How to Become a Trauma Counselor

Overview

Individuals who are suffering from a traumatic physical or emotional event will often seek out the help of a trauma counselor. Trauma counselors are mental health professionals with specific education and training in helping individuals who have suffered a traumatic event. Trauma counselors often see patients who are suffering adverse psychological, emotional and physical effects.

Before you begin a career in this specialty field of counseling, it is important to have a basic understanding of the education, licenses and experience requirements. It is also important to understand the different work environments which these types of counselors typically find employments as well as the typical salaries which can be expected.

Related: How to Become a Trauma Psychologist

What is Trauma Counseling?

Trauma counseling is a specialist field of counseling which helps people address, come to terms with, and recover from a traumatic event. Trauma counselors are typically involved if someone is struggling physically, emotionally or psychologically after such an event. These specially trained professionals, with a mental health background, can help someone who is struggling in response to a traumatic event.

A traumatic event can be any stressful event that an individual has difficulty coping with afterwards. Examples of such a trauma might include active service within war, having suffered abuse or being the victim of a violent crime as well as events such as a death of a close relative or friend.

What Does a Trauma Counselor Do?

Trauma counselors help people process traumatic events that they have suffered and develop ways to cope with resulting emotions. An individual’s reaction to trauma can be complex and varies greatly from person to person. Dealing with the emotional overload that can result from experiencing trauma can often be difficult without professional help. A trauma counselor can play a vital role in helping someone get past the trauma and the symptoms they may still experience.

Although it can vary, trauma counselors often work with patients over several months or longer. Since there is not a one size fits all type of trauma therapy, counselors evaluate their client’s needs, traumatic experiences and personality to determine the right therapeutic approach. Each treatment plan is different. But there can be similar techniques and approaches used.

One example of a treatment method used by trauma counselors is eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR). The purpose of EMDR is to help an individual change the feelings, sounds and images that are remembered when they think of the traumatic event.

Trauma counselors also may also use cognitive behavior therapy to help patients deal with negative emotions. Counselors using cognitive behavior therapy help their clients’ change how they think about their trauma and its aftermath. Trauma counselors using this type of therapy work with patients to replace negative thoughts with more positive and less distressing thoughts.

Additional types of therapy and counseling may be used by trauma counselors, such as exposure therapy and hypnotherapy. Counselors may also use adjunctive methods, such as group therapy.

Trauma counselors can also be called upon in cases such as natural disasters to help communities begin to recover. They have to be skilled individuals to provide effective and empathetic support without becoming too emotionally involved or invested in their cases. The role is particularly important because the after-effects of trauma can go on indefinitely if not dealt with and can progress to seriously impact upon someone’s life. Trauma counseling provides an outlet where people can discuss their experiences and develop strategies for dealing with the ongoing difficulties they face as a result.

Regardless of the method of counseling, trauma counselors help their clients learn healthy ways to cope with feelings that can develop due to the trauma. This may include helping people regulate strong emotions and develop the ability to trust again. Trauma counselors also help clients connect and access additional resources, such as support groups.

What are the Requirements to Become a Trauma Counselor?

Working as a counselor is a hard job and requires years of disciplined education, training and work experience. If you enjoy helping others and have compassion for people who are going through trauma, then working as a trauma counselor is an excellent job for you.

Education/Training

To become a trauma counselor you must complete an undergraduate bachelor’s degree program from an accredited university. Some individuals will be able to choose counseling as a focus through their undergraduate education, but you might also consider the specialty of psychology or sociology. Graduate school is the next step in the education process and will require two years to complete. In a graduate program you can choose to specialize in trauma counseling or just take specific courses that relate to trauma and psychology.

Licensure

Each state has specific requirements for the education and licensure of mental health professionals. You will be required to complete a graduate degree program, pass a licensing test and complete a supervised practicum or internship. Most states will also require between 2,000 to 3,000 hours of supervised experience working as a counselor.

To obtain your licensure, you will be required to have weekly meetings with your clinical supervisor to discuss your counseling cases and seek guidance. Use your time of supervised training to explore the various types of counseling situations and forms of counseling. During your supervision you should get experience counseling individuals, couples and families. Running a group counseling session might also help expand your counseling skills and is often a form of counseling used when working with trauma victims.

Experience

Trauma counseling requires specific experience working with a population of clients who have suffered abuse, war, violence or crime. It may be difficult to get this experience while you are still in the internship or licensure phase. Each state also sets guidelines for the type of counseling experience they expect you to receive during your training period before you become licensed. So you can include trauma counseling during your supervised training if you know that is a field you plan to go into.

Where Does a Trauma Counselor Work?

To work with trauma patients you might not be counseling them inside a comfortable office setting. Trauma counselors often work in places like emergency rooms and shelters. Experienced trauma counselors can be hired by the military and work in war settings or hired by police departments and work with victim immediately after a crime.

If you are not able to find employment in your specialty of trauma counseling you may still get experience in this field by volunteering. The Red Cross is one organization that looks for counselors with trauma experience to volunteer during natural disasters such as; tornados, floods and earthquakes.

What Skills are Needed for a Trauma Counselor?

Contemplating a career in the field of trauma counseling? If so, you may want to consider some of the traits many successful trauma counselors possess. In fact, having these traits may indicate that pursuing a career in this field may be a worthwhile venture for you.

Patience

One skill that any great trauma counselor possess is patience. As a counselor, you must be able to learn how to sit back and listen, with your full attention. Allow your patients the opportunity to speak. Learning how to be comfortable with stepping back and listening rather than reacting is an important trait for any exceptional trauma counselor.

Control Over Emotions

In addition to patience, trauma counselors should also have a strong handle over their emotions. Trauma counselors are typically dealing with very emotional topics and experiences, it is crucial that they remain as professional as possible. It is not helpful for trauma counselors to become emotional crutches for their patients. Trauma counselors must remain supportive of their patients, but not become emotionally invested in a way that is not professionally effective or appropriate.

Attention to Detail

Trauma counselors should also display an attention to detail. While a trauma counselor will be interacting with patients, they will also be recording notes and often taking care of basic record keeping needs. In addition, trauma counselors must also pay careful mind to the actions and behaviors of their patients. With an attention to detail, trauma counselors will better be able to identify patient strategies and solutions.

What is the Salary for a Trauma Counselor?

Counselors typically work with non-profit or community based organizations. According to Indeed.com, the average salary for a trauma counselor is $44,000, as of September 2015.

A new mental health counselor can expect to make around $26,000 a year, with the median pay being approximately $44,000 a year and top salaries at $67,000, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, as of May 2014. As you gain additional training and experience in the field of trauma counseling you salary may increase. To supplement your income as a trauma counselor you can find on-call assignments.

As a trauma counselor you can take on-call jobs with agencies such as crisis centers, women’s shelters and local police departments. Working on-call means you will get phone calls at all hours of the night to come and assist with a patient who needs you. These types of positions will sometimes need your expertise several times per week or maybe only one time a month. But you are paid well for the time you agree to be on-call and may be paid additional amounts when you are actually called in to work.

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