10 Most Common Counseling Specialties

February 21, 2012 Careers

Counselors work in diverse settings, but they also can work in equally diverse fields. If you have a background in art, you might consider becoming an art counselor. If you have a financial background, a career as a financial counselor or advisor might suit you. In most cases, a master’s degree is required for a counseling job, with some background in the field you plan to enter, such as education, substance abuse, or rehabilitation. In all cases, a strong desire to help others is a plus, and this passion may provide you with a satisfying counseling career.

  1. School CounselorVocational counselors, or career counselors, help individuals and groups with career, personal goals, social and educational counseling. Many times, counselors in this field work with individuals who feel unsatisfied with their career choices, but who are afraid to make changes because of emotional issues or family or financial constraints. This type of counselor can work with people of all ages, from adolescents who want to explore career options to professionals who want to make career changes. Career counselors typically have a background in vocational, industrial, or organizational psychology.
  2. School counselors help students at all levels to understand and cope with social, behavioral, and personal problems. School or education counselors emphasize preventive and developmental counseling to enhance students’ personal, social, and academic growth and to provide students with the life skills needed to deal with problems before they worsen. School counselors often provide special services, including alcohol and drug prevention programs, conflict resolution classes, vocational counseling, and also try to identify cases of domestic abuse and other family problems that can affect a student’s development. Counselors consult and collaborate with parents, teachers, school administrators, school psychologists, medical professionals, and social workers to develop and implement strategies to help students succeed. School counselors help students evaluate their abilities, interests, talents, and personalities to develop realistic academic and career goals. Often, counselors work with students who have academic and social development problems or other special needs.
  3. Rehabilitation counselors [PDF] provide counseling, guidance and case management services to persons with disabilities to assist them in achieving their psychological, personal, social, and vocational goals. After conferring with the client’s physicians, psychologists, occupational therapists, and the employer, a rehabilitation program is initiated. The rehabilitation program may range from a week to several years depending on the nature of the problem and the needs of the client. Rehabilitation counselors are trained to recognize and to help lessen environmental and attitudinal barriers. Such help may include providing education, and advocacy services to individuals, families, employers, and others in the community. Rehabilitation counselors work toward increasing the person’s capacity to live independently by facilitating and coordinating with other service providers.
  4. Drug CouselorMental health counselors work with individuals, families, and groups to address and treat mental and emotional disorders and to promote mental health. They are trained in a variety of therapeutic techniques used to address issues such as depression, anxiety, addiction and substance abuse, suicidal impulses, stress, trauma, low self-esteem, and grief. They also help with job and career concerns, educational decisions, mental and emotional health issues, and relationship problems. In addition, they may be involved in community outreach, advocacy, and mediation activities. Some specialize in delivering mental health services for the elderly. Mental health counselors often work closely with other mental health specialists, such as psychiatrists, psychologists, clinical social workers, psychiatric nurses, and school counselors.
  5. Substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors help people who have problems with alcohol, drugs, gambling, and eating disorders. They counsel individuals to help them to identify behaviors and problems related to their addiction. Counseling can be done on an individual basis, but is frequently done in a group setting and can include crisis counseling, daily or weekly counseling, or drop-in counseling supports. Counselors are trained to assist in developing personalized recovery programs that help to establish healthy behaviors and provide coping strategies. Often, these counselors also will work with family members who are affected by the addictions of their loved ones. Some counselors conduct programs and community outreach aimed at preventing addiction and educating the public. Counselors must be able to recognize how addiction affects the entire person and significant others.
  6. Marriage and family therapists apply family systems theory, principles, and techniques to address and treat mental and emotional disorders. In doing so, they modify people’s perceptions and behaviors, enhance communication and understanding among family members, and help to prevent family and individual crises. They may work with individuals, families, couples, and groups. Marriage and family therapy differs from traditional therapy because less emphasis is placed on an identified client or internal psychological conflict. The focus is on viewing and understanding their clients’ symptoms and interactions within their existing environment. Marriage and family therapists also may make appropriate referrals to psychiatric resources, perform research, and teach courses in human development and interpersonal relationships.
  7. Grief counselors practice a form of psychotherapy that aims to help people cope with grief and mourning following the death of loved ones, or with major life changes that trigger feelings of grief, such as divorce. There is a distinction between grief counseling and grief therapy. Counseling involves helping people move through uncomplicated, or normal, grief to health and resolution. Grief therapy involves the use of clinical tools for traumatic or complicated grief reactions. This could occur where the grief reaction is prolonged or manifests itself through some bodily or behavioral symptom, or by a grief response outside the range of a culturally-defined normality.
  8. Art TherapyArt therapists are master’s level professionals working in a variety of settings to help people address their health and well being. Because of its dual origins in art and psychotherapy, art therapy definitions vary. It can either focus on dealing with the art-making process as therapeutic in and of itself, or on the psychotherapeutic transference process between the therapist and the client who makes art. Art therapists and other professionals use art-based assessments to evaluate emotional, cognitive, and developmental conditions.
  9. Music therapists practice an established health profession in which music is used within a therapeutic relationship to address an individual’s physical, emotional, cognitive, and social needs. After assessing the strengths and needs of each client, the qualified music therapist provides the indicated treatment including creating, singing, moving to, and/or listening to music. Music therapy also provides avenues for communication that can be helpful to those who find it difficult to express themselves in words.
  10. Financial counseling also is known as debt counseling, credit counseling, or financial advising, depending upon the type of financial requirements that a person or family needs. While some counseling may deal with financial troubles, other forms of advisement can point to investments, asset allocation, and portfolio diversification. Counselors in this field should have some training in investments, banking, and budgets.