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Beyond the requirements for licensure, a counselor or therapist needs to be an emotionally and psychologically healthy person. How do you know if you’re ready?

One of the best ways to prepare is to establish your own relationship with a therapist. This is true whether you’ve seen a counselor in the past — or if you’ve never seen one.

If You’ve Seen a Counselor Before

If you’re considering becoming a counselor, chances are you’ve been helped by a counselor yourself. Almost all students in the Master of Arts in Counseling (MAC) program at St. Edward’s University have a compelling personal story that’s motivated them to enter the profession, program director and professor of Counseling Elizabeth Katz says. But “just having gone through certain painful experiences is not sufficient, even with the motive to help others go through it,” she explains.

It’s crucial to make sure you’ve fully healed from those experiences — and that working with a client who has similar issues won’t open old wounds. Particularly if you have dealt with trauma in your own life or you’re in recovery from addiction, “you need to work with a counselor to do some deep self-exploration and develop self-awareness about what triggers you because you went through it, and work through that,” Katz says.

And after you become a therapist, it’s a good idea to continue visiting a counselor as part of your self-care routine. Being able to process the difficult content you hear about every day is important for your own mental health and for preventing burnout.

If You’ve Never Seen a Counselor

If you haven’t been in therapy before, it’s time to establish a relationship with a counselor. Your skills and techniques classes will teach you how to work with clients, and the practicum will give you experience, but “you really cannot be an effective counselor until you know what it’s like to be in the other chair,” Katz says. To understand what it feels like to be a client, you need to have been one yourself.

And being in therapy helps you develop the self-awareness you’ll need to help others. What are the experiences from your past that have influenced who you are? What are the issues a client might have that hit close to home? Starting therapy before you start a master’s program gives you a head start on identifying where you might need to do extra personal work.

You Don’t Need All the Answers

It’s a common misconception that counselors need to know how to fix their clients’ problems. “It’s the client’s job to do the ‘fixing,’” says Sunny Lansdale, a full-time faculty member and psychotherapist who teaches in the St. Edward’s MAC program. “Your job is to support your clients as they examine and consider what’s going on with them, and what will help them function well and make better decisions.” Instead of giving clients advice or making decisions for them, “you support them so that they will discover what the answer to their dilemma is themselves.”

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.