Most people don’t decide to become qualified counsellors overnight. Not only does it take years of education and training, but it also requires a fair amount of thought. After all, you want to ensure you don’t study hard for a career you later realise isn’t for you.
So, if you are contemplating dedicating your working life to helping those with mental health issues, here are seventeen important questions you must ask yourself first.
1. Do You Have the Time to Earn Your Degree?
Most counselling careers require a minimum of a bachelor’s degree, with many counsellors deciding to go on to do their master’s, too. If you’ve already majored in a subject unrelated to counselling or mental health, then don’t worry, as there are online counseling degrees to help you get qualified. The real question you must ask yourself is if you have the time to put in the required hours.
Even if you choose to go with online counseling degrees rather than traditional classroom learning, you’ll still need to account for all the hours of studying at home on top of the required work experience.
2. What Counselling Skills Do You Possess?
While there is plenty of time to get educated, it’s also helpful to already possess some of the major skills required to succeed at counselling. After all, there are some qualities you cannot teach. By knowing you have the kind of personality that works well in a mental health career, you are more likely to do well, not just during online counseling degrees but also throughout your entire career. Some of the skills you should hold include:
Due to how the number of patients you’ll see alongside the documents you’ll be in charge of, organisation is a must. Plus, with vulnerable people relying on your presence, you must never get into habits like lateness. While this is a skill you can develop, it’s a good idea to ensure you have a decent level of organisation before applying to online counseling degrees.
While no one can keep their composure at all times, the better you are at it, the better you’ll be as a counsellor. After all, those who work with mental health patients often have to deal with emergencies and troubling situations. In order to help, you must be able to stay calm and collected.
A huge part of counselling is conversation. It makes sense; then, those interpersonal skills are a must. After all, your patient won’t feel comfortable around you or trust you if you’re not open, warm, and easy to talk to. So, ask yourself, do people enjoy your presence? Are you an easy person to talk to? These are qualities that are crucial for successful counsellors.
Deciding to become a counsellor with little empathy doesn’t make sense. On the hard days, it’ll be the thought of helping others and improving people’s lives that’ll push you forward, and to think that way, you must be an empathetic person. Fortunately, the chances are that you are already likely empathetic due to your desire to work with mental health patients.
By understanding what skills you have that transfer well to counselling, you’ll have a better idea about whether the career is right for you.
3. What Specialty do You Want to Go into?
While you don’t need to know exactly where you’ll be in five years, knowing your general direction is sensible when looking at online counseling degrees. Ask yourself, do you want to work with children? What kind of work environment would suit you? Is there a particular area of counselling you want to work in, such as marriage counselling or addiction counselling? Knowing where you’re heading will help you during your study and training years.
4. How do You Manage Stress?
Stress is a part of any job, but especially those that involve healthcare and working with patients. For this reason, you must be able to manage stress well. Do you keep stress in until you feel like imploding, or do you have healthy methods to help release it? Before browsing online counseling degrees, consider whether you’d be able to handle the stresses the job brings.
5. What Are Your Experiences with Mental Illness?
Depending on what area of counselling you work in, you’ll likely come across many patients with mental illnesses. To know whether you are good at dealing with them, one question to ask yourself is – do you have any experiences with mental illness?
Interestingly, many people who personally suffer from mental health issues go onto work in that field to help others manage. If you have personal experience with mental illness, that could translate well to your counselling career. If nothing else, it might help you be more empathetic.
6. Are You Willing to Make Mistakes?
No one is perfect – especially new counsellors. Over the years of treating patients, you’ll likely make many mistakes, and that’s OK! While you shouldn’t simply brush them off, it’s important to accept that you will make errors from time to time and learn from them. So, before deciding on a counselling career, make sure you’re willing to take the long route around and make mistakes. After all, there are no shortcuts.
7. Do You Keep Secrets Well?
Big mouths rarely make great counsellors. Over your years in this profession, you’ll hear many interesting, eye-opening, and weird stories, but you must keep them between yourself and your patient, as doctor-patient confidentiality is an enormous part of healthcare ethics. When working with vulnerable individuals, you must keep their trust; otherwise, you run the risk of harming them further and losing your job. So, before applying to online counseling degrees, consider how well you can keep secrets.
8. How Good Are You with People?
You need to consider how good you are with people because, as a counselor, you’ll constantly be around people. Not only that, but you’ll be the person patients look to for advice, an open ear, and, above all else, trust. The best counsellors are those with excellent interpersonal skills, so assess yours before deciding on a career in mental health.
Remember, though, that just because your friends enjoy your presence, that doesn’t mean you’ll automatically win the trust of every patient that steps through your door. No matter what stage of your counselling career you are at, you’ll always need to be looking for ways to improve your interpersonal skills.
9. Are You Self Disciplined?
As a counsellor, it’s not just yourself that you’re responsible for – your patients also rely on you. For this reason, you must have enough self-discipline to always show up on time, keep a record of everything, and put in your best effort even when you feel less than amazing.
10. Have You Explored All Healthcare Careers?
There is no denying that counselling is an excellent career, but it’s a good idea to consider other healthcare career options before you dive in. After all, many people choose to go into healthcare for similar reasons – that they want to help people and make society a better place to live. Once you’ve given a bunch of different healthcare careers a thought, you’ll know whether counselling is your true calling.
11. Are You Willing to Go the Extra Mile?
Some jobs just need you to show up, complete your task list, and leave, but that doesn’t include counselling. On the days you need to put in an extra hour, are you willing to do that? If someone asks you to give a talk at a local community group or school, will you not only say yes but be more than happy to do it? The best counsellors are those willing to go the extra mile, no matter what.
To understand whether you are that kind of person, think about your previous career history and how you performed then. If you were the person who stayed late or covered other’s shifts, then you have the drive required to be an excellent counsellor.
12. Do People Feel Comfortable Around You?
People are less likely to open up to someone they don’t trust or feel comfortable around. Due to this, it’s important you consider how comfortable you can make someone feel. Are you relaxed, amiable, and calm, or do you often feel tense around others? The more comfortable the people you know in real life feel around you, the better your patients’ chance will be, too.
13. Are You Open-Minded?
There is little room in the counselling world for small-mindedness. After all, you’ll be dealing with a mixture of patients from varying backgrounds, all of who have unique viewpoints and experiences. By being as open-minded as possible, you ensure every patient receives the exact same level of quality care. Plus, it’ll help you connect with and understand anyone who walks through your door.
14. Do You Look After Yourself?
Counselling is often a tough job, which means you must put in the effort to look after yourself. If you don’t do that now, what are the chances you’ll start when you’re dealing with difficult patients and a huge workload? Some signs that you are good at looking after yourself include:
- You eat a healthy diet
- You exercise regularly
- You have hobbies outside of work
- You get enough sleep
- You know when to say no
15. Do You Have Any Healthcare Experience?
You should consider whether or not you have any previous healthcare experience, as that could help your counselling journey, especially when it comes to online counseling degrees. The skills and knowledge you may have learned during a healthcare job could play a pivotal role in securing a new counselling career. Plus, if you’ve previously worked in healthcare, you’ll have a better idea of how you handle patients and emergencies.
16. Are You a Good Listener?
Talking is a large part of counselling, but so is listening. You can’t just sit there for the entirety of a patient’s session talking without a break! Your job is to understand your patient and, at times, help them reach their own conclusions. So, if you’re a good listener, you’ll find this part of the role much easier.
17. Why Do You Want to Be a Counsellor?
This question is the one you really need to think about. What are your reasons for becoming a counsellor? Is it a life-long dream of yours? Are you passionate about helping people? By assessing your motivations, you’ll have a better idea of whether you’re pursuing this career for the right reasons. Those who are genuinely passionate are more likely to succeed.
What are the Benefits of Becoming a Counsellor?
For those who are motivated to help people, counselling can be an extremely rewarding career. If you are the kind of person who makes people feel at ease, has great organisational skills, and is always willing to put in maximum effort, then you can enjoy these benefits of becoming a counsellor:
A Flexible Career
Flexibility is a huge bonus in a career, especially for families and those with other obligations. Fortunately, counselling provides just that – there’s no strict five-days-a-week nine-until-five routine. If you need your counselling career to work around your kids or other studies, you can.
It’s a Respected Career
While you might not go into counselling because of the respect you will gain, it will come regardless. When people discover that you help people with mental health issues for a living, they will come to see you as helpful, kind, and an all-around decent person.
You Get to Help People
The best reason for applying to online counseling degrees and working with mental health patients is that you get to help people every single day. It’s a job that you can leave knowing you’ve made a true difference in the world.
A counselling career isn’t something to rush into. If you’ve asked yourself the right questions and reached the conclusion that it’s your ideal role, though, then you can expect a wonderfully fulfilling career.