In this weekly feature, the editors of SpringBoard highlight one career in the health care professions–including a basic description, educational requirements, core competencies/key skills needed, and related web sites and professional organizations where you can find more information!
COUNSELOR IN AFTER-SCHOOL PROGRAMS
After-school programs have been in existence for a long period of time. Counselors have more recently become a part of after-school programs, especially in providing group counseling and teaching psychoeducational groups for students (grief support group, divorce support for children, conflict resolution, etc.).
ISSUES TO UNDERSTAND
Counselors working in after-school programs can expect to provide an array of intervention services focused at reducing risky behavior (addiction, delinquency, dropping out, career preparation, etc.). Most often, the counselor will be working with students referred to the program from teachers, school counselors, school psychologists, coaches, pastors, and parents. The counselor is likely to be either in private practice and contracting with the school district or working in an agency that has a contract with the local school district. The students in the after-school program can range from elementary to high school, and the concerns they bring can be divorcing parents, behavioral issues, “latchkey” students (those lacking proper adult supervision at home), gang activity, and isolated students in need of friends. (This latter category may be one of the most important as isolated adolescents are the most likely to contemplate suicide.) Counselors will perform individual counseling, though more likely group counseling, educational activities, mediation training, life skills (grooming, peer relations, dealing with peer pressure, etc.), and for older adolescents, job preparation.
BEST ASPECTS OF THE JOB
Some counselors enjoy working in after-school programs because it involves developmental guidance that may differ from more traditional mental health work. The counselor’s role is somewhat a cross between traditional guidance activities and more standard mental health work. Counselors in this job will do a lot of modeling and teaching to students in groups. Many counselors may report that they enjoy more freedom as they do not have to label the students with mental health diagnoses in order to access services.
CHALLENGING ASPECTS OF THE JOB
After-school programs may fall into an “in-between” position with regard to educational and social services. Counselors in after-school programs may be working alone or with a small number of other professionals and could potentially lack the organizational support counselors in agencies and schools possess (though this depends on the after-school program and its level of funding). Counselors would need to be interested in applying psychotherapeutic knowledge in ways different from traditional one-on-one counseling. Group approaches, whether therapeutic groups, support groups, or psychoeducational groups (i.e., teaching students how to manage stress, anxiety, turn down drugs, etc.), will likely be the more prevalent type of activity the counselor provides.
Many students involved in the after-school program may be mandated by a parent, coach, school counselors, or someone else and may not have an ideal level of motivation.
OCCUPATIONAL OUTLOOK AND SALARY
Most counselors working in after-school programs are likely to be in private practice and contracting with the local school district, or working in an agency that contracts with the school district. Agency counselors are likely to earn somewhere in the neighborhood of mental health counselors (median salary $36,810). Figures for counselors in private practice were not reported, so salary estimates are difficult to estimate, though they may approximate that of agency counselors depending on whether the counselor works full time or part time. The occupational outlook for mental health counselors is very strong, with a 24% growth rate estimated by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (2010–2011). However, only a small percentage of mental health counselors work in after-school programs, so counselors interested in this type of work should target agencies that provide this service or plan to transition into after-school programs as part of a private practice providing a contractual service.