Career Counsellor

Deborah, 34, is a counsellor at a college/university in the Lower Mainland of British Columbia. Her BA in psychology and her MA in counselling psychology are from the University of British Columbia (1990, 1995). She is currently completing a PhD in interdisciplinary studies at the University of British Columbia.

Stephanie: What made you decide to become a career counsellor? How did you become a career counsellor?
When I graduated with my bachelor of arts, with a major in psychology, I found a full-time job working in a day program for people who had a mental illness. (I had worked there part-time doing recreational programs prior to this.) The day program expanded, and someone was needed to set up an employment program. I worked as an employment coordinator for two years while pursuing my master of arts degree in counselling psychology on a part-time basis. I wanted to have more responsibility and challenges in my work, and thought that a professional counselling program could help me achieve that.

Two years later I started a job as an employment counsellor with a government-funded program designed to help people on income assistance find employment or return to education. This was perhaps where I fell in love with career counselling, as I realized how many social and economic benefits came from having a good job, for example, where you lived, your self esteem, status, etc.

After graduating from my master's program I wanted to expand my counselling skills, so I pursued contract work as a counsellor for a few of the local colleges and universities. I eventually took a full-time job as a counsellor at one of the post-secondary schools and have been there ever since.

When I finished my master's degree, I did a lot of information interviews and considered counselling people with drug and alcohol or abuse issues. I felt that the potential for a counsellor to burn out was higher in areas that consistently dealt with trauma; I decided to work in a counselling position that saw people with a range of issues, from career to trauma. I also really loved teaching as well as learning, so the college/university setting seemed a good fit for me.

In looking back on my path in becoming a career counsellor it has been due, in part, to the opportunities I had available to me at different times in my life, as well as my interest in counselling. I have always wanted to work in a helping profession, I just didn't know where I would end up. I have never been able to work for very long at a job that didn't interest me, and so I have always been the type that looked for new challenges and variety in my work. I was attracted to counselling because it is a helping profession that has a lot of variety, personal learning and it requires independent thinking and judgement.

The bottom line for me is that I have always trusted my intuition to help me make sense of what direction I should pursue and have always had faith that a career path would reveal itself over time.

Stephanie: What do you like about your job?
As a counsellor I have a great deal of variety in my job as well as a high degree of autonomy and responsibility. I help students with career-related issues, educational problems or personal/crisis situations. In addition to counselling, I also teach. The variety helps to challenge me and I am constantly learning and being intellectually stimulating.

As a counsellor my role is to help people figure out the solutions to their problems; it is rewarding to watch someone move ahead in an area where they were previously challenged.

Building relationships and being non-judgemental are critical skills as a counsellor and people need to feel they can trust you. Getting to know people is an enjoyable part of my job and I am always appreciative of the trust people place in me when they tell me their private thoughts and feelings.

Stephanie: What is your least favourite part of the job?
Sometimes I have to assess a person's potential risk to themselves or others (suicide/homicide). This often requires making a professional judgement. Given the weight of this decision, I feel a large amount of pressure and responsibility to ensure that my decision is right.

I can also work with difficult and challenging people that make the job tough, although support from collegues and taking the attitude that I can learn something from these experiences can help make this a mangeable situation.

Stephanie: What advice do you have for someone considering becoming a career counsellor?
There are many types of jobs under the career counselling umbrella and some require more training than others. Information interviewing would be useful in helping someone see where they fit best or where they could find a foot in the door.

Volunteer work is a must when you are first starting out in the field; employers want to know that you have experience helping people. If you can start working or volunteering in an entry-level position in a career related area, i.e., a student employment centre, this can be a great start and you will gain valuable work experience and knowledge.

Stephanie: What kind of an education do you need to be a career counsellor? What kind of education did you get?
Generally career practionners/counsellors require at least a bachelor's degree. People usually have an arts-related or a business major, but it can be quite broad. Employers are looking a combination of education and experience - this is why volunteer or entry-level work can be so important.

If you want to be a professional counsellor then you need to take advanced education, usually a master's degree in counselling psychology. In fact, more and more career counsellors are pursuing graduate degrees. I personally believe that there is little difference between counselling people around career problems or personal ones. Work has the power to affect every area of a person's life, and one's home life has an impact on work performance. A professional counselling background, usually a master's degree, provides the best education to deal with the multitude of issues that clients face. It also gives you the flexibility to work in other areas within counselling.

I have a BA in psychology, a master of arts with a major in counselling psychology and am currently working on a PhD in interdisciplinary studies. A master's degree is the required level of education for work as a counsellor in the post-secondary system in British Columbia.

Stephanie: What was your favourite subject when you were in high school?
Drama - I loved to act and perform with my friends. It was fun and the creativity needed was challenging and enjoyable. Counselling is actually a very creative profession, because you are essentially helping people find new ways of thinking and dealing with their problems.

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