Family Counselor

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Family Counselor


Very few of us are lucky enough to have been raised in ideal family situations, with picket fences hemming in perfect birthday parties, home-cooked meals, and joyful summer holidays filled with barbecues, potato sack races, and camping trips. Most families have problems, and if those problems go untreated, they will slowly take over, creating problems for parents and children alike.

Luckily, family counselors involve themselves in those lives. They recognize that every family has its own problems, and that, for some families, those problems can get too overwhelming, leading to a breakdown in communication and trust amongst the family members. Family counselors are trained professionals who help families through those tough times. They meet with families who have endured the pain of illness, death, unemployment, and divorce, helping each family member deal with the troubling issues and restore communication and support within the family unit. Family counselors concentrate on using the family's existing skills to reconnect and confront their problems in useful, positive ways. Together the family and the counselor try and develop new strategies to deal with the existing problems. By discussing feelings, emotions, and destructive behavior, and by allowing the family to identify how their actions and feelings may be negatively affecting them, a counselor helps them put the pieces back together. After each session, the counselor should keep thorough, clear notes, in order to make plans for future sessions.

A family counselor must be able to identify the problems in the first place. Often, it could be that the parents need couples' counseling, or the children may need to see child or youth counselors, as well.

Family counseling is not an easy job. Each facet brings its own challenges and rewards. A family counselor must be emotionally stable, compassionate, and willing to fight for their clients.
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  Interests and Skills  
Interested in a career in family counseling? Family counselors should be mature, patient, sensitive and non-judgmental. They must also be resourceful, emotionally stable, and flexible when it comes to hours, workplace, and client behavior. They have a genuine desire to help all people, and are willing to come up with creative, innovative solutions for each family they encounter. They need good verbal and written communication skills as well as empathy for those whom they are counseling.

  Typical Tasks  
  • Interview family members alone, and as a unit, to obtain family history and understand dynamics
  • Help parents and children to understand their feelings and behavior through various techniques
  • Ask leading questions, in an effort to guide family members' thinking
  • Help family members to develop healthy communication skills
  • Coach them in new skills and strategies to deal with family issues
  • Consult with or refer clients to other social services
  • Keep clear, confidential records of clients' progress
  • A typical day for a family counselor will involve a lot of listening. Listening to family histories, listening to communication skills, listening to how parents relate to each other, and how the children relate to their parents. They will try and restore a feeling of trust and community within the family they are working with, through private sessions, group sessions, games, role playing, and by speaking with other social service workers who may have come in contact with the family before. Comprehensive reports documenting the family's progress should also be regularly updated.

  Workplaces, Employers and Industries  
  • Family counselors work for religious organizations, school boards, and with government agencies and with social service initiatives, but they can also be found in private practice, working alone or alongside a team of marriage, family, and child counselors. If they work in private practice, their hours will be fairly regular, with weekends, evenings and holidays off. If they choose to work in the public sector, however, they may work in group-home settings, or shelters, where they can be on-call at all hours, everyday of the week. They may work alongside other health care practitioners, social workers, and therapists.

  Long Term Career Potential  
A family counselor in private practice can switch over to working with government agencies or non-profit organizations, or vice versa. There is also the option of returning to school, completing a PhD, and becoming a registered psychologist. They can also write self-help books for families, go on lecture tours, or run workshops dealing with issues like communication and respect.

  Educational Paths  
In order to work as a family counselor, it is a good idea to work towards becoming a member in a professional organization. This will prove the counselors dedication to their work, and create a sense of trust between themselves and their clients. In order to become a member in one of these organizations, prospective counselors need to have a bachelor's degree in any subject, a master's degree in psychology, social work or family studies, and then complete two years of supervised, post-degree work in family therapy and counseling. They can practice as a family counselor without joining a professional organization, but may choose to work in the public sector, as it will be harder for them to find clients in the private sphere.

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition,
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Employment Statistics, 2002,

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  • And more...

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