Though education and professional training are necessary to begin a career in counseling, an individual's personal characteristics play a crucial role in achieving success in this profession. Among the most important characteristics an aspiring counselor can have are the compassion to interact and empathize with others and the ability to listen carefully and communicate effectively, according to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics. Having these characteristics can indicate that you will enjoy counseling and that patients will benefit from your help.
As a counselor, you will be responsible for helping patients or clients understand and work to resolve their problems. Compassion is an essential quality for a counselor. The patients who come to you for help often do so because they are dealing with unpleasant emotions. These individuals may be having difficulty adjusting to a stressful life event, like a loss of employment. Some patients are grieving the loss of a recently deceased loved on or an important relationship that has ended. Others are coping with anxiety or depression, often brought on by a trauma or major life change. While your job as a counselor includes helping patients develop coping strategies to deal with the problems they face more effectively, you must be able to empathize with these individuals and understand why they are struggling.
Counseling is all about successful communication. You must communicate well with the patient you are counseling. In the course of your work together, you must help your patient develop methods of resolving problems, which often means communicating better. To help a patient, you must first understand the problems he or she is experiencing, which means you must listen carefully to what the patient says. Because patients often don't understand their problems completely, you may have to ask questions to learn more about their perceptions and interpretations of themselves, other people and events.
Helping patients understand their problems also calls for skilled communication. You have to explain to them some of the reasons for the way they feel. For example, counselors working with bereaved family members might have to describe the stages of grief and reinforce that feelings like denial, anger and bargaining are normal after experiencing a loss. During your career in counseling, you may also face the difficult task of communicating to patients that their own behaviors are exacerbating or even causing their problems. Counselors who work with patients that have difficulty controlling their anger may have to explain how their actions impact their relationships and teach them more effective methods of coping.
If you have the compassion to understand and respect the problems that people of all backgrounds face and the communication skills to listen carefully and speak thoughtfully, you have the right qualities to become a counselor. By working to further develop your skills and spending more time interacting with a multitude of patients, you can enhance these natural characteristics to become the best counselor you can be.