Family Counseling Careers

What is a Family Counselor?

A family counselor is a specially trained counseling professional who works with family groups to address issues they are having, to improve communication and develop strategies for overcoming areas of tension. This type of counseling can be useful for any difficulties a family is facing – addiction, recovering from a traumatic event or challenging behaviors.

Counselors in this field can help families in identifying the root cause of problems, discussing them and working together to form an action plan to overcome them. Sometimes the biggest benefit to families is the improvement in communication – a family counselor helps families develop healthy communication channels where everyone can have their say and feel that they are being listened to. This improved communication can strengthen the family bonds and improve the relationships within the family group by increasing understanding and empathy between members.

These strategies can fundamentally change the way a family runs and can continue to provide a benefit long after the family counselor’s job is finished and the acute problem that brought them there in the first place, is resolved.

How Does Family Counseling Work?

Family counseling is a form of counseling used to address conflict or issues within the family unit – the focus of the family counselor is to improve the family relationships. It works on the basis that there are multiple people contributing to the conflict or the issues of the family and that they must all be involved to find an effective solution. Family counseling helps to improve communication within the family and helps individuals to see problems from other’s perspectives. Family counseling brings family members together in way that allows everyone to discuss how issues are affecting them and to allow them to feel listened to. Working in this way encourages family members to become more aware of each other’s views and perceptions and helps them work together in pursuit of common goals.

Family therapy is often used when a family is in crisis and is usually more solution focused – with clearly defined aims and endpoints. The root of that crisis may be the issues of one particular member but it is seen that, to fully address the problem, all members of the family must be involved. Some family counselors will work exclusively in whole family sessions, others will work with some members individually, particularly if there is one member who is particularly involved with an issue. Whilst operating these sessions with an individual, the family counselors aim will remain to ultimately include all family members in the resolution.

Attending family counseling usually involves family members discussing the issues in detail before arriving at agreed resolutions. Identifying root causes of conflict is a key aim before changes and adaptations in behavior can be agreed upon to address it. Whether that’s being more honest about feelings or dealing with aggression in different ways, there are many positive outcomes that can be reached by involving the whole family in the counseling process.

Why Do We Need Family Counselors?

When there has been a breakdown in communication or loss of trust within a couple or a family, when fighting and arguing occur frequently, or when that spark simply isn’t there anymore, people will seek help from a family counselor.

There is no one relationship or marriage that is perfect. Individuals from all walks of life, demographics, and racial backgrounds find struggles and hard times can befall their marriage. Of course, there are varying degrees of dysfunction in the marital relationship, with some in worse shape than others. If you are considering becoming a family counselor, it is important that you understand the ins and outs of the profession, what will be required of you, and how you can pursue your future in this field. The following explains more about how to become a family counselor and the steps you may have to take in doing so.

What is the Nature of Work for a Family Counselor?

There is literally no topic that may be off limits when it comes to family counseling sessions. As a family counselor, you should be prepared to deal with some tough and interesting subject matter. There will be discussions, potentially, of sex, lies, marital infidelity, and other problems. You may have to work with families from a blended background or single parent homes. Just as families come in all shapes and sizes, so, too, do the problems that they deal with.

You may face discussions of teenagers wanting to rebel or help someone to deal with the grief of losing a family member. For that reason, you must be prepared as a family counselor to hear it all and be able to handle it well. Further, you must be willing to deal with potentially unconventional or non-traditional families as well.

Aside from the aforementioned blended family, the traditional male and female relationship structure is becoming part of many different family compositions. Family counselors today must be ready to face non-traditional families such as single parent families, those of mixed racial heritage, extended families, and multiple partner relationships.

Not everyone is prepared for this variety before entering the field but it is something that should be considered by you in order that you are better prepared to be the best family counselor that you can be.

What are the Educational Requirements to Become a Family Counselor?

There is not one way to follow the path to becoming a family counselor. As the American Psychology Association reiterates and highlights, there are several different ways that an individual can begin their own practice or work in the field. First and foremost is getting a strong education in the field. There are many colleges in the United States that offer individuals the chance to gain psychology knowledge via the traditional classroom setting. This is important to understanding the theories behind the practice and the evolution thereof. Education can begin in the high school years with a strong mathematical and science emphasis and this should transcend into the college level.

There are many accredited undergraduate programs that offer a bachelor’s degree in the field. Others may have to choose a degree in general psychology, counseling, sociology, or even human services if their school does not offer a family counseling degree. During a bachelor’s program it is highly recommended to take courses that will help you learn topics such as: human development, marriage and relationships, family dynamics and stages of life.

From there, then, the individual can par lay their talents into pursuing an accredited M.A. in Marriage and Family Counseling or a MSW (Masters of Social Work).

This, and state licensure, which are determined by the government and reigning regulatory body of the state, are often all that is required to work in the field. To become a licensed professional counselor (LPC), typically a minimum of a master’s degree in the field of counseling is required. Most states also require certain number of supervised work experience in order to sit for licensing examination. Information related to state professional counselor licensing boards is available on American Counseling Association website. You should carefully go through the requirements for obtaining a licensure in your state.

What Can You Do With a Master’s in Family Counseling?

Individuals that hold a master’s degree in family counseling are fortunate in that there are many different career options available to them. Unfortunately, this is because so many families struggle with significant family issues, from drug abuse to infidelity to poor communication, and everything in between. Because training to become a family counselor involves experiences working with children, adolescents, and adults, as well as couples and families, family counselors can work with a wide variety of populations.

Government and Social Work

Many new family counselors choose to work in a government setting to gain valuable experience. Government jobs for family counselors can be found in various agencies, from the Department of Family Services to the Department of Corrections. In these positions, family counselors often engage clients in therapy, but they also spend a significant amount of time performing social work-type duties, such as helping families find the resources they need to overcome obstacles to optimal family functioning. For example, a family counselor at the Department of Family Services may work with a poverty-stricken family to help them acquire the services they need to purchase food and pay rent.

Community Mental Health

Community mental health is another popular career option for family counselors. Community mental health centers are usually non-profit organizations, so family counselors most often work with families that could not otherwise afford therapy. Like government work, family counselors in this setting would likely offer both therapeutic and practical services to their clients although the focus would mostly on therapy with the family. For example, a community mental health family counselor might see the family in one, one-hour counseling session each week, then meet with the parents separately in another session to discuss long-term goals, such as acquiring training to get a better paying job or working on specific practical skills, such as communication, that would improve the family dynamic.

Private Practice

Other family counselors employ themselves in private practice, especially after getting some experience in the field. In this setting, counselors may work with families in group sessions, or they may choose to see clients individually. Typically, both family-based and individual counseling is undertaken so counselors have insight into the individual perceptions of each family member and can also observe how the family interacts together. Private practice gives counselors a lot of freedom in terms of when they work, how many clients they have, and what they charge their clients for their services. However, private practice also requires business savvy, countless hours of non-billable work time, and many expenses, such as malpractice insurance.

Counselor may also work in a team environment with other therapists and counselors that offer different expertise in the field. Be prepared, though, that it may take a while to gain access to this position of private counselor status. As with anything, if you want to be a family counselor in the private sector, it may just be worth it to pursue this avenue.

What Skills and Qualities are Needed for a Family Counselor?

A family counselor is usually warm and inviting, and capable of gaining their clients’ trust. This individual should be objective and should have an outside view of the situation. A family counselor should never play favorites with one client over the other, and shouldn’t form an opinion of the situation without knowing the whole story.

A trained professional has solid instincts and many years of education and training to back them up. Family counselors should be dedicated to helping their clients figure out what is in their best interest, whether that involves staying together or being apart. The goal isn’t necessarily to keep couples together, but instead for couples to decide on whatever is healthiest in their situation.

A family counselor must be good at performing a cost-benefit analysis, meaning that s/he has to know how to weigh the pros and cons of a situation or relationship effectively. This person has to keep any information that she or he hears in a counseling session completely confidential, or they will lose their license to practice, (unless the clients sign a waiver stating that their counselor is allowed to disclose if someone is in danger, or if they need to discuss the situation with other people who work in the same field).

A good counselor should also be firm, and should keep a professional distance from their clients. This means they can’t get too emotionally involved in whatever situation is happening, and they need to be skilled at taking care of themselves emotionally. Saying no is just as important as saying yes.

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