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Counseling: new roles, new entry requirements.

Counseling: New Roles, New Entry Requirements Signs of change are everywhere: The guidance office down the school corridor has become a counseling center. Weekly news magazines carry hospital ads for counseling programs to deal with anorexia nervosa and alcoholism. The legislatures in 11 States have passed laws licensing counselors to work outside the schools. The National Association of Rehabilitation Professionals in the Private Sector now represents the interests of several thousand counselors. And the American Personnel and Guidance Association, the largest professional association in the field, has become the American Association for Counseling and Development (AACD).

Guidance, which originated in programs to help people choose careers and soon became tied to the schools, has grown to include counseling on a wide array of concerns and has moved into a variety of settings, including social agencies, major corporations, and private practices. Because of these changes, people who plan to enter the occupation called counseling may find that educational requirements, working conditions, and other occupation-related factors differ considerably from their expectations.

Factors such as the changing age structure of the population, new technology, and revisions of the rehabilitation provisions of workers' compensation legislation are fueling possible changes in the rate of growth for particular specialties and increasing the types of settings in which counselors are employed. The rate of change will pick up speed if insurance companies and governments decide to pay counselors for the services they provide. These changes are likely to lead to the wider implementation of licensure laws, a development that in turn will affect educational and other entry requirements for the field as well as increase requirements for continuing education.

Becoming a counselor, in other words, will probably offer a person a great many more options than it once did. Perhaps the major development will be that, although school counselors will undoubtedly remain the largest single group within the profession, much of the growth will be in other specialties. And even school counselors will have additional opportunities available to them because of the changes that are taking place. Those who know most about what is going on in the field will be in the best position to take advantage of these options when they start their own career.

Nature of the Work:

The Widening Circle

Looking back, the transformation of guidance into counseling seems almost inevitable. Just as pioneers clearing new land cut down trees only to discover rocks and boulders, counselors working on the educational and career development of students soon learned that young people had other concerns that a counselor could help with, concerns with family, drug abuse, or normal development, for example. Counselors began to work on these problems in addition to their other duties. Naturally, counselors who developed skills in aiding students with such problems could also help others. By the same token, many people who had left school could benefit from the kind of educational and career guidance provided to students. And so, counselors have increasingly found positions beyond the schoolhouse door, often specializing in fields such as employment, rehabilitation, or mental health.

The number of counselors working in these specialties has grown to the point where the nature of the work cannot be described simply in terms of school counselors, even when the change in emphasis in school counseling--from testing and educational programs to the resolution of behavioral problems--is taken into account. Such a description must have three parts, one for the concerns common to all counselors, one for the specialized duties of the school counselor, and one for the concerns of counselors who work in other settings.

No matter where they work, counselors help people with a wide range of personal, social, career, and educational needs, according to the AACD. As Frank Burtnett, the Assistant Executive Director for Association and Professional Relations for AACD, says, "Counselors help people work with a concern before it becomes a problem or crisis." For example, counselors help people deal with stress; examine marital and family conflicts and family communication; cope with problems created by accident, illness, or other disabling misfortune; and obtain career counseling that takes into account the person's education, training, work history, interests, skills, and aptitudes. Generally, the counselor will concentrate on prevention or development, but some counselors specialize in remedial services. And one of the counselor's most important functions is to refer people to other sources of assistance when their problems are outside the scope of the counselor's specialized skills. North Carolina's Department of Public Instruction well summarizes the universals of counseling, even though the statement has specific reference to the schools, when it says a guidance program has three components: Learning to live, learning to learn, and learning to make a living.

The additional concerns of counselors in an educational setting are numerous, for besides the basic vocational, educational, and personal counseling that all counselors might provide, school counselors must also serve as consultants to parents and the rest of the faculty and as links between the students and employers or other schools. Some counselors spend much time on registration or scheduling activities, and many face annual crunches when the time comes to process applications for postsecondary schools or work. Because of their experience in dealing with behavioral and adjustment problems, counselors may also work with students who have conflicts with the school's administration or with other students.

In a single week's work, a secondary school counselor might have a conference with several teachers concerning one student's behavior, process an application for a student's part-time job, meet with the principals of the high school and middle school to make plans for the orientation of next year's freshmen, consult with a parent about a student's adjustment to a new family situation, help a student understand the results of an aptitude test, lead a group session for the friends of a student who committed suicide, administer an academic achievement test to the sophomore class, help a group of seniors decide which colleges to apply for, show some juniors how to use a computer terminal to find out about different careers, and provide information to just about any student on careers, jobs, and training programs.

Typically, of course, the work would be far less varied. In many schools, for example, a counselor would work with only one class rather than all four. And as R.W. Day and R.T. Sparacio point out in "Impediments to the Role and Function of School Counselors," published in The School Counselor (1980), some counselors are little more than office clerks handling academic transcripts, schedule changes, school applications, attendance registers, and administrative duties. Still, secondary school counselors do perform all the duties listed.

Counselors in other types of schools perform comparable services, although there is some variation. Elementary school counselors, for example, are likely to be less concerned with career information and more concerned with adjustment problems or identifying children with special needs. Some college counselors, on the other hand, would provide more help with job placement, while others concentrate on behavior or aptitude tests.

The total range of services provided by counselors who work outside the schools is probably wider than that provided in schools, although individual counselors are often more specialized. Rehabilitation counselors, for example, help the handicapped become self-sufficient. However, to do this, they must first evaluate the client's condition and potential in far more detail that a school counselor usually does. Similarly, employment counselors might suggest specific jobs to a client and contact potential employers, rather than provide only the general career information that a student needs. And mental health counselors--the fastest growing segment of the occupation--must work closely with psychiatrists, psychologists, clinical social workers, and psychiatric nurses on a far more regular basis than that required by the school-based counselor.

Among the specific problems that counselors are more likely to deal with outside the schools than in school settings are physical and vocational rehabilitation, unemployment and underemployment, reentering school or work, parenting, child abuse, career changes, retirement, aging, bereavement, institutionalization, and spiritual concerns.

Over and above the kinds of problems confronted, however, the nature of the work of these counselors is conditioned by the work setting; typically, these counselors do more case work with individuals or small groups than do school counselors. The setting can also present unique problems, of course. For example, everyone in a school will generally have the best interests of the student at heart; a counselor employed by a large corporation, on the other hand, must take both the worker being counseled and the good of the company into account.

Despite the growing numbers of counseling specialties, however, it should be stressed that the divisions are not watertight. For example, when counselors in community colleges were asked what they would most benefit from, the second most common response was training in providing career counseling to the mature adult, which is, of course, one of the major concerns of employment counselors. And more and more evidence suggests that the availability of more time to perform behavioral counseling would help school counselors prevent problems before they arise.

Counseling and a Changing Society

The social and technological developments that have changed so many occupations in recent years--increasing the demand for some, almost eliminating others, and changing the nature of the work in almost all--will also affect counseling, although to what degree is largely a matter of speculation. At least two changes are probable: Counselors will make greater use of computer technology and counselors will do more work with adults.

The impact of computers on counseling will probably be extensive. Their use in career education is already widespread, with many high school students being able to use computers to retrieve individualized information about occupations, colleges, and training programs. Computers can also shorten the time needed to assess aptitudes because tests taken at computer terminals can be scored almost instantaneously. (The General Aptitude Test used by the Employment Service and the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude tests can now be taken at a computer terminal.) Interactive programs such as MORTON and PLATO DCS are even available for psychodiagnosis, although their practicality is limited because only clients comfortable with computer keyboards can use them at present. Naturally, counselors can also use computers to ease their recordkeeping and word processing burdens.

Computers cannot replace the counselor, of course, any more than the once ballyhooed teaching machine was able to replace live instructors. As David B. Ross observes in "Counseling in the Year 2000: A Day in the Life of a Counselor," a paper prepared for the International Graduate School, "The most important type of human communication is to have a face to face sharing of feelings." Counselors can use the machines to make more information available both to their clients and to themselves, but the essential work of the counselor--clarifying, instructing, and motivating--would still remain. Paradoxically, computers might even increase the need for personal counseling because a computer printout of test results has greater credibility, and clients must be cautioned concerning their use. Thus, although the changes wrought by the computer may well be pervasive, they are also likely to be somewhat superficial.

The social changes taking place are likely to have a much deeper impact. Several trends are important. As is well known, the number of older people is growing rapidly and the average life span lengthening. Conrad Glass and Katherine Brant note in "Counseling in the Later Years: A Growing Need," in Personnel and Guidance Journal (1983), that these trends "are creating conditions that require the expansion of counseling services to a segment of the population often overlooked--the adult who is 65 years old and older." The middle-aged population is also growing, as the baby-boom generation works its way through the life cycle. One result of that trend will be a much larger number of people switching careers in midlife, either through choice or necessity; counseling can assist many of these people in clarifying their goals and learning what their options are. Changes in marital relationships and other concerns might also stimulate demand for counseling in this segment of the population. While the aging of the population will increase the number of middle-aged and older people who can benefit from counseling, the population traditionally served by counselors--high school students--will remain fairly static.

A trend that has already greatly affected the kind of work performed by counselors is occurring in workers' compensation legislation. In 1975, California passed the first workers' compensation law that mandated the provision of rehabilitation services to a disabled worker. Many other States have followed suit. As a result, many rehabilitation counselors now provide these services. Before 1975, almost all rehabilitation counselors worked for State agencies or special facilities that served the mentally retarded, the blind, or those disabled from birth. Now, about 8,000 rehabilitation counselors work for the State agencies and almost as many--5,000 to 7,000, according to people active in the field--work with recipients of workers' compensation.

The result of these various trends is that the number of counselors working with adults will almost certainly increase; since the number working in schools is less likely to grow, the proportion of counselors working with adults will also become larger.

Counselors working for agencies or in private practices that are obviously aimed at adults will not be the only ones affected by this trend. For example, many college and community college counselors will increasingly meet adults. These counselors will have to adapt themselves to the different needs of adult students, who are likely to be more anxious to complete their education speedily--especially if it is required for a new career--while also having greater family responsibilities and economic pressures than the traditional college-age population.

Counselors in New Settings

Many changes are foreseen in counseling: More gerontological counseling, more career counseling for adults, more mental health counseling. If these changes actually occur, there will be a considerable shift in the employment of counselors, two-thirds of whom now work in the schools. Counselors already work in a great variety of settings: Mental health agencies, rehabilitation agencies, correctional facilities, public employment agencies, health care facilities, employment assistance programs in business and industry, and private practice. The variety of settings may not increase; but, in the opinion of many people in the field, the number of counselors employed outside the schools probably will, perhaps dramatically. In particular, most authorities expect to see more counselors employed by businesses and community agencies and many more entering private practice.

Although the extent of this growth is problematic--hinging in part on the resolution of the issues discussed in the next section of this article--some developments along these lines have already taken place. For example, the enrollment of people in counselor education programs designed to prepare people for positions other than school counselor is now four times the enrollment in school counselor programs--which have, in fact, been declining for the past 10 years. Surveys of graduates of counselor education programs also indicate that a substantial percentage are working outside the schools. In one survey of more than a thousand graduates, over twice as many were employed outside the schools as in them. Graduates of a gerontological program were employed in State agencies, area agencies on aging, senior residence centers, mental health centers, and long-term care facilities. Graduates of rehabilitation counselor programs are almost as likely to find jobs in the private as in the public sector--and all indications are that the number of jobs exceeds the number of qualified applicants.

Evidence also points toward more employment in business and more self-employment. Between 1950 and 1981, the number of employee assistance programs grew from about 50 to 5,000. Department stores even employ counselors to work with customers who have problems handling credit. Articles in newspapers and magazines on career counseling for adults also indicate the change, for besides school-based programs, they are likely to list services sponsored by community agencies and private practices as sources of help. An article on private counseling services for adult career switchers was even featured in a recent issue of Psychology Today. Perhaps the clearest sign of change is that the AACD'S Mental Health Division--which did not even exist a few years ago--now has 9,000 members. Many of these counselors--perhaps 25 percent or more--are in private practice, as shown by a survey conducted by William Weikel, Richard Daniel, and Janet Anderson and by the AACD'S annual survey of members.

Who Will Pay?

The rise in the number of adults who would benefit from counseling will probably not result in an equally large increase in the number of counselors. Demand for services does not necessarily mean that the services will be purchased. Not all who want a new car can afford to buy one. The actual growth of counseling, therefore, depends not only on the number of potential clients but also on their willingness and ability to pay for the services. It is not possible to gauge the degree of either. However, an equal stimulus to growth would be felt whether people pay for counseling directly or indirectly, through health insurance, for example. It is for this reason that the question of third-party payment--the payment of the counselor by someone other than the client--is so important.

Third-party payment is already somewhat common. More than 40 percent of the mental health counselors in private practice now receive third-party payments from one source or another, according to the survey mentioned above. They have not become part of the Medicare or Medicaid programs, however, although language authorizing them was part of a bill that failed to pass in the last Congress because of the press of other business. The passage of such a bill into law would have a major impact on the growth of private practice in

counseling both in itself and because it would legitimize such payments by other major insurers, such as Blue Cross.

Lengthening Educational


Implementation of third-party payment plans would not only stimulate growth. It would also add pressure to bring about strict licensure laws. The term counselor is undefined in all but 11 of the States, which is why one passes signs that read "Madame Zodiac--Palm Reading and Marriage Counseling." In order to receive third-party payments, counselors would, in all probability, need to be licensed, just as counselors who work in the schools must be certified by the Board of Education or some other agency.

At the present time, at least four different types of certification are available. The National Board for Certified counselors monitors an examination and review of credentials for those who wish to obtain a general certificate or a specialized certificate for career counseling. The National Academy of Clinical Mental Health Counselors and the Commission on Rehabilitation Counselor Certification also administer specialized certification procedures for their respective fields.

Should such licensure laws become universal--or even much more common than they already are--they will require that prospective counselors complete longer educational programs than have been the norm.

The standard is likely to be set by the AACD, which has proposed model licensure laws and has also developed accreditation standards for counselor education programs. Among their key provisions, from the point of view of a person planning to become a counselor, are that the master's program to prepare a counselor would require 60 semester hours (as opposed to the 30 to 40 hours required in most programs) and 2 years of experience. These standards might well be applied to programs for school counselors as well as to those for counselors who wish to work in private practice or community agencies.

At this time, neither third-party payments nor licensure laws are a sure thing. What is clear is that they will have a great effect on the requirements for entering the field. Brent Snow, writing on "Counselor Licensure: What Activities Should Be Allowed," in Counselor Education and Supervision (1982), says, "If the licensing bandwagon continues, it seems fair to say that licensing laws will ultimately define the counseling profession. If that movement does not continue, and other related professionals expand their efforts and continue to be more restrictive, the lack of such laws may define the counseling profession as well." One way or the other, counseling is in for some changes.
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Author:Baxter, Neale
Publication:Occupational Outlook Quarterly
Date:Sep 22, 1985
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