What Do Counsellors Do?

Counsellors are helpers.

They work with clients to identify problems that cause emotional struggles and identify goals to resolve those problems. To reach those goals, they show people how to develop skills for daily living, make action plans to deal with obstacles and prepare for potential challenges. Counsellors can work with individuals or groups of people in treating mental, behavioural and emotional problems and disorders.

Dr. Norman C. Gysbers, who has 55 years of experience in the field and is past president of the American Counselling Association (ACA), describes some key qualities and skills of effective counsellors in the organization.  They include:

  • Purpose: Gives meaning to work and fosters collaboration, making it possible to set goals and plan strategies to achieve them.
  • Risk Taking: Requires observations to be thorough, considers all possible outcomes and allows flexibility when done with intention.
  • Perseverance: Uses discipline to come up with a goal, and strategy and then proceed, adjusting as necessary to reach the goal.
  • Patience: Maintains calm while listening to suggestions and feedback and understands that change takes time.
  • Resilience: Reframes difficulties, recovers from disappointments and learns from challenging experiences to inform how to approach similar approaches to similar problems.

While some counsellors focus on mental health, counsellors also have specialities in other areas such as addictions, children and adolescents, couples and families, military veterans and more.

Counsellors differ from clinical social workers, who can perform case management and advocacy services. Counsellors also differ from psychiatrists, nurse practitioners, primary care physicians and psychiatric pharmacists, who can prescribe medication.

Counselling work may vary.

Types of counselling include:

  • Individual: One-on-one help with anger, addiction, depression, anxiety, career changes, parenting, school and other obstacles in life.
  • Couples: Guidance for setting realistic expectations, resolving conflicts and coping with disappointment, infidelity or grief.
  • Family: Assistance with issues affecting the family system–relationships, structure and communication– which could result from the loss, a major move, unemployment or infidelity.
  • Group: Facilitating awareness and sharing of coping strategies among clients who struggle in similar areas such as divorce, addiction, domestic violence, anger management and more.

Whether working with an individual, couples, family or group, counsellors may choose speciality fields, such as addictions, child/adolescent, gerontological, LGBTQ and military. Two common specialized career paths are mental health counsellors and school counsellors.

Mental health counsellors use psychotherapy and problem-solving to help clients deal with mental health problems. Their services include assessment and diagnosis, treatment planning and utilization review, brief and solution-focused therapy, alcoholism and substance misuse treatment, psychoeducational and prevention programs, and crisis management.

School counsellors support students in academic achievement, personal/social development and career development to help students become productive, well-adjusted adults.