Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Smart Skills
Counselling a crucial job
Usha Albuquerque

WHEN Sonia went into a depression after her poor marks in the board exams, her mother was reluctant to consult a psychiatrist. However, several sessions with a counsellor helped Sonia face the world with some confidence. She is now in college, and has a new friend ó the counsellor.

Counselling can be best defined as the skill of helping people, through discussions, to decide how best to cope in specific situations and take decisions. By listening attentively and without passing judgement, the counsellor gives clients the opportunity to explore, discover and clarify how and why they feel as they do. The clients may then be able to make choices and decisions about their situation which they were incapable of doing before.

A counsellor is a teacher, confidant, and advisor to his/her clients. Counsellors assist people with personal, family, educational, mental health, and career decisions and problems. Their duties depend on the individuals they serve and the settings in which they work.

Counsellors work in different kinds of settings - schools, colleges, clinics, counselling centres, welfare departments as well as in private practice.

Areas of work

There are counselling services that target specific groups, e.g. young people, the elderly, or specific problems such as drug addiction, AIDS etc.

School counselling: The counsellors who work at the elementary, middle, secondary, and post-secondary school levels provide support to the childís development at school. They act as catalysts to help provide a conducive environment for growth and development. School counsellors help students understand and deal with their social, behavioural, and personal problems. They help students develop the life skills needed to deal with problems before they occur, and so enhance personal, social, and academic growth. They also try to identify cases involving domestic abuse and other family problems that can affect a studentís development. Counsellors work with students individually, in small groups, or with entire classes. They consult and work with parents, teachers, school administrators, school psychologists, doctors and social workers. Today, it is mandatory for schools to have a counsellor.

Rehabilitation counsellors help people deal with the personal, social, and vocational effects of disabilities resulting from birth defects, illness or disease and accidents. They interview individuals with disabilities and their families, evaluate school and medical reports, and confer and plan with physicians, psychologists, occupational therapists, and employers to determine the capabilities and skills of the individual. Conferring with the client, they develop a rehabilitation programme, which may include training to help the person develop job skills, and increase their capacity to live independently.

Behavioural counsellors work with individuals who have problems which they find difficult to face alone. These persons are not usually mentally or emotionally ill, but are often emotionally upset, anxious or struggling with some conflict which may be within themselves or in the environment. Counsellors help individuals deal with addictions and substance abuse, suicide, stress management, problems with self-esteem, issues associated with ageing, job and career concerns, educational decisions, issues of mental and emotional health, and family, parenting, and marital problems. Behavioural counsellors work closely with other mental health specialists, including psychiatrists, psychologists, clinical social workers, and school counsellors.

Marriage counsellors help to sort out the marital problems of their clients. They talk to their clients and make them voice their grievances. They essentially help couples enrich their married life.

Career counsellors help students evaluate their abilities, interests, talents, and personality characteristics so that students can develop realistic academic and career goals. Counsellors use interviews, counselling sessions, tests, or other methods when evaluating and advising students. They may operate career information centres and career education programmes. They advise on college majors, admission requirements, entrance exams, and financial aid. They help students develop job-finding skills such as resume writing and interviewing techniques. Career counsellors can also specialise in employment and placement counselling to assist students with career development and in locating and applying for jobs.


Though formal training is not essential, individuals who are interested in taking up counselling as a career would do well to specialise. Most counsellors have a background in psychology as this provides an insight into human behaviour which helps them to understand better the problems of their clients.

Candidates who have Masterís in any area are eligible to apply for a diploma in counselling, some prefer students with psychology background. Some institutes offer a diploma for which graduates are eligible. The duration of the course varies between one to two years It is also possible to enter this field directly after postgraduate study in psychology, available at most colleges and universities.

More than academic qualifications, counsellors must possess high physical and emotional energy to handle the array of problems they address. They must also have the emotional stability and maturity to handle other peopleís problems without becoming emotionally involved. They should have a strong interest in helping others, be sensitive and perceptive in assessing people and be able to inspire respect, trust, and confidence. They should be able to work independently or as part of a team. Since privacy is essential for confidential and frank discussions with clients, counsellors would need private offices.

Job prospects

A large number of schools in the larger cities, both private and government, employ counsellors.

Many trained counsellors take up private practice and function as marriage and behavioural counsellors.

Counsellors are also employed in clinics, welfare departments, and with non-governmental organisations dealing with developmental problems. These include health care facilities; vocational rehabilitation centres; social agencies; correctional institutions; and residential care facilities, such as rehabilitation programmes for criminal offenders and homes for abandoned children, the aged, and the disabled.

Industrial organisations are also increasingly using the services of counsellors for handling welfare and labour relations problems.

Counsellors also work in NGOs and social welfare organisations engaged in community improvement and social change, as well as drug and alcohol rehabilitation programs and State and local government agencies

Many counsellors work as teachers, while some move into personnel work and human resource management.

In todayís world, there is a mad race for getting ahead. People are finding it difficult to cope with the fierce competitiveness. The increasing pressures of modern-day living, are driving more and more people to seek professional help for their emotional, social and vocational problems. So, if you have what it takes to be a good counsellor you will never be without a job.

Training talk

Diplomas in guidance and counselling are available at:

  • The Maharaja Sayajirao University of Baroda, Vadodara, Gujarat

  • Panjab University, Chandigarh

  • Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai

Certificate in guidance:

  • IGNOU, New Delhi-110021 (Correspondence)

Diploma in counselling for postgraduates:

  • NCERT, Ajmer, Bhopal, Bhubaneshwar and Mysore

  • University of Bombay, M.G. Road, Fort Bombay-400032

  • Karnataka University, Pavat Nagar, Dharwad, Karnataka-580003

  • Himachal Pradesh University, Summer Hill, Shimla

(The list is not exhaustive)

The writer is a noted career expert