Guidance and Counseling

Definition of Guidance

Guidance is a kind of advice or help given to the individual’s especially students, on matters like choosing a course of study or career, work or preparing for vocation, from a person who is superior in the respective field or an expert. It is the process of guiding, supervising or directing a person for a particular course of action.

The process aims at making students or individuals aware of the rightness or wrongness of their choices and importance of their decision, on which their future depends. It is a service that assists students in selecting the most appropriate course for them, to discover and develop their psychological and educational abilities and ambitions. Guidance results in self-development and helps a person to plan his present and future wisely.

Definition of Counseling

The term counseling is defined as a talking therapy, in which a person (client) discusses freely his/her problems and share feelings, with the counselor, who advises or helps the client in dealing with the problems. It aims at discussing those problems which are related to personal or socio- psychological issues, causing emotional pain or mental instability that makes you feel uneasy. The counselor listens the problems of the client with empathy and discusses it, in a confidential environment. It is not a one day process, but there are many sessions.

Counseling is not just giving advice or making a judgement, but helping the client to see clearly the root of problems and identify the potential solutions to the issues. The counselor also changes the viewpoint of the client, to help him take the right decision or choose a course of action. It will also help the client to remain intuitive and positive in the future.

Difference Between Guidance and Counseling

While in guidance the focus is made on listening to the problem, on which ready-made solution is given by the expert. Counseling aims at discussing and understanding the problem, advising and empowering him to take a decision concerning his/her career or life goals in one-to-one sessions.

Psychology is a discipline that studies human behaviour and mind. It attempts to ask questions about the reason behind an individual’s behaviour and thinking. Two important concepts of psychology, which people do not easily discern are guidance and counseling because both seek to find out the solutions for problems and works for human development. Learning the differences between guidance and counseling might help you in choosing the right method for you.

Key Differences Between Guidance and Counseling

The significant differences between guidance and counseling are given in the following points:

  1. Advice or a relevant piece of information given by a superior, to resolve a problem or overcome from difficulty, is known as guidance. Counseling refers to a professional advice given by a counselor to an individual to help him in overcoming from personal or psychological problems.
  2. Guidance is preventive in nature, whereas counseling tends to be healing, curative or remedial.
  3. Guidance assists the person in choosing the best alternative. But counseling, tends to change the perspective, to help him get the solution by himself or herself.
  4. Guidance is a comprehensive process; that has an external approach. On the other hand, counseling focuses on the in-depth and inward analysis of the problem, until client understands and overcome it completely.
  5. Guidance is taken on education and career related issues whereas counseling is taken when the problem is related to personal and socio-psychological issues.
  6. Guidance is given by a guide who can be any person superior or an expert in a particular field. As opposed to counseling, which is provided by counselors, who possess a high level of skill and undergone through professional training.
  7. Guidance can be open and so the level of privacy is less. Unlike counseling, wherein complete secrecy is maintained.
  8. Guidance can be given to an individual or group of individuals at a time. On the contrary, counseling is always one to one.
  9. In the guidance, the guide takes the decision for the client. In contrast to counseling, where the counselor empowers the client to take decisions on his own.

Comparison Chart

MeaningGuidance refers to an advice or a relevant piece of information provided by a superior, to resolve a problem or overcome from difficulty.Counseling refers to a professional advice given by a counselor to an individual to help him in overcoming from personal or psychological problems.
NaturePreventiveRemedial and Curative
ApproachComprehensive and ExtrovertedIn-depth and Introverted
What it does?It assists the person in choosing the best alternative.It tends to change the perspective, to help him get the solution by himself or herself.
Deals withEducation and career related issues.Personal and socio-psychoological issues.
Provided byAny person superior or expertA person who possesses high level of skill and professional training.
PrivacyOpen and less private.Confidential
ModeOne to one or one to manyOne to one
Decision makingBy guide.By the client.

Aims and Objectives of Counseling

Aims and Objectives of Counseling
Counseling aims at helping the clients understand and accept themselves “as they are”, And counseling is to help the student to help himself.
The main objective of counseling is to bring about a voluntary change in the client. For this purpose the counselor provides facilities to help achieve the desird change or make the suitable choice.
According to Dunsmoor and miller, the purpose of student counseling are :-
1. To give the student information on matters important to success.
2. To get information about student which will be of help in solving his problems.
3. To establish a feeling of mutual understanding between student and teacher.
4. To help the student work out a plan for solving his difficulties.
5. To help the student know himself better-his interests, abilities, aptitudes, and oppurtunities.
6. To encourage and develop special abilities and right attitudes.
7. To inspire successful endeavor toward attainment.
8. To assist the student in planning for educational and vocational choices.
Counseling Goals
The goal of counseling is to help individuals overcome their immediate problems and also to equip them to meet future problems. Counseling, to be meaningful has to be specific for each client since it involves his unique problems and expectations. The goals of counseling may be described as immediate, long-range, and process goals. A statement of goals is not only important but also necessary, for it provides a sense of direction and purpose. Additionally it is necessary for a meaningful evaluation of the usefulness of it. 
The counselor has the goal of understanding the behavior, motivations, and feelings of the counselee. The counselor has the goals are not limited to understanding his clients. He has different goals at different levels of functioning. The immediate goal is to obtain relief for the client and the long-range goal is to make him ‘a fully functioning person’. Both the immediate and long- term goals are secured through what are known as mediate or process goals.
Specific counseling goals are unique to each client and involve a consideration of the client’s expectations as well as the environmental aspects. Apart from the specific goals, there are two categories of goals which are common to most counseling situations. These are identified as long-range and process goals. The latter have great significance. They shape the counselee and counselors’ interrelations and behavior. The process goals comprise facilitating procedures for enhancing the effectiveness of counseling. The long range –goals are those that reflect the counselor’s philosophy of life and could be stated as
1. To help the counselee become self-actualizing.
2. To help the counselee attain self-realization.
3. To help the counselee become a fully –functioning person.
The immediate goals of counseling refer to the problems for which the client is seeking solutions here and now. The counselee could be helped to gain fuller self- understanding through self – exploration and to appreciate his strengths and weaknesses. The counselor could provide necessary information but however exhaustive, may not be useful to the client unless he has an integrative understanding of himself vis-a-vis his personal resources and environmental constraints and resources.
There is an inter relation between the long-range and immediate goals as both depend on the process goals for their realization. The process goals are the basic counseling dimensions which are essential conditions for counseling to take place. They comprise empathic understanding, warmth and friendliness which provide for inter personal exploration which in turn helps the client in his self-exploration and self-understanding and eventually lead to the long range goals namely self-actualization, self- realization and self enhancement.
Discussing the goals of counseling, Parloff (1961) distinguishes between immediate and ultimate goals according to him the former refers to the steps and stages in the counseling process which lead to the realization of the ultimate goals. Patterson (1970) suggests a third level of goals namely intermediate goals in addition to mediating and ultimate goals. Ultimate goals refer to the broad and general long term outcomes like positive mental health. Intermediate goals are explained by the reasons for seeking a counselor’s help and immediate goals as those that refer to the present intentions of the counselee. A major criticism leveled is that goals such as self- actualization, actualizing potentialities, etc., are too general and amorphous and hence not useful in actual practice. Krumboltz (1966) holds that an operational definition of terms would be a more useful approach. He suggests that a general concept could be reduced to specific objective and measurable variables. Mediate goals (Parloff, 1967) may be considered as specific steps contributing to the realization of general goals. Behaviorists play much emphasis on mediate goals like reduction of anxiety, acquisition of adaptive habits, etc. The immediate goal of counseling is to motivate a potential counseling to make an appointment with a counselor and go through the counseling process till the mediate goals are realized. It is through the realization of mediate goals that the ultimate goals of self – understanding, self – realization and self – actualization can be reached. The process of self – exploration is perhaps a kind of immediate goal which sets the counseling process in motion. Areas in which change is considered desirable are relations with other individuals, academic achievement, job satisfaction, etc. Some of the major goals of counseling generally accepted by the counselors are given below:-
1. Achievement of positive mental health
It is identified as an important goal of counseling by some individuals who claim that when one reaches positive mental health one learns to adjust and response more positively to people and situations. Kell and Mueller (1962) hold that the “promotion and development of feelings of being liked, sharing with, and receiving and giving interaction rewards from other human beings is the legitimate goal of counseling”
2. Resolution of Problems
Another goal of counseling is the resolving of the problem brought to the counselor. This, in essence, is an outcome of the former goal and implies positive mental health. In behavioral terms three categories of behavioral goals can be identified, namely, altering maladaptive behavior, learning the decision – making process and preventing problems (Krumboltz, 1966).

3. Improving Personal Effectiveness

Yet another goal of counseling is that of improving personal effectiveness. This is closely related to the preservation of good mental health and securing desirable behavioral change(s).

4. Counseling to Help Change
Blocher (1966) adds two other goals. The first, according to him, is that counseling should maximize individual freedom to choose and act within the conditions imposed by the environment. The other goal is that counseling should increase the effectiveness of the individual responses evolved by the environment. Tiedeman (1964) holds that the goal of counseling is to focus on the mechanism of change and that the counselee should be helped in the process of ‘becoming’ – the change which pervades the period of adolescence through early adulthood during which the individual is assisted to actualize his potential. Shoben (1965) also views the goal of counseling as personal development.
5. Decision – Making as a Goal of Counseling
Some counselors hold the view that counseling should enable the counselee to make decisions. It is through the process of making critical decisions that personal growth is fostered. Reaves and Reaves (1965) point out that “the primary objective of counseling is that of stimulating the individuals to evaluate, make, accept and act upon his choice”.
Sometimes the counselees have goals which are vague and their implications are not fully appreciated. It is perhaps one of the primary functions of a counselor to help clarify a counselee’s goal.
6. Modification of Behavior as a Goal
Behaviorally-oriented counselors stress the need for modification of behavior, for example, removal of undesirable behavior or action or reduction of an irritating symptom such that the individual attains satisfaction and effectiveness. Growth-oriented counselors stress on the development of potentialities within the individual. Existentially-oriented counselors stress self-enhancement and self-fulfillment. Obviously the latter cannot be realize without first securing the former, namely, symptom removal or reduction as a necessary pre-condition for personal effectiveness.

The general public tends to view counseling as a remedial function and emphasizes immediate goals, such as problem resolution, tension reduction, and the like. Counselee may refer to the resolution of a particular conflict or problem situation. However, the goals of counseling are appropriately concerned with such fundamental and basic aspects such as self-understanding and self-actualization. These help provide the counselee with self-direction and self-motivation. Counseling in its spirit and essence is generative. It aims at assisting the individual to develop such that he becomes psychologically mature and is capable of realizing his potentialities optimally.
Counseling has no magical solutions. The only meaningful, sensible and realistic view of counseling is that it is not and cannot be everything to everybody. It is concerned with helping individuals find realistic and workable solutions to their problems by helping them gain an insight into themselves so that they are able to utilize their own potentialities and opportunities and thus become self-sufficient, self-directed and self-actualized.

Types of Counseling

Here are the most popular types of counseling specialties explained.


Counselors and therapists help their clients in a variety of ways, and there are many different types of counselors depending on their specialty.

Continue reading to learn about the different kinds of counseling careers and specialties you can study and practice: marriage and family therapy, career counseling, mental health counseling, substance abuse counseling, and more.

Counseling Specialties

“Counseling” is a very broad category that encompasses many opportunities in any number of counseling subfields.

Counselors work in schools, hospitals, rehabilitation facilities, among other locations, or they can maintain a private practice, and there are many ways in which to specialize during your counseling career.

Common Types of Counselors

Here are some of the most common types of counselors:

Marriage & Family Counseling

Marriage & Family Therapy Job Description: What You’ll Do

Learn about the many roles of a marriage and family therapist.


You may have heard the phrase, “No man is an island.” That especially rings true when families face trouble. Sometimes even the strongest family unit may need support and guidance in dealing with unexpected circumstances such as illness, death or unemployment. Other times, they may require that same support from an impartial observer in order to manage personal conflicts.

Those in romantic relationships and marriages may seek guidance through all stages of their relationship, from dating to engagement to the many years of building a life together. They may need help breaking patterns and forming more positive habits.

Your strong sense of compassion and commitment to helping people are the most necessary qualities for a successful career as a marriage and family therapist. You’ll help clients to make informed and healthy decisions about their relationships, and build promising futures together.

What does a marriage and family therapist do?

Marriage and family therapists offer guidance to couples, families and groups who are dealing with issues that affect their mental health and well-being. Many therapists approach their work holistically, using a “wellness” model (as opposed to an “illness” one) which highlights and encourages client’s strengths.

Some types of issues that marriage and family therapists treat include:

  • Child and adolescent behavioral problems
  • Grieving
  • Depression and anxiety
  • LGBTQ issues
  • Domestic violence
  • Infertility
  • Marital conflicts
  • Substance abuse

On the job, marriage and family therapists:

  • Observe how people interact within units
  • Evaluate and resolve relationship problems
  • Diagnose and treat psychological disorders within a family context
  • Guide clients through transitional crises such as divorce or death
  • Highlight problematic relational or behavioral patterns
  • Help replace dysfunctional behaviors with healthy alternatives
  • Take a holistic (mind-body) approach to wellness

What education or certification will I need to become a marriage and family therapist?

Typically, earning an undergraduate degree in counseling, psychology, sociology or social work is the first step in becoming a marriage and family therapist. Then, you’ll earn a master’s degree in counseling or marriage and family therapy.

You can pursue the necessary master’s degree with an undergraduate degree in another field. Your master’s will usually take one to two years to earn. Learn more about What You’ll Study.

Most states require that marriage and family therapists complete two years of post-graduate supervised work, totaling between 2,000 and 4,000 hours of clinical experience. In addition, counselors must pass a state-recognized exam and complete annual continuing education courses. The learning is never done—and your hard work will be rewarded with greater skills and understanding.

Licensing and certification guidelines for psychologists vary by state; be sure to check the guidelines for the region in which you plan to study.

What career paths can I take in marriage and family therapy?

As a marriage and family therapist, you can work in social service agencies, family services, outpatient mental health and substance abuse centers, hospitals, government, schools and even your own private practice. You can choose to work with a specific population, such as with teenagers, the incarcerated, families and the elderly. A parallel career path is mental health counseling, in which you can work with individuals in addition to groups, on many of the same issues.

If you’d like to seek more education after earning your master’s and working in the field of marriage and family therapy, you can pursue a doctoral degree in clinical psychology or one of its many specializations. This will require a time commitment of an additional five to seven years, and will broaden your employment opportunities to include academic research, consulting and more.

Learn about Pay & Job Projections for marriage and family therapists.

Are you interested in helping others, but unsure if pursuing marriage and family therapy is for you? Other careers that focus on human services include mental health counseling, social work, specialized care and nursing.

Guidance and career counseling

Patricia Burgin, MA, LMFT


After more than a decade practicing as a marriage and family therapist in Seattle, Patricia Burgin, MA, LMFT, decided to change her life by switching careers. Citing “enduring curiosity” as one of the motivating factors which led to her decision to seek “specific ways of creating a better future” both for her clients and self, Patricia embarked on a course of coach training and career counseling and became certified by the International Coaching Federation (ICF). Today she helps people find their passion through her private practice and through her ICF approved Coach Training Program.

How long did you practice therapy?

My first master’s degree was in theology, so my first experience in counseling came in the form of the pastoral type—I learned to listen for energy as well as for content—and for restlessness and hopes as much as for past hurts. After several years of that, I returned for another degree, this one in Applied Behavioral Science.

What was your area of practice?

For the next ten years I practiced as a marriage and family therapist, working with couples, individuals and always with groups.

What led you to change careers?

Two things. First was my own enduring curiosity about the restlessness, aspirations and longing for greater satisfaction and contribution I saw in people. The second factor was a handful of great clients. They’d look me in the eye and say, “I don’t have a mental health diagnosis and my relationship is fine. In fact I’m cruising along pretty well. But I don’t want to stop coming to see you.” “Well,” I’d say, “What would we work on?” The answers they came up with made me smile and led me to Coaching.

Why did you choose career counseling/coaching?

The restlessness I felt in myself and saw in these clients energized me. What if both I and the people who came to my practice really did begin to move toward specific ways of creating a better future for themselves—and for those they influence.

Is it easier to change your own career or other people’s?

I think once your energy and intuition and vision are engaged, it qualifies as effortless hard work.

Is there a difference between a career counselor and a coach?

I get asked that a lot. I suppose it’s a bit of a continuum with the coach focusing more on the client’s life, desires, abilities, temperament and assets and the career counselor looking more at the fit and possibilities in particular job markets and industry.

How did you achieve the career change?

Rule #1: Keep your day job and feed your passion. No more master’s degrees, but I did go through a course of coach training and became credentialed by the International Coach Federation (ICF). Then I went on to develop The SeattleCoach Training Program here in Seattle. I’m very pleased with our success in just the first year and consider this to be the next major chapter in my own career.

Did you keep your practice while pursuing a new career?

Personally, I developed a two-jobs mentality and kept building the coaching practice until it could sustain my weight.

What is the most important quality for a career counselor/coach?

A clear and enduring grip on what [the coach] values and what they offer.

Are there any unrealistic expectations about the job?

Two things come to mind. At this point, anyone can hang out their shingle as a “coach” and a lot of people do. That means that you’ll find lots of great people and a few quacks. I don’t expect regulation anytime soon—which is fine with me. The decisions of the market can be very wise. The second is that a successful Coaching practice is like any small business. You have to balance vision with managing the details with continuously improving in your craft and keeping track of the money. Not everyone wants to run his/her own show. But successful Coaches have to.

What was the biggest surprise you found about the job?

How delightful it is to be at work where I get to continuously improve and innovate—and be compensated for it.

Rehabilitation Counselling

Scope of Work for Rehabilitation Counselors


People with disabilities face challenges that require creative solutions. Whether a person has a physical, mental or emotional disability, rehabilitative counseling helps them achieve personal and professional goals, and lead their lives more freely.

Rehabilitation counselors work in a variety of state departments and community programs. They are also employed in the private sector in for-profit and nonprofit organizations, such as schools, colleges, residential care facilities and drug rehabilitation facilities.

As a rehabilitation counselor, you will likely work with:

  • Disabled people, either individually or in groups
  • Employers, educating them about the Americans with Disabilities Act
  • Placement agencies who refer disabled people to employers

As a vocational rehabilitation counselor, you’ll likely work with:

  • Disabled people, assisting them in finding gainful employment
  • On an individual level, you will counsel people through specific job training and be available for post-employment counseling
  • Employment agencies and employers to ensure proper working conditions

Rehabilitation Counseling Degree

Although you can begin a rehabilitation counseling career with a bachelor’s degree in human services, most professional rehabilitation counselors hold master’s degrees. You can earn an MA in counseling and after your first year of post-graduate employment, become a certified and/or licensed rehabilitation counselor. Check state counseling license requirements.

Mental Health Counseling

Mental Health Counseling Job Description: What You’ll Do

Here’s what you’ll do in your role as a mental health counselor.


We all face challenges throughout our lives. Often, mental health counselors will be one of the first resources available to people in need of emotional and psychological support.

Your strong sense of compassion and commitment to helping people are the most necessary qualities for a successful career as a mental health counselor. You will need to have a strong support system of your own in place to ensure your well-being as you undertake this challenging and rewarding vocation.

By addressing concerns with quality care from a mental health counselor, clients learn how to make informed and healthy decisions about themselves, their relationships and their futures.

What does a mental health counselor do?

Mental health counselors offer guidance to individuals, couples, families and groups who are dealing with issues that affect their mental health and well-being. Many counselors approach their work holistically, using a “wellness” model (as opposed to an “illness” one) which highlights and encourages client’s strengths.

On the job, mental health counselors:

  • Work with individuals, groups and communities to improve mental health
  • Encourage clients to discuss emotions and experiences
  • Examine issues including substance abuse, aging, bullying, anger management, careers, depression, relationships, LGBTQ issues, self-image, stress and suicide
  • Work with families
  • Help clients define goals, plan action and gain insight
  • Develop therapeutic processes
  • Refer clients to psychologists and other services
  • Take a holistic (mind and body) approach to mental health care

What education or certification will I need to become a mental health counselor?

Earning an undergraduate degree in counseling, psychology, sociology or social work is the first step in becoming a mental health counselor. However, you have an undergraduate degree in another field and pursue your master’s in mental health counseling. Your master’s will usually take one to two years to obtain. Learn more about What You’ll Study.

Most states require that mental health counselors complete two years of post-graduate supervised work, totaling between 2,000 and 4,000 hours of clinical experience. In addition, counselors must pass a state-recognized exam and complete annual continuing education courses. The learning is never done—and your hard work will be rewarded with greater skills and understanding.

Licensing and certification guidelines for mental health counselors vary by state; be sure to check the guidelines for the region in which you plan to study.

What career paths can I take in mental health counseling?

As a mental health counselor, you can work in family services, outpatient mental health and substance abuse centers, hospitals, government, schools and in private practice. You can choose to work with a specific population, such as with teenagers, the incarcerated, families and the elderly. A parallel career path is marriage and family therapy, which brings a family-centered perspective to mental health treatment, even when treating individuals.

Some professionals continue their education by earning a PhD in clinical psychology, counseling psychology or mental health therapy. Earning a PhD will take a time commitment of five to six years. Throughout the course of your education, you’ll gain much experience by volunteering or interning at places like rehab treatment centers, hospitals or counseling clinics.

Are you interested in helping others, but unsure if mental health counseling is your path? Other careers that center on human services include education, social work, specialized care and nursing.

Substance Abuse Counseling

Substance Abuse Counseling Job Description: What You’ll Do

Substance abuse counselors improve the lives of many people. Find out what your job will be like.

substance abuse rehab group therapy session

Substance abuse counseling may have you working with a wide array of clients or you may choose to specialize in issues affecting a particular population, such as teens or veterans.

As a counselor, you’ll listen to your clients describe their problems and what causes them to engage in addictive behavior.

You’ll discuss ways to cope and potentially incorporate methods, such as 12-step programs, to help clients toward recovery.

Because every patient is different and struggling with various degrees of addiction, you may find yourself working with some individuals in a crisis situation, while others will meet with you regularly as they recover.

If you’re compassionate, patient and a problem-solver, you may find a rewarding career as a substance abuse counselor.

What does a substance abuse counselor do?

A substance abuse counselor is a support system for people with drug and alcohol problems, eating disorders and other behavioral issues. They teach individuals how to modify their behavior with the intention of full recovery. Because clients are susceptible to relapses, many substance abuse counselors work with clients on an on-going basis.

Other duties include:

  • Meeting with clients to evaluate their health and substance problem
  • Identifying issues and create goals and treatment plans
  • Teaching clients coping mechanisms
  • Helping clients find jobs or reestablish their career
  • Leading group therapy sessions
  • Providing updates and progress reports to courts
  • Referring clients to support groups
  • Setting up aftercare plans
  • Meeting with family members and provide guidance and support

If you work specifically as a drug counselor, you’ll have the same types of tasks, but you’ll work strictly with clients suffering from drug abuse issues rather than eating disorders or gambling addictions.

What education or certification will I need to become a substance abuse counselor?

While a master’s degree in counseling or social work is a common requirement to work as a substance abuse counselor, not every state requires this level of education. However, holding a higher degree allows you to offer more help and services to clients.

If career plan includes running a private practice, you will be required to hold a master’s degree and complete up to 3,000 hours of supervised clinical experience. Upon passing an exam, you’ll be licensed to practice as a substance abuse counselor in your state. Check with your state for educational requirements even if you’re not planning to operate a private practice.

Certification can be obtained from the National Board of Certified Counselors (NBCC). Before you can take the exam, you’ll need to complete two years of supervised field study after earning your master’s degree.

What career paths can I take as a substance abuse counselor?

Several factors will contribute to your career path as a substance abuse counselor. For example, holding a master’s degree will generally provide more job prospects, including private practice.

Another factor is specialization. If you choose to become a substance abuse counselor with a focus on a certain demographic, your career path will dictated by that population’s needs and location.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ current Occupational Outlook Handbook, substance abuse counselor jobs are common in the following locations:

  • Hospitals
  • Individual and family services
  • Outpatient and residential mental health and substance abuse centers
  • State and local governments

If you work with children or teenagers, you could end up working in schools or after-school programs.

School Psychology Job Description: What You’ll Do


People with a passion for psychology and for the healthy development of children will find that their interests intersect in the field of school psychology. Studying to become a school counselor, once called guidance counselor, is also a satisfying step in this direction. Where school psychology differs is in the psychologists’ ability to diagnose and treat disorders. Students may be referred to a school psychologist from a school counselor who believes that the student will benefit from further treatment.

Kids have busier lives and schedules than ever. Some of them face additional stresses at home, with friends or in their studies. Your patient, caring nature and intellectual curiosity can prime you for a successful career as a school psychologist. Your main mission: to help students navigate the tumultuous school years with confidence and success.

What do school psychologists do?

School psychologists assist students at all levels, from elementary school to college. They act along with school counselors as advocates for students’ well-being, and as valuable resources for their educational and personal advancement. As a school psychologist, you’ll first and foremost listen to students’ concerns.

You may help students in processing issues such as bullying, disabilities, LGBTQ issues, low self-esteem, poor academic performance, social anxiety, problems with authority and problems at home.

On the job, school psychologists:

  • Work with school-aged children and young adults
  • Listen to concerns about academic, emotional or social problems
  • Help students process their problems and plan goals and action
  • Promote positive behaviors
  • Meet with parents and teachers to discuss learning, behavioral, familial and social problems
  • Counsel parents on topics like substance abuse and communication
  • Study and implement behavioral management techniques
  • Research and implement learning programs
  • Evaluate and advise school disciplinary practices for troubled students
  • Participate in special education by administering psychological tests

What education or certification will I need to become a school psychologist?

Earning a four-year undergraduate degree is the first step in your education toward becoming a school counselor. A bachelor’s in education, psychology or sociology will best prepare you for your graduate school work, but if you’ve already earned a bachelor’s in another field, that’s OK.

You’ll then need a specialist or master’s degree in school psychology, psychology or counseling. A specialist degree (EdS) in school psychology is earned through roughly three years of graduate study in education and psychology, followed by a year-long internship. Learn more about What You’ll Study.

Every state requires that school psychology professionals be certified or licensed in order to practice. The National Association of School Psychologists offers national certification, which consists of completion of the aforementioned master’s program (60 semester hours), a supervised 1,200-hour internship, and passing the National School Psychology Examination.

Licensing and certification guidelines for psychologists vary by state; be sure to check the guidelines for the region in which you plan to study.

What career paths can I take in school psychology?

As a school psychologist, you can work in various school environments, from elementary through higher education. You can work in state, local and private schools, colleges, universities and professional schools, and vocational schools. If you prefer to work with a specific population, such as those with disabilities, or with a specific age group, there are many opportunities to specialize.

If you’d like to seek more education after earning your master’s and working as a school psychologist, you can pursue a doctoral degree in psychology, whether it’s a PhD or a PsyD. This will require a time commitment of an additional five to seven years, and will broaden your employment opportunities to include academic research, consulting and more.

If you’d like to study human behavior and work with people in a hands-on environment, but aren’t sure school psychology is for you, there are many similar career paths to consider. They include school counseling, mental health counseling, psychiatry, social work, sociology and teaching.

It is not necessary to choose a specialty before you begin your master’s program in counseling, although many students go into their counseling programs with one in mind.

Don’t be surprised if, during your 2-year degree and year of post-graduate work, you end up in an area you had not considered prior to grad school. Keep an open mind, and unless you truly know what type of counseling you would like to pursue, choose a counseling degree in a traditional setting or a counseling degree online, that offers a variety of options.

In addition to the main specialties listed above, counselors can also assist their clients using techniques in areas such as these:

  • Debt counseling
  • Child development counseling
  • Eating disorder therapy
  • Grief counseling
  • Art therapy
  • Musical therapy

Types of Mental Illnesses

According to the National Institute for Mental Illness, approximately 26.2 percent of adult Americans (over one in four) are affected by some type of mental illness each year. Here are some of the common mental illnesses that counselors work with:

  • Anxiety disorder
  • Attention deficit disorder
  • Bipolarity
  • Borderline personality
  • Depression
  • Eating disorder
  • Generalized anxiety
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder
  • Panic disorder
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder
  • Schizophrenia
  • Social phobia

The Process of Counseling

The traditional counseling process includes the following six important, yet separate components.

Opening: The opening process is perhaps, one of the most important parts of the interaction with your client. It is your chance to get to know your client and for them to get to know you. It is also where you will set the tone for the rest of the therapeutic relationship.

Exploring Client Understanding: The exploration process is where you will begin to understand your client. You will explore their past and evaluate their current concerns. Here, you will together establish goals and set expectations.

Understanding: Important in developing a strong relationship with your client, you can demonstrate understanding by using verbal and nonverbal cues, as well as reflections and paraphrases.

Intervention: The intervention process is about choosing the appropriate counseling techniques that will encourage growth within your client.

Exploring Problems: Exploration is the process of learning more about your client and why they have come to counseling. Exploration is necessary in truly understanding a client’s thoughts and feelings in relation to their pressing problem.

Empower to Create Own Solutions: Empowering your client is not about providing them with all the answers. It is about empowering them, with your counseling skills, to find their own solutions.

Counseling Skills

As a student, your master’s degree in counseling is about developing and expanding upon the counseling skills that will best help your clients. These are some of the most important counseling techniques you are likely to use in your counseling sessions.

Listening/Observing: Listening is one of the most valuable counseling skills in the therapeutic relationship. It can be used in three ways:

  • Attending: Attending is the ability to be physically present for the client. It means giving them your undivided attention and making appropriate eye contact, mirroring body language, and nodding. These attending behaviors show your client that you care. In fact, according to Kevin J. Drab, approximately 80% of communication takes place non-verbally External link .
  • Active listening: Active listening occurs when you are listening with all of your senses. According to the Perinatal Mental Health Project External link , active listening involves listening with your body, heart, ears, eyes, and mouth.
  • Verbal listening: This is a form of showing you are listening through the words that you use. These verbal cues are used to show attention and to encourage more exploration from the client. This can be as simple as ‘yes’, or ‘go on’. It can also be in the form of paraphrasing or repeating a word of emotion that the client has just said.

Asking Questions: Questions are helpful in the therapeutic environment because they allow you to learn more about your client. The type of questions that you ask will set the tone of the session and the entire counseling process. Questions occur in two forms.

  • Closed: A closed question is the practice of asking a question that can be answered as a ‘yes’ or ‘no’. Closed questions should generally be avoided in the counseling relationship, as they do not encourage deeper exploration.
  • Open: An open question is necessary to gather information. An open question is one that cannot be answered with a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’ and it requires reflection or exploration on the client’s end. Every open question should be intentional and therapeutic. According to Susan Mills of the Nielsen Norman Group External link , the best open ended questions begin with ‘how’ and ‘what’.

ReflectionReflections are used in the counseling process to accurately describe the client’s state External link  from their verbal or nonverbal cues.

  • Feelings reflections:  Reflections allow clients to hear the feelings they have just expressed. Sometimes you have to look for the descriptive feeling in a client’s statement. It can also be helpful to look at a client’s nonverbal feeling cues.
  • Restating/Rephrasing: Restating and rephrasing can build a stronger client therapist relationship. Rephrasing a client’s statement allows you to better understand what a client has just said and to gain further clarity, if you have gotten it wrong.
  • Affirmation: Affirmation is a form of encouragement that is used to affirm behaviors or life choices. Affirmation is important for empowering clients External link . A few common affirmations include affirming progress that a client has made toward a goal or encouraging a client to do what is important to them.

Empathy: Empathy is the ability to put yourself in someone else’s shoes. It is much more than sympathy in that you are able to show your understanding of your clients feeling surrounding an experience.

Genuineness: Begin genuine is creating congruence between yourself and your words. Every therapist is different and will provide a different therapeutic process. It is important to remain genuine in all counseling techniques and verbal and nonverbal cues.

Unconditional Positive Regard: Demonstrating unconditional positive regard External link  is the idea of accepting your client for who they are. It is a means of expressing warmth and respect.

Counselor Self-Disclosure: This is a tricky counseling skill to maneuver. A general rule to follow is to only share personal information that is beneficial to the therapeutic process. It might also be used to help the counselor relate better with their client.

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Counseling Theories

Counseling theories are used as a guideline for understanding human nature and to determine which counseling skills you will use in your counseling sessions.

  • Psychoanalytic Theory:  This theory was originally developed by Sigmund Freud. It supports the idea that unconscious forces drive human actions. A psychoanalytic therapy session includes skills such as dream analysis, free association, resistance analysis, and transference analysis. Much of the personality is thought to have developed in childhood and similarities are identified and explored in the therapeutic relationship.
  • Person-Centered Therapy: This theory is a form of psychotherapy originally developed by Carl Rogers. Sometimes also known as Rogerian therapy, it operates on the assumption that every human being has the ability to fulfil their full potential. A client-centered approach in the therapeutic relationship involves self-actualization, empathy, and unconditional positive regard. When practicing person-centered therapy, the client therapist relationship is very important because the positive interactions are a form of therapy themselves. The relationship should be supportive and the therapist acts more as a guide External link , as the client is the expert of their own life.
  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)CBT is a shorter term approach External link  to the therapeutic process. This hands-on approach lends its practice to the theory that human problems stem from faulty patterns of thinking. The counseling process primarily involves the challenge of automatic thinking and often negative thought patterns. It encourages the client to find logic in their way of thinking. The counselor plays an important role in challenging these thoughts External link .
  • The Family Systems Model: Family Systems view all human troubles and conflicts as a familial unit. The theory, originally developed by Murray Bowen, is focused on the idea that family is the primary source of emotions External link  and personality. A family system can be present in many forms, including structural, strategic, and intergenerational. Common techniques used in the therapeutic process include the creation of a genogram, family projection activities, emotional triangles, and the differentiation of self. This counseling theory is often used in marriage and family counseling sessions.

Counseling is about creating strong relationships with your clients that will empower them to obtain mental health and to fulfill their goals. Through the use of intentional counseling techniques and an understanding of human nature developed through counseling theories, you can guide your client in reaching optimal mental health.