The counseling field is diverse, and every professional will encounter varying client needs. This is especially true when they work with protected populations. These populations, including children and adolescents, older adults, LGBTQ+ individuals, veterans, and individuals with disabilities, have different and unique challenges and needs — hence requiring specialized counseling skills. This article will discuss the various counseling skills counselors must have to attend to the needs of protected populations effectively.
Attaining Specialized Counseling Skills
To effectively address the needs of protected populations, counselors must evolve their skills. One way to do this is through advanced training and education. American International College (AIC) offers online Clinical Mental Health Counseling Programs to help counselors shape their skills and upgrade their careers. These programs are designed with flexibility in mind. AIC offers 100% online coursework, which is essential for working professionals. The institution provides placement support services to help students find suitable placement opportunities. Those interested can apply with a bachelor’s degree in any field and a 2.75 GPA.
Counseling Children and Adolescents
Every child and adolescent has a unique world. They are young minds going through significant emotional and cognitive development. This development is why counselors cannot only apply basic learned theories and cap it. The key is to have a blend of empathy and patience.
Children often struggle to express their complex emotions in words, so counselors must be able to read non-verbal clues patiently. Rushing or forcing clients to converse can do more harm than good. Counselors need to create a nurturing environment where they acknowledge and understand clients’ unspoken feelings. Now, how can one achieve this feat?
Take play therapy, for instance. Play therapy taps into children’s natural language — play — helping them express and work through psychological issues. This approach means creating a safe, welcoming space filled with toys and creative materials. Having a myriad of toys gives children the chance to choose activities that interest them, which, in a way, helps them express themselves.
Counselors can also try art therapy when working with kids. It is similar to play therapy — maybe even better. Giving a child a brush and asking them to draw whatever comes to mind can show a counselor what happens in their head. A family drawing with only one parent may show signs of emotional neglect from the other parent.
In all these approaches, learning the storytelling skill is crucial. This is especially true when mixing in role-play. Allow young clients to express themselves through fictional characters and scenarios. Role-playing will bring the counselor into the child’s world — storytelling can help them heal the wounds they find inside.
The deal is to create a safe and trusting environment. A counseling office should not feel stoic. Fill it with warmth, security, and toys. Consistency in approach and scheduling will help reinforce this feeling.
Working With Older Adults
An average adult is transitioning through peculiar stages of life. First, counselors need to understand the age-related issues these individuals face. Older adults often face many challenges, including grief, loss, and an array of physical health problems. They may be grieving the loss of a loved one, their loss of independence, or, at times, physical abilities.
In cases like this, counselors can try life review therapy. This approach lets older adults reflect on their life experiences. It is a process that can provide significant psychological benefits. Consider it a stroll down memory lane that could help them examine their life’s highs and lows, achievements, and regrets. It can also help them find meaning and accept their life decisions.
Counselors must be attuned to cognitive changes to achieve this. The spectrum of cognitive abilities in older people can vary widely, from mild impairment to more severe forms of dementia. This is why counselors must practice adaptive counseling strategies to accommodate these changes. They may need to shorten therapy sessions with certain clients, create daily routines for them to follow, repeat things already discussed, or draft an entirely different approach for them. The goal is to find techniques that adapt to their abilities, and counselors can only achieve this by sharpening their adaptation skills.
Addressing LGBTQ+ Needs
Counselors need to be culturally sensitive to understand the experiences and challenges LGBTQ+ clients face. They must be acutely aware of the specific issues these individuals go through. Understand that they are discriminated against, stigmatized, and go through identity struggles. This awareness can help counselors provide a space where they and their clients can explore and address these sensitive issues.
To achieve this, counselors need to implement affirmative therapy. Create an environment where LGBTQ+ clients feel accepted and validated in their identity. It is more than merely accepting. The counselor is showing an active and continuous process of support that acknowledges their experiences and identity. This way, counselors can build their self-esteem, combat internalized negative beliefs, and then address the mental health challenges that may have stemmed from social marginalization.
Counseling veterans, especially those linked to military service, primarily encompasses trauma-informed care and a deep understanding of military culture. Veterans often carry the weight of traumatic experiences, and these experiences have a profound impact on their mental health. Counselors providing trauma-informed care must acknowledge these experiences and help them process their trauma. To do that, they must be proficient in recognizing symptoms of PTSD and related disorders. This will help them provide interventions encouraging healing without re-traumatizing their clients.
Counselors also need to read up on military nuances to relate to veterans. The military culture shapes their values, norms, and experiences. Counselors conversant with this background can better discuss with their clients and ultimately establish trust and understanding.
Working with Individuals With Disabilities
When counseling individuals with disabilities, counselors must recognize their clients’ strengths and weaknesses. They can then focus on the strengths and work on helping them see their weaknesses, which can also be a form of strength. Celebrate their small victories and progress to show them a positive image of themselves.
Counselors also need to study the social and psychological challenges of different disabilities. This includes an awareness of how societal barriers can impact their mental health and lead to isolation and low self-esteem. Counselors can listen to them talk about their experience and discuss strategies for them to navigate these social obstacles.
In all cases, counselors working with protected populations must be aware of their biases and continuously educate themselves to provide the best possible care. Techniques may differ based on the population, but counselors must empathize, understand, and respect their clients.