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.
What is Child Counseling?
Child counseling is a specialist field which focuses on helping children who are suffering some form of mental illness. It is incredibly specialized, focusing on the particular thought processes and problems of the younger patient group. Children typically come into contact with a child counselor after a diagnosis of a mental health condition or after exhibiting behaviors that may suggest an underlying mental health issue. Whilst they often present differently, child counseling deals with many of the same mental health issues as its adult counterpart – depression, grief and anxiety are all common conditions for child counseling to help with.
As well as working to find underlying causes for mental health issues, child counseling can also be used to help explain difficult concepts to children, such as helping a child understand death or the breakdown of a marriage. It can be of use to help children who have witnessed or experienced a trauma, to help them understand the experience and how to deal with it.
This specialized counseling field is so important because issues presenting in childhood that are left untreated, are likely to follow a patient into adulthood and also have the potential to impact upon factors such as educational development.
What Does a Child Counselor Do?
Child counselors work with children who are dealing with mental and emotional problems, and often children who are dealing with difficult family or life circumstances. The specialist role of the child counselor is particularly important because, whilst the conditions are often similar to those experienced by adults, the symptoms and experiences of children with these issues can be very different. Similarly, the discussion and treatment pathways with young people can be very different – a counselor who typically deals with adult patients, may not be best placed to help.
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. Child counselors 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.
Child counselors are trained in a variety of techniques, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy and play therapy. A child counselor is tasked with working closely with a child to better understand the issues they are facing, and to try to establish any underlying causes. If these causes can be established, the counselor then works to develop appropriate strategies for the young person to help to overcome them. Either way, the counselor will work with the child to implement treatment plans in response to their condition that are appropriate for their developmental stage.
Child counselors will often liaise with other services, when required, to help make necessary interventions and referrals. They 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.
What are the Requirements to Become a Child Counselor?
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 an undergraduate degree. A bachelor’s degree in psychology, child and adolescent psychology, social work, or a related area is highly recommended. After completing your bachelor’s degree, you will have to obtain a master’s degree in counseling.
Although not necessary for a child counselor, many individuals in this field also acquire a doctorate or Ph.D. degree. A Ph.D. 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.
Licensure requirements vary from state to state. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, a mental health counselor needs a master’s degree and 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 (NCE) and/or the National Clinical Mental Health Counseling Examination (NCMHCE).
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.
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.
What Skills and Qualities are Required for a Child Counselor?
- 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.
Where Does a Child Counselor Work?
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.
What is the Salary of a Child Counselor?
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2014 the average annual salary for a mental health counselors providing individual and family services was $43,990.
- Child Social Work Careers
- How to Become a Youth Counselor
- What Do You Need to Become a Child Therapist?
- Child Psychologist Career: Education Requirements & Job Duties
- What are the Requirements for Family Counselor Certification?