Trauma Survivors Network - provided by ATS

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A Program of the ATS


‘Counselor’ is a general term used to describe trained professionals who apply mental health, psychological and human development principles to address wellness, personal growth, career development, and even pathology. Counselors are typically defined by their specialization, which includes (but is not limited to) substance abuse, school, rehabilitation, marriage and family. Social workers can also be considered counselors who focus on the effects that social problems have on individuals, families, organizations, and communities.

Counselors apply mental health, psychological or human development principles, through cognitive and behavioral intervention strategies. Specifically, behavioral therapy aims to identify and reduce problematic behaviors. Typically, the counselor will look for patterns of behavior, identify related triggers and consequences, and implement coping strategies accordingly. Cognitive therapy involves recognizing unhelpful or destructive patterns of thinking and reacting, then modifying or replacing these with more realistic or helpful ones. A widely used combination of these two approaches, known as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), is based on the idea that how we think (cognition), how we feel (emotion) and how we act (behavior) all interact together. Specifically, our thoughts determine our feelings and our behavior. Therefore, negative and unrealistic thoughts can cause us distress and result in problems. CBT interventions seek to identify the connections between thoughts, feelings, and behaviors, and teach appropriate coping strategies.

Counselors may engage client’s in various modes of therapy, including individual, group, and family counseling. Individual therapy establishes a one on one relationship between counselor and client, and focuses on how the client can best attain their goals given their current needs and level of functioning. In group therapy the interactions between the members of the group and the therapist(s) become the material with which the therapy is conducted, alongside past experiences and experiences outside the therapeutic group. Family therapy, also referred to as couples therapy or family systems therapy, is a branch of psychotherapy that works with families and couples in intimate relationships to nurture change and development. It tends to view these in terms of the systems of interaction between family members and further emphasizes family relationships as an important factor in psychological health.

The master's degree in counselor education is now considered the entry-level preparation for qualification as a professional practitioner. It qualifies the counselor to work, under supervision in some states and without supervision in others, and to apply the skills of assessment and clinical intervention in various settings (schools, agencies, universities) and with different modalities (individual, group, and family counseling). Most programs require a minimum of 2 years full-time study or 3 to 5 years part-time study.

Go to the American Counseling Association’s weblink: Definition of Professional Counseling