How to Become a Child Counselor

Children can be very vulnerable, not only physically, but mentally as well. They can suffer from the same type of mental illnesses that adults suffer from, but their thought processes are very different, so they need to be approached in a special way. Although children can easily fall prey to psychological disorders such as clinical depression, generalized anxiety disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder and attention deficit disorder, they can manifest their symptoms in very different behaviors. If you are a person who enjoys children and wants to help them, becoming a child counselor may be the right path for you. Read on to learn more about the job duties associated with being a child counselor, the education requirements you will need to fulfill, the type of experience and personal qualities you will need, and how much pay you can expect to receive.

Job Duties

As a child counselor, you will be working with children who are dealing with mental and emotional problems, and often children who are dealing with difficult family or life circumstances. Many counselors treat a broad scope of problems, but some specialize in helping children cope with specific life circumstances, such as grief counseling, abuse counseling, while others may focus on treating a specific disorder, such as attention deficit disorder. You will be required to create an open, accepting and friendly environment for the child to explore his or her emotional issues, and use a variety of counseling techniques to help them deal with their problems. There are a variety of techniques you will be trained in, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy and play therapy, and it will be up to you to decide the particular course of treatment that is best for each child. You will also often have to work with the child’s parents or caregivers to address any negative interactions in the home, and to assess the child’s progress. Counselors may work children in an individual or group setting, depending on the type of problem the child is experiencing and what type of setting works best for them.

Education/Licensure

If you desire to become a children’s counselor, be aware that you will have to go through an extensive amount of schooling. First, you need to obtain a bachelor’s degree in psychology, child and adolescent psychology, social work, or a related area, and then you will have to obtain a master’s degree. Many child counselors go to enter a doctorate or PhD program. A PhD is especially necessary if you ever wish to teach psychology at a college level.  Typical courses for a psychology major include general psychology, abnormal psychology, developmental psychology or child development, and social psychology. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, a child counselor usually must participate in 2,000 to 4,000 hours of supervised clinical experience in order to become licensed. Becoming licensed is a requirement in most states, and many counselors take the National Counselor Exam, which is offered by the National Board for Certified Counselors. If you pass this exam, you will be officially recognized as a National Certified Counselor. As previously mentioned, many child counselors like to specialize in specific areas, and they can do by focusing on a specialty such as school counseling or clinical mental health when they become certified, according to the BLS.

Work Experience

To gain employment as a child counselor, you will be required to complete an internship, which is usually supervised and performed while you are still in college.

Personal Qualities

Compassion and patience are two of the most important qualities you will need to possess if you wish to become a child counselor. It is vitally important that you have the patience to work with children who can sometimes be difficult and poorly behaved. Good communication skills, especially the ability to relate to children, are also very important, as well as good listening skills. Your ability to listen and truly understand the child’s emotions are just as important as anything you say. Also, you may find yourself thrown into the middle of family conflicts and disputes, so the ability to serve as a calm and efficient mediator is a definite plus.

Salary

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, child counselors are most frequently employed in schools, juvenile detention centers, hospitals, children’s homes, domestic violence shelters, homeless shelters, and social service offices. Many child counselors set up their own private practices where they can work from their office or in the children’s homes 2011, the average salary for a child counselor is $42,590.

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