A member of my counseling listserv started a discussion this week that piqued my interest. She asked,
“Why counseling?” I already really like the word “why”. I use it with my clients quite a lot, and although I’m sure it annoys them sometimes, it usually has positive results. “Why” makes you think. “Why” makes you own your decision.
It seems like most answers to this question fall into one of three categories. Some choose to answer this question partially based on their personality type, using the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator or career tests like Holland’s RIASEC. I would agree with that as part of the answer for me as well. I’m a Myers-Briggs’ INFJ, which in David Kiersey’s book Please Understand Me II is labeled the “Counselor.” This answer assumes that part of the reason we become a counselor is because we are born with the traits to work well in that field.
Others pointed out past experiences in overcoming mental illness or emotional problems as the catalyst that led them down this particular path. For my part, I would agree and add to it that past positive experiences with the counseling profession helps too. I was already a Family Psychology major when I was hit by a major depression in college and went to counseling for it. My counselor encouraged me that I could use what I went through to be a better counselor, not let it turn me away. This way of answering the question purports it is our shared experiences with our clients that give us the understanding to help them through their problems.
Of course, the most common answer (even if unspoken) might be the desire to help others. This answer bases our affinity for this career on altruism. I can agree with that as well, although I think the response is incomplete without some combination of the other two answers. There are so many ways to help others, that if you haven’t had some experience in the field or natural talent in counseling, it would be unlikely you would get very far.
My revelation from reading the many creative and interesting responses to this question on my listserv was that ultimately we do counseling for ourselves. We do it to fulfill a need created by past experience or personal disposition that urges expression. We do it because we would not be happy doing another job.
This job fulfills me because I enjoy encouraging others and helping people find their potential. I would like to extend the question to everyone who reads this today: Why do you do it?
Thanks to Arijana Basic on the COUNSGRADS listserv for bringing it up!
Stephanie Ann Adams is a counselor who believes in the ability of the mind to understand and change behaviors, and in each person’s power to create the life they want. Her blog can be found at www.sassynsane.blogspot.com.