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.
Related: Trauma Social Worker Career
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.
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 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 Do You Learn in a Child Counseling Degree?
- Development Theories: Child counseling programs will familiarize participants with various explanations for the process of childhood development from psychological, sociological, and cultural perspectives.
- Accurate and Thorough Assessment Skills: Counselors who will be working with children will learn to use standardized assessment tools and child-specific interview techniques to compassionately and accurately determine the nature of a child’s presenting problem or problems. Because children do not have the same language and expressive abilities as adults, and may also have extensive fears about disclosing sensitive thoughts, feelings, and experiences to strangers, child counseling students will learn specialized assessment and communication strategies geared towards children. This includes skills for carefully and discreetly obtaining supporting information from important individuals who have insight into the child’s life, such as relatives, guardians, teachers, siblings, and medical professionals.
- Therapies for Children and families: There are a wide variety of therapeutic techniques developed especially for children that are used by professional counselors, including play therapy, behavior therapy, family therapy, art therapy, and music therapy. Counselors working with children need to be competent in multiple kinds of therapy and understand the conditions for which these techniques are appropriate.
- Ethical considerations: Working with young people who are experiencing difficulties or who have been through traumatizing experiences requires extreme sensitivity and caution in order to avoid causing further distress in the child’s life, causing more problems, and interfering with the child’s healing.
What is an Online Child Counseling Degree?
Online learning in the field of child counseling gives students the opportunity to learn on a flexible schedule while still gaining the education and experience they need to be effective counselors. Online degree programs at the undergraduate level are quite popular, and typically include studies on child and adolescent development, psychological research and statistics, educational psychology, and assessment and testing, to name but a few courses. Online undergraduate programs can take anywhere from 3-5 years to complete, but offer a greater degree of flexibility because students can do their studies and participate in online activities when it best suits their schedule.
To become a licensed child counselor, one must also complete a master’s program in the field. Online studies at the graduate level are often in the fields of counseling or psychology, with others focusing on child development. Regardless of the pathway taken, graduate studies in child counseling often take a minimum of two years beyond that spent obtaining an undergraduate degree.
Like online undergraduate programs, online graduate programs afford students a greater degree of flexibility in terms of when and where they complete their studies. Like traditional programs that take place on campus, online graduate studies focus on research, advanced counseling techniques, assessment and testing, statistics, and of course, classes pertaining to child psychology and child development. There is generally a research and/or clinical component with an online degree in this field. Students would be expected to participate in a practicum or internship placement in which they gain practical experience working directly with child clients.
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.
What is the Salary of a Child Counselor?
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2019 the average annual salary for a mental health counselors providing individual and family services was $46,240.
What is the Difference Between a Child Psychologist and a Child Counselor?
A primary difference between child psychologists and child counselors is the type of education and training they receive. Child counselors usually obtain a graduate degree in mental health counseling or a related field. This training centers on using therapeutic techniques to assist their young clients in overcoming social or emotional issues, behavioral issues, or mental health issues like anxiety and depression. Much of what a child counselor does is engaging in talk therapy, play therapy, or other techniques that help the child open up about his or her problems. Much time is also spent teaching coping skills that make it more likely for the child to have improved mental health functioning in the future.
Where child counselors can practice in many states with just a graduate degree, child psychologists must have a doctorate in psychology to practice. The educational preparations for child psychologists are actually quite similar to those of child counselors, as are the job duties. Child psychologists work with children in a therapeutic setting, talking with children, offering insights, educating them, and equipping them with the skills needed to grow in a healthy manner.
However, child psychologists offer further psychological services that child counselors often do not. Child psychologists might administer tests, such as personality tests or IQ tests, to develop a clearer picture of the child’s mental, emotional, or intellectual state. Child psychologists also often work as members of a team, such as with medical professionals, or as a consultant, such as with school systems, to help devise appropriate treatment plans and interventions for children in need.
What Careers are Similar to a Child Counselor?
Child counseling requires educational and training experiences that prepare workers to provide therapeutic services to children and adolescents. This type of training is shared by many other occupations. These include:
Child psychologist – Like child counselors, people trained in child psychologist offer mental health services to clients under the age of 18. In addition to those therapeutic services, child psychologists also diagnose and treat mental disorders, assess children for social, emotional, and intellectual issues, and conduct research on issues related to child development.
Clinical psychologist – Workers in the field of clinical psychology can elect to specialize in working with children. In that context, clinical psychologists function very much like a child psychologist or child counselor, offering services that address social, emotional, behavioral, intellectual, and mental health issues. Clinical psychologists might further specialize and work only with children that have specific needs, such as those with ADHD or autism.
School psychologist – School psychologists work with children virtually exclusively in a school setting. There, these workers seek to help children best cope with school-related issues like learning disabilities, behavioral issues, and adjustment disorders. School psychologists also often work with teachers in developing programs that promote learning, minimize bullying, improve classroom management, and the like.
Developmental psychologist – Psychologists in this field explore the mental and physical changes that humans experience over the lifespan, including in childhood. Closely related to research psychology, developmental psychology is less a counseling field and is based more on research and investigation of psychological principles. Nonetheless, many developmental psychologists work exclusively on questions related to childhood and adolescence.
Research psychologist – Research psychologists investigate problems related to mental health, and can specialize their research on topics related to childhood and adolescence. For example, a research psychologist might explore different modalities that reduce the impact of dyslexia on a school-aged child.
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