The impetus for this series of blogs comes, for the most part, from conversations we have had with recent Counselling Program graduates and from our efforts to assist past graduates in the later stages of their careers as they try to navigate the rapidly changing landscape of counsellor regulation. In the interest of transparency, the majority of graduates we know who see counselling as a work role for implementation later in their career, already have a career path established as teachers, nurses, social workers, etc. The majority of students who graduate from our Counselling Program and others that we are familiar with, seek work in a counselling role immediately or go on to pursue more education. It is the small, but perplexing, group of graduates who complete the degree, and then put the counselling role on hold, that we want to consider for this series of blogs. We want to discuss a number of motivations people have for choosing counselling as a profession and to determine if, within these motivations, societal change enables, even demands, continuing work after people retire from other professions to practice counselling therapy.
Most, if not all counsellors, have entered this line of work because they want to help create positive change in the lives of others. But people are able to do that in the relationships they already have in their lives or by volunteering, neither of which requires extensive education and supervised experience, not to mention the expenditure of time and money. It wasn’t too long ago, in fact, that a significant amount of counselling was provided in lay-counsellor roles. The early 20th century saw the emergence of an increased emphasis on the value of all human beings and, coupled with the changes brought on the Industrial Revolution, the need for mental and emotional support increased. The medical community (including psychiatrists and psychologists) were managing the more difficult cases but many people didn’t require that level of service to function normally. So well-intentioned and caring members of public and church communities volunteered to provide a listening ear to those in their community who needed it. Students in the public school system learned who the teacher was in their school that they could go talk to when they had a problem. Pastors provided counselling services to their congregations. Counselling as a profession has grown in the context of historical events such as the Industrial Revolution, the Great Depression and world conflicts. Counselling started becoming professionalized in the 1950s and as a result, it is now possible to combine the motivation to help people with other motivations for becoming a counsellor. The question that persists, like a mosquito in a dark tent, is why individuals are waiting until one professional practice ends to start taking the necessary steps to engage in professional counselling? Perhaps it is a growing awareness of the need for a counselling therapist in their interpersonal sphere. For example, school teachers, social workers and nurses all experience clients who need additional interventions that furthering their educational and professional training enables them to provide.
We have heard a good number of secondary reasons for making the decision to complete the Counselling program that we work in. We have had people apply who are working in other non-helping professions who are seeking more meaningful work. Others are looking for flexibility in their career. For those applicants coming from the school system, many have a desire to keep learning and pushing themselves forward and counselling is the most interesting option. Unlike many other graduate programs, Counselling is typically found in Faculties of Education, which bring opportunities for part-time completion, flexible class scheduling and online course options. For someone looking to increase their education (and pay), these programs are particularly attractive because they don’t require the applicant to quit their current job. Finally, counselling is a profession where life experience is valued, so we often get applicants from people looking for a second career.
There are many viable reasons for starting down the path towards becoming a counsellor and it is not our intention to judge the motivations of people who have considered and are considering counselling as a profession. Social desirability often masks the motivations people have anyways. The decision to “sideline” the counselling role until later in one’s career, however, has ramifications for the individual, counsellor education programs, regulatory bodies and the profession. We will discuss these ramifications in more detail in the next blog.
*The views expressed by our authors are personal opinions and do not necessarily reflect the views of the CCPA