School Counseling is unlike traditional therapy in a lot of ways because you aren’t able to have the frequency of sessions and depth of processing that you’d have in traditional therapy, school counseling work is more like triage. However, what you lack in formal and frequent sessions, you more than make up for by being present in that child’s life for years at a time, often with the ability to coordinate the links between parents, teachers, friends, and other community members.
Your goal is different in school counseling because it always relates to school–how can I help make school a better experience for this student? An elementary school counselor might teach a student how to better regulate their emotions to endure/enjoy class more often so that they can learn the material. However, a high school counselor might use motivational interviewing to help a student manage their academics or decide on a career path.
Each individual school, state, district, and grade level provides a different experience for the school counselor, but there are a few characteristics of counselors that remain consistent across the field.
If you want to be successful, it’s just this simple. Know what you are doing. Love what you are doing. And believe in what you are doing.Will Rogers
Here are the six signs that school counseling might be the right career fit for you.
1. You feel a deep desire to help others.
This might be the right field for you if people regularly come to you and tell you that you’re a good listener–I’ve been hearing that since I was thirteen years old! I cannot squash that part of me who wants to help–in pretty much every situation. My natural instinct is to help others.
I worked retail years ago, had been promoted into management, and was well on my way toward a bright career. But, I can remember the exact moment when I realized I couldn’t stay in that field any longer. I sat in my car on my lunch break and wrote, “I have to be made for more than this life I’m living.” I have many friends who are still in sales and are thrilled with their career choice, but I couldn’t shake that feeling that I needed to help heal suffering.
2. You have worked through all of your own drama.
This is no joke. Most counseling programs will require or at least strongly encourage you to attend therapy before you begin practicing. You cannot work out your own issues by helping other people.
Being a counselor is about helping others, counseling is never about you, never. You’ve got to have your self all sorted out before you are in a position to help others. Even when you’re in the field, you’ll likely need to go to counseling to ensure you stay on top of your own mental health–think of it like an oil change, just regular ‘ol maintenance.
3. You are cool under pressure.
Every school counselor I know is the kind of person who runs toward the problem, not away from it. When the chips are down, you know that you’re the person to help manage the situation. If you are the kind of person, who has helped diffuse that thanksgiving squabble between your democratic aunt and republican uncle, this might be the right field for you.
4. You know how to get stuff done.
You probably enjoy making lists and being organized, but also feel totally at ease when your gorgeous color-coded list gets smashed to smithereens. Your closet is probably color-coded too, isn’t it, you maniac? (It’s okay, mine is too, let’s be friends.) You love your lists, but you know how to pivot and are generally known for getting stuff done.
As a school counselor, you’ll likely have a few hundred students on your caseload (some have thousands). The size of the caseload won’t matter to someone like you because you’re the kind of person who is going to figure out a plan to serve each one of the students with the most comprehensive school counseling program the world has ever seen. I’ll bet that you can’t stand the idea of not giving something your best effort.
It’s because you know how to prioritize and get stuff done. You don’t dilly dally, you work fast and realize the difference between a true emergency and what is poor planning on someone else’s part and know not to get into that “fake emergency” trap with them.
Your innate ability to prioritize is the skill is the one that will save you from the crush of an obscene workload.
5. You enjoy problem-solving.
With this job, the answer is never ‘a’ or ‘b.’ It’s more like some version of ‘zysk.’ There are so many situations that you’ve never seen before–even years in; you’ll have something come up and think, “Welp, I guess I hadn’t seen it all after all.” No answer is ever the same because no student or situation is always the same. There is a myriad of variables, and you have to be willing and able to adapt and roll with whatever comes your way.
So much of this work is finding a path forward through a prickle bush. It won’t be easy, but it is possible.
6. People tell you all the things.
Do random strangers feel the need to share their entire life story with you? The zoo, the supermarket, the dentists’ office, it doesn’t matter where you are, people seem to gravitate toward you and share their stories, their fears, and their hopes and dreams. If so, this might be the right job for you.
My partner is amazed when I’ll meet one of his friends for many years and learn more about them in an hour than he has their entire relationship. People probably feel your authenticity and genuineness which is why they open up to you so quickly.
If you decide this is the career path for you.
Grad school won’t be easy, but if you’re like me, you’ll have that moment of absolute pleasure when you realize that soon they’ll be paying you to help children. It is such a thrilling (and initially scary) experience to have that much responsibility placed upon your shoulders. You’ll need to have a strong support network to endure that first couple of years.
Once you’re in the job, you’ll realize that it won’t always be easy. Yes, you theoretically get summers off, but the work is never really done. You’re always planning, responding to calls and emails, and developing an entire program to support each one of your students. Most school counselors aren’t able to clock in and out and call it a day. The work is never finished, but strong boundaries will help you manage the workload.
Whatever career you choose, I hope that you love it. I hope you have that same sense of excitement I feel each day when I wake up and get to go into work. Remember, “you get to,” you don’t “have to.”