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We interviewed 12 counsellors and psychologists about working in community services - here’s what they said

By Guest Post

If you’ve ever thought about pursuing a career that allows you to help people everyday and really enrich the lives of those around you, a career in community services may be the perfect choice for you. But if you don’t have a background in this field, it can be hard to know if you will be the right fit for this type of job

Luckily, there are a number of trained professionals out there who are willing to give advice to those who are looking to make a start in this field, so you can really get a sense of what it takes to be a counsellor or a psychologist in this day and age. We asked them about their experience in the industry, some of their favourite things about their job, and what they think is in store for the future of the industry.

Getting started as a psychologist or counsellor

A lot of people have probably thought about becoming a psychologist or a counsellor at some stage in their lives. Be it because you naturally feel a connection to other people or because you’ve listened to the problems of your friends and loved ones too many times and you think that you give great advice to those that need it. 

For a lot of people, getting into the field of community services is simple; you decide to study your chosen discipline in a tertiary institution and then you go out into the field when you’re finished studying to get some real world experience. But for some people, the realisation that this field is right for them does not always come straight away. 

Dan Auerbach of Associated Counsellors and Psychologists Sydney came to the profession later in life after a successful career in business. He said that he was attracted to this career pathway because he wanted to explore “something totally different”. He said, “At first there was a lot to sacrifice in terms of salary and having to retrain and compete for entry level jobs. I eventually completed graduate qualifications in Counselling and started in Youth Support work and then as a Drug & Alcohol therapist at a private psychiatric hospital. While I was working, I continued to study Adult Psychotherapy and then later on went on to complete studies in couples counselling.”

These days, Dan Auerbach is a qualified Relationship Counsellor and Psychotherapist, his story shows that through hard work and dedication, anyone can come into this field and make it work.

Another professional who came to community services later in life is Brent Sweitzer of Brent Sweitzer Counselling. He says that counselling was a second career for him and that he ended up in the field because he was a natural healer and wanted to give back after he experienced his own healing from professionals in the field. 

However, something that he does note is that “It has taken me a decade to fully transition to this profession from my own career. I started by doing volunteer work in Stephen Ministry, a listening ministry associated with many mainline Christian denominations in the US.” After getting a taste for this kind of work through his volunteer work, Brent knew that it was time to transition into higher education and continued on with his career from there. 

So, what you can see from both Brent and Dan is there are a lot of people that become counsellors or psychologists later in life because they are interested in pursuing a career that is more fulfilling and that helps to give back to the community. 

Sometimes, getting your degree and becoming a professional in the field is just a jumping off point for some people, like in the case of Richard Singer, who is a registered Psychologist and Author. Richard came to a career in psychology after his own battles with addiction in his early life helped him decide he wanted to give back and “help humanity in any way (he) could” after he was lucky enough to get the help that he needed to carry on. 

Richard later went on to write a series of books to help people understand and cope with addiction. He has also become an Adjunct Professor, teaching people about the psychology surrounding addiction at a university level. Richard is living proof that anybody can turn their life around and start following a different path if they choose to

For many people, like Richard, the choice to start a career in community services was driven by the desire to provide others with the sort of help they had been so grateful to receive themselves.

CJ Everhart, a Mental Health Counsellor, always knew that she wanted to work in this field and started her career with a Bachelor of Psychology. However, studying in this field was not exactly what she had hoped it would be like and she “found that pursuing a degree in Psychology meant a lot more research. I wanted clinical expertise, so I found a program in a newly licensed area called Mental Health Counseling.” 

In a field like this, there are many niches and subcategories that you can dive into if you feel your expertise can be targeted to a specific area, so for someone like CJ who didn’t love the research side of studying psychology, working in the area of mental health counselling was a much better fit because she could gain more hands-on experience, which is what some people really want out of this work.

How do you know if a career in community services is right for you?

older woman is receiving counselling

Most people know that this type of role is right for them from the get go and that can definitely be said for Elie Cohen, Clinical Psychologist of Cohen Psychological Services, who said “I knew that I wanted to go this route pretty early on, and made sure to build my portfolio, so to speak, as an undergraduate student. As far back as I can remember I have been interested in human behavior, motivation, and found that my personality was more contemplative than most other people I knew.” 

This fascination for human behaviour is something that a lot of people in this field talk about often and Louis Laves-Webb, Psychotherapist and Social Worker of LPC-S & Associates found that she too was drawn to this line of work because she was “fascinated with human behaviors and differing perspectives.” 

But something that Louis also mentions is that his biggest influence was “an experience I had with an extremely powerful, gifted, and life-affirming Social Worker that undoubtedly set my path toward becoming a Psychotherapist in motion.” This sort of experience is a common one for many people who have chosen to go into the field of psychology because they feel a need to give back to those who have helped them through the tough times in their own lives.

This idea of wanting to help others who are suffering or have suffered is close to the heart of Melissa Faith Ramirez, a qualified Counsellor. Melissa became a counsellor after having her own “moment of awakening” after which she was able to move on from her past and start living the life that she always wanted to. She says getting to where she is now has “been a journey of releasing conditioning, old patterns and broken belief systems that no longer serve. A journey to know thyself and trust the intuition, the inner guidance that if we trust can lead us to be masters of our own reality.” 

Although Melissa takes a some-what unconventional approach to counselling, at the heart of her work, she shares the same motivations as her peers. Melissa says that she “did not want others to have such a painful journey”, and thus began working as a counsellor to help others feel better about their own lives. So there's an innate need to help other people to get through their lives as easily as possible that most counsellors and psychologists feel and this is what draws them into pursuing this type of career.  

Successes and failures of psychologists and counsellors

Successes and failures are inevitable in any workplace environment, and as a psychologist or a counsellor, you may find that there are a lot of highs and lows on a daily basis. Sometimes you may find failure in your career due to circumstances that are outside of your control and there is nothing that you can do but ride out the storm. However, conversely, you may find that you will experience success in ways that you had not thought possible, which is a great feeling for someone who works in the community services industry. 

Sometimes, success comes from finding a gap in the market and working towards making things easier for a small group of people. For Dmitri Oster, a Clinical Social Worker and Psychotherapist from United Counselling Services, he found success in his career as a therapist by doing just that. Dmitri found a way of creating a community-based outpatient treatment program that helped people who did not have access to adequate mental health care by providing them with a place to go where someone would be able to communicate with them.

He says; “I was successful as my agency became the source of expertise in our region for providing counseling services to segments of the population that no other treatment provider was able to. I accomplished this by recruiting and employing a number of staff that were fluent in a variety of foreign languages, and who had a background in counseling.” 

So Dmitri’s success in his field came by identifying where he could help people as much as possible in his own community but it wasn’t always sunshines and rainbows. Dmitri achieved what he did in his field by working hard and being determined to help others in any way that he could. 

“It was not an easy task to accomplish and I'm proud that I was able to do it. It took determination and personal commitment. I believed in what I was doing, and my faith kept me anchored in much of the work.” So his success came through helping those in his community who were often overlooked and needed someone to look out for them.

However, in some parts of this industry, it can be hard to achieve success in the traditional sense, because you may not be able to put yourself like others in more traditional sectors of your industry are able to do. For Lauren White, a Sex Therapist and Psychologist, one of the failures that she experienced throughout her care in community services is that nicheness of her practice made it hard to market herself. 

Lauren says that, because she mainly works as a Sex Therapist, it can be hard to get herself out there because she is often talking “taboo topics” that might make many people uncomfortable. It can also make it hard for her to market herself to any potential clients because it can be very difficult to advertise yourself as a sex therapist. However, Lauren has found a way around this problem by “having a core group of clients to focus on so I can really serve them well.“ 

Lauren sees this group of loyal clients that she has as a major part of her success as a therapist, so this just shows you that you can find success in this field by targeting a specific niche and devoting your time to a small group of clients who you can get to know very well. 

Something that many people notice when they pursue a career in community services is that you can define your success entirely on your own terms. In some industries, ‘success’ might be defined by the number on your bank statement, the size of your office or the number of clients you have but, when you are working in the community services sector, success can often be more subjective. 

For Christine Harding, a Registered Psychologist at Hargan Psychology, she found that like many other professionals in this field, she was drawn to this role because of issues that she had faced in her own life and wanted to help others who might be struggling. “There is an adage that those pursuing roles as psychologists are doing so due to their own 'issues'. To a certain extent, this may be so. However, from my experience, we do so because we have reached a point whereby we are not afraid to confront those issues, not afraid to be vulnerable and to accept support. Personally, I have welcomed the challenges as they assist me to genuinely validate client experience.” 

So many professionals working in this field like Christine may find that through the perceived failures or weaknesses they have experienced throughout their lives, they have found success and strength by moving on and helping others as much as they can. 

The future of psychology and counselling globally

man is receiving counselling

We will never be able to know what the future will hold for any of us but, based on current developments in the field, experts can anticipate potential trends they think will emerge in community services over the coming years. 
Something that is apparent to many workers in the community services sector is that the shift towards all things digital will lead to big changes in the profession. Most work in this field with a client is face-to-face, so it can be hard to find ways to adapt the current technology available to suit your purpose. 

Danni Zhang, Clinical Psychologist at New Vision Psychology is currently working on creating an app for her clients that will help with general mental health, so that people can learn about mental health in a more interactive way. She also hopes to incorporate face-to-face counselling within the app, so that she can reach her clients that are far away at all times. 

Although this may seem like a natural shift that is occurring across the world due to amazing advances in technology daily, some psychologists and counsellors believe that, now more than ever, we need physical human connection to combat society’s mass disconnect. 

Other psychologists like Dr Clinton Moore, Clinical Psychologist at Cadence Psychology think that, although there is merit to eTherapy techniques, it will not work for all patients and that it is hard to replicate a true face-to-face experience. “Real change doesn’t come about due to an information transaction, but through the working relationship formed between therapist and client. I’m cautiously optimistic the computers won’t beat us there.” 

So, although technology may make it easier to reach clients that are far away, the one-on-one experience that you get when you meet with a therapist for an appointment seems to be something that people really crave.

Becoming a psychologist or a counselor can be a really rewarding job, perfect for people from all walks of life who realise that, at some point, no matter who you are, we all need someone to talk to. 

As you can see from the professionals featured in this article, there is no ‘one size fits all’ approach to being a psychologist or a counsellor and the path into the profession was different for every one of them. However, despite their differences, their shared objective is clear: they want to help others as much as they can, by giving them the advice they need to get through the tough times. 

So, if your career objective is to help make other people’s lives a little bit better each day, then starting a career in community services may be the right choice for you.
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