Austin is a counselor-friendly city. “It’s not a place where people look at you weird if you tell them you go to a therapist,” says Sunny Lansdale, a psychotherapist and visiting assistant professor in the Master of Arts in Counseling (MAC) program at St. Edward’s University. But it’s also a crowded field. The most successful licensed counselors carve out a niche, focusing on a specific population or therapeutic technique. Here are a few of the areas experts say need more attention.
Career counseling is about far more than writing resumes and organizing a client’s job search. “It’s really about helping clients discover their strengths and personal identity, and how that fits with their occupation,” says Elizabeth Katz, director of the MAC program. “We so personally identify with our careers, and work is such a huge part of our lives that it impacts us psychologically all the time.”
College career centers offer the chance to work with young people just beginning their professional lives. But adults change careers, too, particularly during economic downturns, which lead many people to reexamine their priorities. And because people spend 40 hours a week on the job — often more — the emotional and psychological challenges of work can spill over into other areas of life. Job-related stress, relationships with colleagues, and being fired or passed over for promotions are all issues that clients bring to the therapist’s office.
With education budgets stretched to the limit, sometimes school counselors don’t do much counseling. Administrative tasks like assessment testing and class scheduling leave little time to work one-on-one with students on emotional issues. In areas where funds for counseling are limited, there’s a particular need for supplemental support with nonprofits that partner with school districts to offer on-site counseling services. For example, Communities in Schools, which provides free counseling to students in the Austin Independent School District, frequently seeks counselors to work in these schools. In addition, therapists from both the YWCA and the Austin Child Guidance Center provide counseling in school settings. “There’s always a demand for people who can work well with children and adolescents,” Katz says.
Many large companies offer Employee Assistance Plans (EAP), a benefit that includes free or low-cost counseling for their staff. An EAP therapist may work as an in-house counselor at a single large organization, or for an EAP company that provides services for multiple employers. These counselors may work with employees seeking help for relationship issues, parenting, workplace stress and many other life issues.
The large numbers of veterans returning from conflict zones translates into a large need for counselors who understand their needs, including fellow veterans. While services are available through Veterans Affairs, the demand is large enough to require additional counselors in private practice or at other nonprofits.
Other fields that need more counselors, especially in the Austin area, include substance abuse, eating disorders, and sex addiction and other sexual issues (the city has very few certified sex therapists). And one of the most common reasons people enter therapy is the breakdown of a relationship, Lansdale says. Couples therapists are always in demand.
The Master of Arts in Counseling at St. Edward’s University helps students gain a deeper understanding of what drives peoples’ behavior through an experiential curriculum, accomplished faculty and innovative electives.
Robyn Ross is a freelance writer.