Being a professional counselor is a noble task, but one that requires so much from people. There’s a reason it takes so much training and education and one needs to have the proper license before you can be legally allowed to practice counseling. If you’re dreaming of a career as a counselor, here are some characteristics and qualities in yourself that you need to cultivate.
A desire for learning
If you are someone who despises reading and learning, then the job of being a counselor may not necessarily be for you. Counselors will never truly arrive, no matter how many degrees they earn. People are fluid, and while there are basic psychological principles we can always default to, there is always something new to learn—skills, experiences, and wisdom. If you are thinking of learning more, consider taking a summer counseling course. It will help hone your theoretical knowledge and prepare you for when you’re actually counseling others in an office. It’s not mean to say that no one wants a dumb counselor, so if you want to be one, you must be educated, well-read, and smart.
Being good at listening
Effective listening is a nuanced skill and one that not a lot of people possess. To be a counselor, you need to be able to listen not just to the words being said, but also to the context upon which they’re being said, like their delivery and background. This means being able to listen and read “between the lines.” And perhaps most importantly, good counselors are those who can listen without any hint of judgment or condescension.
Empathy and authenticity
This brings us to the two most essential qualities of counselors, which are compassion and empathy. It’s all about being able to show that you care about your clients and forming a deep rapport that’s marked by sincerity, emotional connection, and healthy boundaries. If you don’t know how to connect, or don’t know how to hold space for people’s pain, then you might not be the most effective in the profession of counseling.
Another quality you need to possess is authenticity. People can tell when we’re being sincere and when we’re faking it, especially those who have been betrayed and hurt by people in the past. The last thing they want is another person feigning interest—it might turn them off counseling for good.
Self-reflection and self-regulation
It’s often said that we cannot give what we do not possess, and it’s true, especially perhaps more so for people who want to counsel others as a profession. If you yourself don’t have a certain level of mental health literacy or a deep understanding of your own triggers and self-destructive habits, then you are in no position to help others work through their own issues. While it’s true that we will never be perfect, we should at least have a significant level of healing in our lives if we want to get into this line of work.
Flexibility and security
Counselors need to be able to understand differing views and multicultural issues in their practice. They need to understand that every client will come from different cultural contexts and will have differing experiences, which means that there won’t always be a one-size-fits-all approach for everybody. Counselors need to shift from one perspective to the next to fully serve their clients, which is a skill that needs to be developed rather than acquired naturally. Another facet of flexibility and security is accepting when they’re not a good fit for a client and when it’s time to endorse them to a different counselor.
Ethical and professional
One of the biggest rules of counseling is to “do no harm.” A good counselor understands that there is a big power differential between a mental health professional and a client who’s going through trauma, for example, and that it is incumbent upon the person with the power to keep the integrity of the relationship as much as they can. An effective counselor must learn all the ethics put forth by the American Counseling Association Code of Ethics and ensure that they will abide by them at all times.
With the world emerging from what has been a traumatic past year and a half, we need more counselors now more than ever. If your dream is to be one, don’t give up on it. Work hard, lean on your love for people, and let your knowledge and heart lead you in your journey.