I hear a lot about other professions who don’t get enough credit, aren’t valued, and aren’t compensated in ways that they should be. I rarely hear counselors listed in this category. A lot of this has to do with the stigma placed on the populations we work with, when in reality, there is no one population we work with. I also think our profession is considered “lesser” somehow because it is psychological based instead of based on specific answers to everything. People fear what they don’t understand. As for population, it’s assumed we work with “crazy people, drug addicts, criminals”. Lets stop placing labels on these members of society. Yes, at times we work with people who have a mental illness, people who have suffered from drug addiction, and those who have spent time in prison as a consequence to their actions. We also work with people who hold a 9-5 job, have a family, went to college, hold degrees, own their own business, etc. Let’s remember that these people are your mothers, fathers, sisters, cousins, neighbors, teachers, doctors, friends. That’s who our population is.
Anyway, let me start with our compensation. Now no one gets in the mental health or social services field based on money. It’s not money we are after, however, unfortunately (especially in NJ) we do need money to get by. (Hello student loans) With a bachelor’s degree in psychology/sociology you are either not working in the field at all, or settling for about $15/hr. Meanwhile, you are teaching, counseling, and dealing with crisis situations at this level. With a Master’s degree in the field, you are pretty much just now able to make the same amount as your alternative professional counterparts, a decent salary, 50ish if you are lucky. Most are below that. To get licensed you need to saw off an arm, foot, and scoop out an eyeball. That’s where I’m at 🙋🏼♀️
Safety. This varies greatly depending on where you work. Safety is always a concern, or at least should be. Our clientele are people who are in need and a lot of the time are at a low point in their lives. It’s always a possibility to encounter unexpected violence, aggression, unhealthy attachments, etc. Unless you’re in a hospital or prison system, you rarely have any security due to wanting clients to feel safe and secure. It’s also our nature to always give the benefit of the doubt, inevitably putting ourselves in situations that we know could turn dangerous.
Burnout. When they went over self care and burnout during my masters program, they were not kidding. As a counselor you are literally devoting your entire life to helping other people get through their problems. This work is mentally draining, and after being in the field for 6 years now, there are many days I’d rather take on 8 hours of physical labor than the mental. Other than pure mental exhaustion, we can experience our own mental health problems as a result of our work. Secondary trauma is a real thing. You hear traumatic stories over and over again, that trauma can start to impact you as well, causing symptoms in the counselor or causing complete apathy to trauma. Then when you hear your friend, spouse, cousin complaining about some BS first world problem, you become easily agitated and probably come off as uncaring, the opposite of what your “supposed” to be.
For all my other mental health field professionals out there, I feel you. And I appreciate you. And you deserve all the credit in the world. ✌🏻💪🏻