Community health counseling is a service provided by many communities for people of all ages who can’t afford to hire a licensed psychologist or psychiatrist. Community health counselors help patients suffering from mental, emotional, marital, behavioral, rehabilitative or substance-abuse problems.
Community counselors are qualified to handle all but the most serious of these problems, and they’re trained to recognize cases that are beyond their training and to refer those patients to the proper specialist or institution. Community counselors work for community clinics or agencies.
Some of the types of patients treated by community health counselors include:
- People of any age who have suffered from a debilitating accident or illness that has left them depressed or frustrated
- Elderly folks facing the decline of their abilities
- Children or adolescents facing separation from a parent through death, divorce or abandonment
- Children or adolescents struggling with school issues
- Families in need of family therapy
- Couples in need of marital counseling
- People suffering from substance abuse
- People struggling through a transitional phase of life, such as a job loss, marital separation or change of residence
- People with mild or moderate psychological disorders
There are several areas of specialization within this field. Here are some of the most common.
Community mental health counselors provide counseling and psychotherapy for a wide variety of personal issues and psychological disorders. They can also help with basic community issues like teaching patients how to use public transit or other community services.
Marriage and family counselors help rebuild marriages and restore families to a more normal state. They’re trained to handle cases involving domestic violence.
School counselors work with kids who are having problems in school, whether they’re having problems with bullies, academics, schedules or with building a vocational road map. They also counsel kids with behavioral problems.
Addiction counselors counsel adolescents and adults who are abusing alcohol or drugs.
Rehabilitation counselors help those with addictions or disabilities (whether temporary or permanent) deal with daily life. They can help train patients to take care of personal needs or help them find jobs. Some rehabilitation counselors mainly act as advocates.
Types of Degrees
Depending upon state and community requirements, a bachelor’s degree (preferably a Bachelor of Arts in psychology) is adequate for substance-abuse counselors and for some entry-level jobs in community health counseling. But full-fledged counselors in other areas must have a master’s degree in psychology, social work, counseling, marriage and family therapy or in a similar field. A few jobs in community counseling require a doctoral degree.
Most master’s degree programs are designed to prepare students to work professional in a wide variety of settings, including mental health centers, addiction treatment programs, vocational and/or rehabilitation programs, correctional institutions, and health care settings.
Courses within a program might include:
- Career and lifestyle development
- Counseling theory
- Professional ethics
- Mental health counseling
- Social and cultural foundations
- Group counseling
- Personal growth
- Human development
- Research methodology
- Patient assessment
- Research design and data analysis
Community counseling jobs typically require a broad skill set, because community counselors normally wear a lot of hats, particularly in smaller communities with fewer employees. So, unless you’re certain you want to specialize in a narrow area, taking survey courses in several areas of study might be preferable to taking a dense concentration of classes in a specialized area.
In most states, one must be licensed by the state to engage in counseling or therapy.
Community health counseling is a fairly broad field that requires a variety of skills that are also useful in other occupations like advertising, psychology, law, law enforcement and politics.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) website, the median pay in 2012 for mental health counselors and marriage and family therapists was $41,500 per year or $19.95 per hour. The projected growth rate for these occupations from 2012 to 2022 is 29%, which is much faster than for the average occupation.
The BLS also says that rehabilitation counselors in 2012 earned $33,880 per year or $16.29 per hour, with a growth rate of 20%, faster than average.
The BLS numbers for 2012 school and career counselors are: $53,610 per year or $25.77 per hour, with a 12% growth rate, which is the average rate for all occupations.
Substance abuse counselors, according to the BLS, made $38,520 per year or $18.52 per hour in 2012, with a growth rate of 31%.