counselors treat his or her loved ones. Furthermore, professionalism is displayed through various organizations including, but not limited to the groups listed under the American Counseling Association. To me, access to these groups not only proves to be a professional highlight, but also a great tool for gaining additional information on such things as furthering one’s education. The old saying goes; “you learn something new every day” is not only a cliché, but true. We are never too old to learn and professional organizations aid in continuing educations through seminars but can also keep us abreast of the work of our peers. Lastly, as in my case, federal recognition is also a necessary aspect of my own professional outlook. Shawn L. Spurgeon (2012) highlights the recent addition of rules, regulations and guidelines to becoming a mental health care provider under TRICARE, the military insurance provider (Spurgeon, 2012, p. 10). Per the aforementioned information, I am looking to work with military families and individuals throughout my career and without the cooperation of the federal government this might prove difficult if there is a lack of insurance cooperation. To me, professionalism is a representation of who you are as an individual and how you conduct yourself, which means with poise, empathy, honesty, desire for knowledge, knowing when to defer to someone else, and above all, a strong sense-of-self (identity).
Religious/Spiritual Beliefs and Counseling
Another aspect to remain professional is the understanding of one’s faith in context to a client’s worldview and personal beliefs. For me, my faith has not always been important. Growing up, we went to church and both my parents were Christians, but it was more like a normalcy as opposed to a feeling or a belief system. It was what I knew growing up, and it was not until I had my own children that I began to understand and truly believe and give myself to the Lord. He has helped me through numerous circumstances and situations. I use the Bible as a guideline for what I know to be right or wrong throughout my life. Jesus turned the other cheek when he was wronged and so I should do the same. The Lord would give and give until every fiber of His belonging was gone, and so I should do the same when people are in need. I struggle sometimes with what I should do right throughout my life, but using the Lord’s word as a guideline has helped many times. It has created a sense of relief because I know ultimately, the only one I have to answer to is God. I only need to be kind, empathetic, honest and allow for my mind to remain open and reserve judgment of others. Even so, I would find it most difficult to work with same-sex relationships. I cannot hate anyone or treat them unjust or cruel, but my faith teaches me this is wrong, but my faith also teaches me to be tolerant of others. I would be sure to treat someone kind, but I would have to step back from these types of situations because of the intense inner struggle of how to handle this in a counseling setting. I often state that I do not have to be okay or agree with homosexuality, but per the Lord, I do have to be kind and continue to love no matter what I believe.
In regards to weaving my faith into my practice, and how I should best represent myself, I will remain discreet. Morrison, Clutter, Pritchett, and Demmit (2009) in their article titled, “Perception of Clients and Counseling Professionals Regarding Spirituality in Counseling”, research the matter of tackling faith within context to counseling. They found, through the Gallup poll, that many of those going into counseling desire someone who hold the same “values and beliefs” that they do (Morrison, Clutter, Pritchett, & Demmit, 2009, p.183). My personal views and beliefs will not so much be represented in the overt use of scripture or other references, but through my behavior. If I am asked about my religious beliefs then I will remain honest, but also work to make sure that my beliefs are not the center of attention. Some may argue that matters of God are matters of the clergy or theologians and not the therapist (p. 184). However, matters of God will find a way into the lives of clients, so I feel it is germane that professional counselors learn how to deal with these types of situations and be aware of his or her own beliefs. To me, classes should be offered on this particular topic and the American Psychological Association as well as the ACA agrees as they have already recognized the importance of faith based issues (p. 185). Clients want their counselors to take in consideration all matters that could be affecting them thus the importance of faith in counseling and the importance of knowing one’s own faith based identity. An understanding can only take someone so far, if a client can sense the weakness in their counselor’s faith or imposing nature, it could stunt or inversely affect a client’s progress or cause them to find a new counselor.
Course Experience and Summary
It is amazing the amount of information that I gathered from this class and how much more work I have yet to do. There is not one specific piece of information that stands out in mind as the most important or the piece of information that I will carry with me throughout my career. However, I did find the definition breakdown of a professional counselor very interesting. Often times, when I tell others that I am working to obtain my degree in professional counseling, I am immediately asked, “oh, in a high school or something?” No, not in a high school at all, as I am not working to be a “school counselor”, but a professional counselor whose career is multi-faceted and helps those with various issues from PTSD, military marriages, and depression. I learned that I am meant to be in the helping field and ate up all the information I could from our textbook, “A Brief Orientation to Counseling: Professional Identity, History, and Standards” by Ed Neukrug. Specifically, I liked the breakdown of the other helping professions as far as the definitions, associations, and accreditations and how they contrasted or compared to my career path. A counselor’s training can be broad yet specialized at the same time. As a counselor find’s his or her own identity, they will take all the education they have learned from individual, group, and family counseling as well as when one’s knowledge in psychotherapy is limited and a proper referral is necessary (Neukrug, 2012, p. 6).
With all my new found information, I can certainly say that I am meant to be in this career. Through all the steps including credentialing and education as well as the lives that will be in my hands, it is no wonder I feel intimidated. My values fit for being a counselor because I treat others as I would like to be treated, with an open and honest mind. I do not want to live my life being judge and I want the same for my clients. In regards to honesty, just as I would like others to be honest with me, I intend to be tactfully honest with my clients as well. My personality traits set me up to be compassionate, but not too involved and to understand when I am low emotionally or physically, and should work on myself. Above all, I value my relationship with the Lord and when He tells me to move on from my current path then I will do so. I believe He has set me up to have a genuine concern and positive regard of others, to be able to cut through facades that hide the roots of one’s problems. Nevertheless, I pray that I do right by others and overall, by the Lord in my endeavor into the counseling field.
This particular term has been both exhilarating and intimidating as I begin my journey as a graduate student. I am thrilled to be focusing on my chosen career path, but certainly very intimidate when the prospect of failure pokes its ugly head up from time to time. For me, professional counseling offers up the opportunity to help different individuals faced with various circumstances. In comparison to other helping professions, I feel best at home on my current career path. As mentioned throughout my personality and professional reflection, I have different motivations for becoming a professional counselor, a few of which includes my life experiences and spiritual beliefs. With orientation classes and the proper text, I will be able to harness my passion and move in the right direction.
Morrison, J.Q., Clutter, S.M., Pritchett, E.M., & Demmitt, A. (2009). Perceptions of clients and
counseling professionals regarding spirituality in counseling. Counseling and Values, 53,
Neukrug, E. (2014). A brief orientation to counseling: Professional identity, history, and
standards. Belmont, CA: Brooks/Cole
Spurgeon, S.L. (2012). Counselor identity: National imperative. Journal of Professional
Counseling: Practice, Theory and Research, 39 (1), 3-16.
Who are licensed professional counselors. (2011). Retrieved September 30, 2013, from