Perhaps the most familiar type of child counselor is a guidance counselor. Guidance counselors work in schools and help children who are struggling with schoolwork or building friendships, or who are experiencing problems at home. Many times parents and teachers refer a child to the guidance counselor who can provide professional advice to the child and can recommend other resources. For instance, a counselor may refer a child having difficulty with schoolwork to special-education teachers who can provide individualized attention. The guidance counselor may also have the child complete questionnaires and aptitude exams to determine the source of the problems. Guidance counselors may additionally schedule separate appointments with the child’s parents to recommend solutions for the child that may be outside the school counseling system, such as psychiatric counseling or summer-school programs, or just implementing certain behaviors and practices at home.
Outside school systems, there are other child counselors who address both school and non-school related difficulties. A common type of child counselor is one who helps children with behavioral disorders. If a child complains of difficulty paying attention, the counselor may recommend an Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) screening by a psychologist. If the child is already diagnosed with ADD, then the counselor will talk to the child about ADD difficulties and how he or she can overcome them. The counselor may recommend behavioral adjustments the child can make such as doing listening exercises and developing confidence-building hobbies.
Besides behavioral counselors, there are counselors who address peer-pressure and social problems experienced by children and teens. These counselors commonly see children who are being bullied. In this situation, the counselor can advise the child on how to cope with bullying such as ignoring the bully or practicing assertiveness. The counselor will also inform the parents of the situation and advise them to contact the bully’s parents or speak to the school guidance counselor. The counselor may even directly contact the school principal to tell him about the serious situation and advise disciplinary action for the bully.
In other peer-pressure situations, the counselor may advise the child to practice self-awareness and visualize the consequences of committing unethical acts. They may also encourage students to choose new friends and seek out positive role models who can give the child the social support he or she needs.
There are other counselors who deal specially with children undergoing family-related strife. More children have divorced parents than ever before, and they often feel conflicted about their parents’ relationship. Many often wonder if they were responsible for their parents’ divorce. Divorce counselors can assure children they had nothing to do with the divorce and can emphasize that the child can successfully adapt to life with separated parents. In tenser situations, divorce counselors may provide support to children who are the focus of custody battles and who feel caught in the middle. They may help these children channel their anger into more productive activities rather than acting out their hostility and pain on others. Counselors may also advise the divorced parents about how to keep the daily routine as stable as possible for their child, and to not insult each other in front of the child.
In even more extreme situations, child counselors support children who have been abused by a family member or caregiver. These children are often the most traumatized children of all and have the most difficulty opening up to a counselor. They often feel great shame for their abuse, and feel that there is something wrong with them for incurring that abuse. Therefore, abuse or crisis counselors proceed very gently with talk therapy and slowly build trust through reassuring techniques. In many cases, the counselor interacts with medical doctors and school counselors also meeting with the child and exchanges reports with them on the child’s progress.
Children who have been diagnosed with depressive or anxiety disorders also meet with counselors to discuss their feelings and attitudes. Counselors may recommend therapeutic techniques for the afflicted child such as breathing techniques, expressing their feelings to loved ones, and writing out their worries on paper. Counselors also help children put their feelings into perspective to let them know that their worries may not truly be grounded in reality. In some cases, the counselor recommends medication that may take the edge off these symptoms and refers the child to a psychiatrist who can prescribe medication.
Throughout their college education, child counselors gain exposure to child-therapy situations through internships, externships, and entry-level counseling jobs. These entry-level jobs often consist of working under the supervision of a licensed counselor. The most-qualified child counselors gain master’s degrees in child development, counseling, social work, special education, child psychology, and other fields combining child and psychology studies. Practically all child counselors have counseling licensure for their specific area of study, which licensure they obtain through a state-administered exam. Many child counselors have the Marriage, Family, and Child Counselor (MFCC) licensure. This licensure, combined with sufficient experience, helps many child counselors gain counseling job opportunities.
For compensation, many entry-level child counseling jobs pay about $30,000 yearly. Well-experienced counselors may earn as much as $51,000 per year.