The valued role of the counselor

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Licensed counselors help people gain personal insights, develop strategies, and solve their challenges and problems. As trained professionals, they build safe relationships with their clients and suggest tools and skills they think will benefit them. Working with a counselor allows individuals to focus on their mental and emotional health, overcome challenges, meet goals, and have a brighter and healthier future. Counselors must have a master’s degree and be licensed to practice. There are various specializations depending on the area or population to be worked with. More people are seeking mental health services, and there is a demand for highly skilled counselors.

Counselors create a safe, non-judgmental environment and actively listen so clients can explore what is troubling them. This is a skilled and multi-faceted role; counselors must continually develop their skills. They use a client-centered approach and evidence-based practices to ensure top-quality care. They are committed to providing ethical, culturally inclusive services that protect and benefit every client. Counseling usually addresses unresolved and severe problems using techniques developed for this purpose. Professional counselors can work in numerous settings, such as workplaces, schools, prisons, hospitals, or health centers.


Becoming a counselor requires specific educational and licensing components. Having a bachelor’s degree in counseling or psychology is the first higher education qualification required. After this, a master’s degree in counseling, often with a specialization, and then an application for licensure. Requirements do vary depending on state or territory. 

St. Bonaventure University offers an online Mental Health Counseling Master’s Degree, preparing students for the licensed professional counselor exam. Students apply what they learn during a practicum and two internships. The program introduces methodologies commonly used in counseling. Students learn about quantitative and qualitative research and complete an original research project. Admission requirements include having a bachelor’s degree from an accredited institution. The master’s degree opens career opportunities in a worthwhile and exciting field. 


The American Counseling Association worked with 31 counseling organizations to define counseling: “a professional relationship that empowers diverse individuals, families, and groups to accomplish mental health, wellness, education, and career goals.” Counseling has many facets and specializations, but all counselors aim to fulfill the above definition. 

Mental health counseling 

Mental health counselors provide guidance and support to clients experiencing problems such as depression, addiction, abuse, stress, grief, and relationship conflicts. Counseling usually addresses unresolved and grave problems using techniques developed for this purpose. Many counseling theories use models to enable the counselor to examine and evaluate the client and then use intervention techniques. This specialty requires skills in numerous areas of mental health and commitment to work with various populations. These counselors typically need a master’s degree in counseling, psychology, or social work. Mental Health Counselors must pass the National Clinical Mental Health Counseling Examination to become licensed to practice. 

Marriage and family counseling

Marriage and family counselors are mental health professionals trained in family systems and psychotherapy and licensed to diagnose and treat emotional and mental disorders in the context of couples, marriage, and families. They treat a wide range of clinical problems, such as anxiety, depression, child-parent issues, marital problems, and individual psychological problems. 

Counselors address how family relations affect individuals and provide tools to navigate relationships. Most American states require marriage and family counselors to hold a master’s degree in psychology, marriage and family therapy, or a related subject. They must also gain licensure from the Association of Marital and Family Therapy Regulatory Boards. 

Grief counseling

Grief counselors help clients cope with events like the death of a loved one, a serious illness or injury, or a change of circumstance like losing a job or a relationship ending. They guide them through the five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Clients learn new ways to cope with their grief. In therapy, the counselor may help them explore their emotions, address trauma, and find ways to build support systems. Counselors’ responsibilities include recording case histories, guiding clients through stages of grief, identifying the client’s needs, developing treatment plans, monitoring progress, and working with other medical specialists. Grief counselors are required to have a master’s degree in educational counseling, psychology, or a related mental health subject. Grief counselors need a license to practice. 

School Counseling

School counselors work in school settings to provide students with care and support so they can reach their full potential. The main objective of this role is to help students resolve any issues affecting their school development and performance. Counselors provide a safe place in school for children to discuss and address worries and concerns. They observe their strengths, weaknesses, and interests and advise on educational and career options. They identify signs of bullying, abuse, and neglect and report incidents to authorities. School counselors work with other professionals, such as teachers and counselors, to learn about students’ difficulties and find an appropriate solution. School counselors must have a master’s degree in counseling, social work, or psychology, and most American states require a license to practice. 

Substance abuse counseling

Substance abuse counselors provide the behavioral, emotional, and mental health services clients need to recover from alcohol and drug abuse, gambling addictions, and other behavioral problems. They offer support without judgment to help clients on their recovery journey. Substance abuse counselors understand the impact of substance abuse and addiction and the physical and mental treatments for these issues. They evaluate the patient’s health, create treatment plans, and help them develop skills to support their recovery. They also develop relapse prevention plans. They work with families to help them understand their relative’s illness and guide their interactions with the client. Substance abuse counselors need a master’s degree in addiction psychology, social work, or psychology and must be licensed to practice. 

Trauma counseling

Trauma counselors are mental health professionals who specialize in working with clients who have experienced trauma. They conduct counseling sessions with patients, organize group therapy where clients can share their experiences, and lead family therapy sessions. They help individuals to understand the trauma and their response to it, recognize and manage the painful feelings the trauma has caused, and learn coping mechanisms to deal with symptoms or challenges related to trauma. Counseling can help to restore normal functioning and minimize or remove symptoms caused by trauma, including flashbacks, insomnia, guilt, anger, and hypervigilance. It is not possible to eliminate past traumas, but counseling can give clients more strength and coping skills to use if symptoms reoccur. Trauma counselors can take a master’s in trauma counseling or mental health counseling with an emphasis on trauma counseling and need a license to practice. 


Counselors can gain specialty certificates that show competence in working with certain patient populations and the skills necessary to address specific issues or conditions. These certifications are overseen by state and national associations and organizations. Counseling is a broad subject with many specialties. Licensed counselors can attend certificate programs to develop knowledge in a specific area. The main counseling specialties all have certificate programs. Examples of certifications include:

  • Contemporary Theory in Couple and Family Systems Certification
  • Master Addiction Counselor
  • National Certified School Counselor
  • Certified Clinical Mental Health Counselor
  • The Commission on Rehabilitation Counselor Certification

Contemporary Theory in Couple and Family Systems Certification

Systemic theory underpins couple and family psychology practice and research. It provides concepts and principles that enhance the understanding of human behavior. This certification qualifies counselors in couples and family counseling. The course examines family and marriage interactions, family and systemic intervention models, and family and other systems theories. Students learn about the historical perspective and recent family and marriage systemic model developments. This graduate certificate may be taken instead of or in addition to a master’s degree. 

Master Addiction Counselor

The Master Addiction Counselor certification is for professionals who work with addiction and substance use disorders. They can demonstrate their specialized addiction treatment skills through work experience and graduate coursework. Certificate programs can help substance abuse counselors develop their knowledge and access new career opportunities. Students are required to hold NCC certification, have addiction counseling experience, and have attended substantial training. Addiction counseling, chemical dependence counseling, and substance abuse counseling are all provided as certificates. 

Developing skills

Counselors who continually develop their skills can perform their work more effectively and positively influence their clients. Many skills help in the professional development of counselors. 


Empathy allows counselors to sense their clients’ emotions and imagine their thoughts or feelings. Empathy requires acceptance and understanding of another person’s difficulties. When counselors practice empathy, they do not judge but allow clients to share openly and safely. Empathetic counselors can give more relevant advice and help their clients feel understood. Counselors can learn more about empathy by researching the subject and increasing their understanding of how this skill can help them support their clients through counseling. 


Communication and interpersonal skills are critical in counseling as they help counselors effectively discuss issues and share solutions. Counselors support their clients in expressing themselves and improving their communication. Developing active listening skills can help counselors to notice a client’s body language and nonverbal cues. Counselor responses should be easy to understand, helpful, and relevant. They ask clarifying questions to ensure understanding and develop their skills and are aware when their communication is ineffective so they can improve their skills over time. 


Listening is a component of communication and is a fundamental part of counseling. Counselors need to listen actively before interrupting or offering advice. By listening and using critical thinking, the counselor can often recognize underlying feelings or traumas and help the client work to resolve complex issues. Rather than considering their perceptions and experiences, counselors can use strong listening skills to avoid making assumptions and learn about the client’s unique situation. 


Counselors can work with many clients and see them for numerous sessions. They need good organizational skills to have client details, notes, and documents to hand. Files can be kept for each client, and new notes can be added after every session. Information can be reviewed before each meeting so that important points are followed up and the counseling is more personalized. Relationships with clients are likely stronger if the counselor remembers information and does not mix it up with other clients.


Counselors may work with complex issues or problems. Problem-solving skills can help to offer relevant and realistic solutions. By listening carefully to concerns and struggles, counselors can develop effective long-term solutions for clients. Counselors can work with clients to find solutions they think are plausible and feel comfortable with. Counselors can research cases to have all the information they need to make informed suggestions.


Knowing how to respect and keep confidentiality is a crucial skill for counselors. Information shared by clients can be very sensitive. The client must trust the counselor for a mutually positive relationship to develop. There are legal requirements to adhere to as well. Counselors should only talk about their clients outside the counseling environment if they speak to a supervisor in a private space. Confidentiality improves professionalism and allows for positive relationships with clients. 

The counseling experience

Highly qualified and trained counselors can provide counseling services to clients that address their problems and find workable solutions. Counselors use a client-centered approach and evidence-based practices to deliver quality service. Many people feel more comfortable talking to a trained professional who is not part of their life and can listen without bias or judgment. 


Counseling can give people the opportunity to learn more about themselves and to have a better understanding of their beliefs, values, and personality. Self-awareness is the ability to monitor thoughts, beliefs, and emotions and understand how these things affect actions. Being more self-aware can improve someone’s mental and emotional health. They can better understand their role in the problems they face. Being more self-aware can lead them to make changes and progress on their journey. 

Change behavior

Counseling can help people recognize damaging patterns of behavior. They can gain awareness of the emotions, thoughts, and behaviors that negatively impact their life. Recognizing damaging behavior patterns can help control these problems, and learning new coping skills will lead to positive change. They can learn what steps are needed to progress and have control over behavior to allow for positive change. 


Counselors create a safe and non-judgmental environment that allows clients to talk openly about personal matters. Clients can relax in a space where they are accepted and will not be judged. The client’s emotions are validated, the situation is normalized, and the client is not alone. Counselors are skilled in discussing complex matters, making speaking to them about deep-seated thoughts and feelings more manageable. 


Sometimes, people focus on their negative traits and are unaware of their positive ones. Counseling can help clients to find self-acceptance and accept flaws as a natural part of themselves. Self-accepting can lead to greater self-confidence, and weaknesses can be improved by building on strengths. Counseling can promote assertiveness and allow people to set boundaries for themselves and others. 

Finding purpose

Finding meaning in life means different things to different people. Clients could be in an existential crisis or grieving a loss and feel a temporary loss of identity. Counselors can help them explore their beliefs, interests, values, and memories and rediscover their purpose and meaning in life. Understanding desires and having meaningful goals can bring purpose to people’s lives. Finding a purpose in life can involve recognizing talents and using them to make a difference in the world. Being in touch with what gives life purpose can be an ongoing, evolving journey. 

Managing emotions

Counseling can help clients deal with stress, anger, anxiety, or depression by r assisting them in identifying, expressing, and regulating emotions. Learning about triggers and understanding maladaptive coping can help to deal with emotions healthily. Negative emotions leading to unhealthy behavior can be prevented. Counseling is a place to express frustrations, unload grievances, release emotions, and uncover hidden pain that prevents peace of mind. 

A quality service

Counselors are trained to help people with diverse problems and conditions and help them find solutions that improve their way of life. Counselors need expertise to provide counseling and to continually develop their skills and knowledge to ensure they offer a quality service. Counselors can gain a master’s degree in counseling with a chosen specialization followed by licensure. Certifications can be achieved to progress careers and open new job opportunities. Counselors with experience and qualifications can offer high-quality service to clients and help people lead more rewarding lives. 

Author Profile

The Editorial Team at Lake Oconee Health is made up of skilled health and wellness writers and experts, led by Daniel Casciato who has over 25 years of experience in healthcare writing. Since 1998, we have produced compelling and informative content for numerous publications, establishing ourselves as a trusted resource for health and wellness information. We aim to provide our readers with valuable insights and guidance to help them lead healthier and happier lives.