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How to impact your community as a counselor

May 07, 2021
counselor and patient hugging in group therapy

If you are or intend to become a clinical mental health counselor, chances are you have chosen this path out of a desire to change lives for the better. While in your day-to-day role, this may typically take the form of engaging with individuals through your counseling practice, you may also be wondering how you might expand your impact to benefit an entire community.

The work counselors do can make a difference outside of the individual session or client relationship. Whether by improving individual lives in a way that guides them toward successful participation in society or by working actively for larger-scale social change, counselors can have a significant community impact. Read about some steps you can take to ensure your work has a positive effect on the world around.

Understand the community impact of trauma

Much of the work that clinical mental health counselors do relates to trauma, both in adult and childhood experiences. In particular, adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) have been shown to affect those who endure them well into adulthood. Experiences such as neglect, abuse, witnessing violence, losing a caregiver or loved one, spending time in the foster care system, or being exposed to substance or alcohol abuse in the household can create attachment and stability issues for children that are often early predictors of poor academic achievement, workplace issues, health problems and unsafe behaviors down the line.1

Every individual who you engage in your counseling practice, particularly trauma-affected children and adolescents, can benefit from your support as they find their way in society and work to lead a productive and satisfying life. Try to develop a strong understanding of the signs of trauma in whatever age of patients you typically work with, and work with members of your community in schools or other organizations to help them recognize the signs as well. Intervention and treatment are key to helping patients process trauma and avoid negative outcomes throughout their lives.

Start small

It can be easy to get overwhelmed when thinking about impacting an entire community. The good news is, even small actions and one-on-one conversations can get the ball rolling for larger-scale social change. Believe it or not, major transformations can start with simple conversations between individuals. You don’t have to be an elected official or a local celebrity to get the ball rolling, you just need to know who to talk to.

Say you want to secure funding for a new addictions treatment center in your area of residence. A simple email or phone call to a local policymaker’s office or a community service organization may be all it takes to set change in motion.2 This crucial first step will not only help you get immediately acquainted with the logistical challenges your project may face and the steps to overcome thiem, but it will also allow your first point of contact to use their own connections to start building momentum around your issue. Sooner than you think, a committed group of change-makers can be rallied to your cause.

Survey community leaders

Once your chosen issue has been brought to the attention of one or two community leaders of importance, your next step is to start identifying your real, concrete needs. A needs assessment is an important step that can align community members on an actionable plan for expanding counseling services, creating partnerships between private counseling practice and public institutions, updating standards of care, or implementing any other change at a significant scale.2

Needs assessments can take the form of a formalized, written document like a survey, questionnaire or interview, or they can be a more informal set of communications and conversations. A well-executed needs assessment can set the stage for an effective plan of action and lay the groundwork for monitoring and evaluating the success of your plan as it progresses from concept to reality.

Consider community counseling

If you want community impact to be a part of your day-to-day life as a counselor, you should consider a career in a community counseling agency. These organizations are dedicated to providing treatment and services at either no cost or at a more affordable cost than what is typically seen in private practice. They are often run by local governments and provide essential mental health services including individual therapy, group therapy, couples counseling and other specialized treatment to vulnerable, in-need segments of the community.3

While you may not earn as much working in a community counseling agency, you may find that the services you provide for those who might otherwise be unable to access them make your work extremely meaningful. By following this career path, you can ensure your counseling work benefits as many people as possible, particularly those who would be unable to afford or otherwise access the care they truly need.

Find your community impact as a counselor at Marquette

The online Master of Science in Clinical Mental Health Counseling from Marquette University is your flexible and convenient path to a rewarding career as a supporter of individual clients and a positive presence in your community. Read about our values driven curriculum and hands-on practicum courses, and learn more about how we support our students in their career pathways as clinical mental health counseling students at Marquette.

1. Retrieved on April 22, 2021 from ct.counseling.org/2020/04/the-counselors-role-in-community-outreach-and-resiliency-building/
2. Retrieved on April 22, 2021 from ct.counseling.org/2018/11/key-considerations-for-counselor-community-engagement/
3. Retrieved on April 22, 2021 from opencounseling.com/blog/community-counseling-agencies-what-to-expect