What Does a Child Counselor Do?

The role of a child counselor is to assist with the behavioral, physical, emotional, and mental well-being and development of young people. At any point in someone’s childhood, they might experience challenging times for any number of reasons, from abuse and disorders to death and illness. These circumstances are typically out of their control, or a child may feel as though they are out of their control. As such, it is the role of a child counselor to help bring some control and order to the life of children in a productive and healthy manner.

In addition to the title of Child Counselor, mental health professionals who assist children in these ways go by a wide array of career titles, which may be associated with the institution where they work rather than the demographic they work with, such as:

  • School Counselor/Psychologist
  • Behavioral Counselor
  • Grief Counselor
  • Pediatric Counselor
  • Youth Counselor
  • Trauma Counselor
  • Child Abuse Counselor
  • Social Worker
  • Child Therapist
  • Child Psychologist
  • Child and Adolescent Psychologist

What Age Groups Do They Work With?

Child counselors typically work with children in a specified age range. The ages of children being counseled are often based on their level of development. These ranges are often broken down to those children under age 13 and those between the ages of 13 and 18 for adolescents. In smaller communities that do not have access to specialized counselors, psychologists or psychiatrists may offer services to all age ranges.

While child counselors most commonly work with developmental age ranges, it’s also possible to seek out specialized mental health professionals based on the underlying concern or issue of the child such as psychological distress, addiction, grief, trauma, learning impairments, and many others. And again, the type of counselor or mental health professional available in a particular region may be limited. Although this is rapidly changing with the help of telemedicine availability.

Why Do We Need Child Counselors?

Counselors for children are a critical component for many young people. Mental health and addiction treatment at a young age allow these individuals to grow up to be mentally well-adjusted and happy, as well as to foster positive relationships and allow them to contribute positively to society as an adult. Children are quite similar to adults in regard to the development of mental health issues when faced with trauma and life’s adversities. The sooner a child receives proper assistance, the less challenging life will be for them in the long run.

Treatment can help with a wide array of potential issues, such as:

  • Cognitive Development
  • Behavioral Disorders
  • Emotional Development
  • Moral Reasoning
  • Self-Awareness
  • Personality Development
  • Anti-Social Behavior
  • Motor Skill Development
  • Learning Disorders

It’s also possible that counseling and therapy at a young age provide kids with the skill necessary to better manage, minimize, and control symptoms of existing mental health conditions such as those associated with autism, eating disorders, low self-esteem, anxiety, PTSD, ADHD, self-injury, OCD, addiction, stress, and many others. These mental health advisors also work with children to help teach them to be aware of their actions and feelings, along with learning coping mechanisms and the ways to best utilize learning tools.

What Issues Might They Deal With?

The counselors who work with young people must prepare to cater to all types of mental health needs and developmental issues including emotional, physical, and cognitive. Each child’s needs are unique to their own personal situation. These are often issues that parents cannot effectively treat without the help of child mental care professionals.

From an emotional and social perspective, children may suffer from any number of setbacks based on life experiences and developmental issues. Loss and grief are a big part of children acting out and are often associated with stunted emotional development if not handled properly; this may include the loss of a pet, parent or other loved one, home, and more. The same results can occur if a child experiences or witnesses bullying or intimidation by peers, siblings, parents and other adults, as well as when a child is abused or faces aggression by others.

Big changes in life is another area that greatly affects the mental health of children and may include:

  • Divorce
  • Changing Schools
  • Changing Homes
  • New Family Members
  • Friend Moves Away
  • Recent Financial and Food Insecurity

In other cases, it might be related to the cognitive development or impairment of a child. This might include various mental health or behavioral disorders and conditions such as anxiety, depression, ADHD, chronic illness, autism spectrum disorder, eating disorders, PTSD, mood disorders, schizophrenia, and others.

Keep in mind that many children and young people act out or abuse drugs and alcohol as a way to cope with their own mental health struggles. This is the only way some kids can find to cope with being different, the loss of a loved one, abuse, mental disorders, or other struggles in their young lives. It’s not out of the question for kids to begin experimenting with alcohol and drugs as early as eight. While this is infrequent, it does occur. This is particularly dangerous if addiction is genetic or there is not a positive role model or influence at home.

Take the time to know the signs to look for so that you can get a child help as early as possible. Some signs will be more subtle than others. The way a child behaves at home might be different than the way a child behaves away from parents or guardians. And each child’s symptoms will vary.

The signs and symptoms of psychological distress or mental health issues may include:

  • Aggression
  • Night Terrors
  • Insomnia
  • Anxiety
  • Self-Harm
  • Social Withdraw
  • Social Isolation
  • Physical Decline
  • Alcohol or Drug Abuse
  • Lower Academic Performance

These are only a few signs that child counselors will be responsible to note and address. It will also be the responsibility of the child counselor to determine the source of the child’s actions and develop a course of action to begin the mental health healing process for the child.

Steps to Becoming a Child Counselor?

Education

Bachelor’s

A bachelor’s degree is the minimum requirement for a job in child counseling. Many colleges and universities offer a BS or a BA in various psychology or counseling programs. Your major, concentration, or specialization will be an essential part of the process in becoming a counselor for children. Employers are in search of highly specific degrees such as social work, human services, psychology, child development, behavioral health, social sciences, and others.

A few possible courses one can expect include:

  • Art Therapy
  • Play Therapy
  • Child Psychology
  • Interpersonal Relations
  • Perceptual Development
  • Introduction to Social Work
  • Behavioral and Emotional Childhood Problems

It’s important to understand that a bachelor’s degree may still only provide a person with an entry-level, support position in child counseling rather than allowing them to be a practicing child counselor. However, most employers and states require a master’s degree.

Master’s

A master’s degree is typically considered a minimum requirement by most states and employers to become a child counselor. Even school counselors require at least a master’s degree in most states. Like that of a bachelor’s degree, the type of concentration or specialization one pursues at the master’s degree level will be essential to becoming a child counselor and you may pursue psychology, counseling, family therapy, child development, social work, and others.

Individuals who do not possess a bachelor’s degree in a similar field of study can use a master’s degree to specialize in child counseling. The master’s degree is often considered far more important and influential in the hiring process. Keep in mind that students may have to complete certain prerequisites in human sciences and psychology to qualify to enter master’s degree programs.

The following are some examples of courses one might expect while pursuing this type of program:

  • Statistics
  • Research
  • Public Policy
  • Physiology
  • Cognitive Development
  • Community Programming
  • Developmental Psychology

It’s important to note that in some states and for some employers, a doctorate or PhD will be required for a career in child counseling.

Doctorate

To work as a psychologist, psychiatrist, or therapist, some state boards may require that you hold a PhD. To be a specialized as a child counselor, a doctorate is also necessary. The type of PhD for a child counselor will vary based on the type of counseling one wishes to practice such as child counseling, child psychology, child and adolescent therapy, child development, family therapy, addiction counseling, and others.

At this level, most program participants will select a specialization to be able to work exclusively with children. The areas of specialization and concentration to work with children will vary but may include development, behavioral, cognitive, addiction, learning disorders, and more.

Some of the courses one might take include:

  • Cognitive Development
  • Lifespan Development
  • Developmental and Psychopathology
  • Research Methods in Social Psychology

To complete a doctoral degree, one will require a significant amount of experiential learning and training under the supervision of qualified counselors, as well as the proper licensure.

Experience

Experience in child counseling is essential to secure proper employment, to be able to take certification examinations, and for licensing. Many people will work with children in various jobs at varying levels of responsibility as they complete each degree level. During a bachelor’s degree, students can pursue internships or seek employment in a number of areas such as daycare, teaching assistant, supportive roles, and more.

As part of a master’s degree, counseling experience will be a requirement. Students must complete a specified number of hours, which will vary based on the program. The type of experience will also be essential. Your college or university will be able to assist with these positions either in the form of internships, or part-time or full-time work. This experience will also be necessary to complete certification exams and state licensure.

At the doctoral degree level, clinical experience will be mandatory. Again, the number of hours will depend upon the program. However, the requirements are usually demanding and extensive. Generally speaking, around 3,000 hours will be necessary, which typically equates to roughly two years. These hours will often be under the supervision of a practicing professional. They will also provide feedback to the program participant and the program leadership. Today, many programs and states allow both in-person and online work experience.

Counselor Exam Requirements

Many certification exams are available for professional enhancement and state requirements. The required exams will vary depending on the state and the type of employment one seeks. For those who wish to work with children, the requirements are quite strict, including extensive background checks.

Some of the exams and certifications you might have and work with children include:

  • National Counselor Exam
  • Master Addictions Counselor
  • National Counselor Examination
  • Certified Clinical Mental Health Counselor
  • Certified Rehabilitation Counselor Examination
  • National Clinical Mental Health Counselor Examination

These exams require a passing score as designated by the state board and professional governing agencies. Score requirements will vary by state and exam.

Licensure

All individuals will have to become a licensed child counselor to practice in each state. The degree requirements and work experience will vary by state. Licensure types will also vary by state and the type of employment an individual seeks. Degrees will have to be in a field closely enough related to child counseling and most states require at least two years of clinical experience under supervision. To achieve certification, individuals must pass the necessary exams. Once a person becomes a qualified and practicing child counselor, it is possible to mentor others in degree programs.

Where Do Child Counselors Work?

The demand for child counselors has never been greater. Child counselors can work in a wide array of environments and for a large number of employer types. Schools have an extraordinary need for qualified and outstanding child counselors to address the stress of life today, as well as addiction, mental health disorders, and much more. You might also work at juvenile detention centers, addiction centers, hospitals, homeless shelters, government agencies, group therapy practices, court systems, adoption agencies, domestic violence shelters, private clinics, and more.

Salary

An entry-level child psychologist or child counselor with basic degree requirements can expect to earn an average of nearly $45,000 a year. This number will increase significantly with each degree. In fact, it’s estimated that an individual in this field with a doctoral degree can expect to earn an additional $30,000 a year over someone with a master’s degree. And someone with a master’s degree will make substantially more than those with a bachelor’s degree.

The type of employer they work for will also impact the salary of a child counselor. If one chooses to work for the state, they will potentially make far less than individuals who pursue positions in the private sector. And the region in which one works will influence salary potential; in a larger city, child counselors have the potential to earn more. However, this will also depend on the average income of the client base.

Outlook

The outlook for individuals in psychology fields is expected to grow up to 3% by 2029. Specific employers are expected to contribute to this demand increase including social service agencies, mental health centers, hospitals, and schools. Individuals with a PhD or a specialist degree in education with postdoctoral hands-on work experience will be the most in demand for counseling positions for all employers. These individuals will also qualify for the highest earning potential.