What Does a Child Counsellor Do? (With Duties and Skills)

Updated 30 September 2022

While counsellors are often in high demand among adult patients, children can also benefit from services that help them overcome social and psychological challenges. A child counsellor specialises in this patient population to make treatment plans accessible to teens, school-aged children and even toddlers. Learning more about this profession's duties can help you determine if it may be the right career for you. In this article, we define a child counsellor, answer the question ‘What does a child counsellor do?', outline the requirements to become one and discuss their key skills and typical work environment.

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What is a child counsellor?

A child counsellor is a mental health professional who specialises in helping children and adolescents overcome social, emotional and psychological issues. These professionals often support children by helping them manage anxiety, depression, grief and other issues that adults commonly face. A child counsellor's expertise also allows them to provide services specific to child-related issues. For instance, a child counsellor might help a teenager manage their emotions as their parents go through a divorce or marry new partners. They might also support a child in regard to bullying, separation anxiety or sibling conflict.

Related: What Does a Counsellor Do? And How to Become One (Step Guide)

What does a child counsellor do?

To answer the question ‘What does a child counsellor do?', it might be useful to describe their primary responsibilities. Here are some of the main duties of a child counsellor:

Conduct intake sessions

The beginning of a relationship with a patient often starts with an intake session. During this introductory meeting, a child counsellor usually reviews the patient's paperwork and learns more about their mental health challenges. While the patient may or may not attend this session, a parent usually does, so a counsellor can collect useful information about the child's symptoms and family history. A child counsellor may also help the family determine if their services would be a good fit for the child by discussing their treatment approach and answering questions.

Oversee counselling sessions

After reviewing the patient's history, a child counsellor can develop a treatment plan and start overseeing regular counselling sessions. They may determine how many times per week to meet with the patient, depending on the situation. For instance, they might meet more frequently if the issue is particularly urgent and requires immediate attention. If a child would benefit from a more gradual approach, the counsellor might suggest fewer sessions to make them feel more comfortable.

Child counsellors also oversee the sessions to ensure they're as productive as possible. They often establish boundaries with the patient and their family, allowing parents to attend sessions in a way that supports their child's progress. These professionals can also gauge the child's situation by asking questions, practising active listening skills and analysing their responses to various scenarios. A child counsellor may plan activities like drawing to help children develop techniques like mindfulness and calm breathing. If a child struggles to interact with others, an appropriate activity might be a game that encourages sharing and patience.

Implement standardised treatment approaches

Depending on their specialty and patient population, a child counsellor can implement standardised treatment approaches to help a patient overcome their mental health challenges. A common approach is a parent–child interaction therapy which may allow the parent and child to develop a bond through professional guidance. Child counsellors may also use cognitive behavioural therapy to address grief or post-traumatic stress disorder.

Adjust the treatment approach

While child counsellors may have their preferred treatment approach, they usually adjust their strategies based on the patient's needs. They can analyse the patient's response to treatment by checking in on them during each session, talking to caregivers and evaluating their progress in school. They might also ask the patient and their family what their goals are and assign homework to understand what areas of the treatment plan could benefit from adjustments.

This approach is often useful for celebrating achievements but can also help child counsellors identify new growth opportunities. For instance, they might suggest an alternative approach like sports therapy or equine therapy to facilitate healing. If the patient requires additional support, the counsellor can refer them to a medical professional with the appropriate qualifications.

Practise industry ethics

When counsellors register through a body like the Australian Counselling Association (ACA), they're responsible for adhering to a code of ethics. Implementing ethical practices ensures they not only remain in good standing with the governing body but also allows them to protect their professional reputation and serve the community's best interests. Key responsibilities include maintaining appropriate relationships with patients, ensuring client confidentiality and prioritising safety above all else.

Communicate with caregivers

Child counsellors often communicate with caregivers beyond the initial intake session. They might provide parents with educational resources to help them better understand their child's psychological symptoms. They can also teach parents how to help their children complete at-home exercises to improve their mental health. Additionally, they may communicate with other caregivers, such as teachers and babysitters, to ensure the child has the proper support in all facets of their life.

Related: FAQ: How Much Do Counsellors Make? (Including High-Paying Roles)

Requirements to become a child counsellor

Employers often require child counsellors to have at least a CHC51015 Diploma of Counselling. This diploma only takes about a year to complete, meaning you can enter the industry sooner and gain experience under supervision. If you want to increase your employment opportunities and obtain a job even with little work experience, consider pursuing a bachelor's degree in counselling or social work.

Advanced education is also ideal if you want to specialise in a certain patient population or type of counselling. For instance, you might earn a bachelor's degree in child psychology if you want to help adolescents manage post-traumatic stress disorder. Other ways to prepare for your future career may include volunteering through community service programs and earning an ACA membership.

Related: The 16 Most Popular Bachelor of Psychology Careers

Child counsellor skills

Child counsellors may rely on different skills to succeed in their roles. Here are some traits you can focus on developing throughout your career:

  • Patience: Patience can help a child counsellor empathise with their patients' challenges and develop the appropriate treatment plans. This trait can also be important for preventing burnout when children are resistant to counselling or experience setbacks regarding the improvement of their mental health.

  • Active listening: Child counsellors often implement active listening by allowing the patient to freely share their thoughts. They can pay attention to body language, use non-verbal cues to indicate understanding and repeat phrases to confirm that they understand the patient's thoughts.

  • Communication: Similar to active listening, written and verbal communication can be important for a child counsellor's job. These professionals often use communication to educate parents, provide instructions to caregivers and explain concepts to young patients in an age-appropriate manner.

  • Mediation: Whether a child is a victim of bullying or witnesses a divorce, conflict is likely to arise during their sessions. A child counsellor can use their mediation skills to remain impartial and work towards an appropriate solution for all parties.

  • Enthusiasm: When a counsellor expresses enthusiasm, it can make a counselling session feel less intimidating. A child who feels comfortable in a counsellor's office may be more likely to share their feelings and strive to improve their mental health.

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Child counsellor work environment

Child counsellors can find employment opportunities in various work environments. Some of them may work in schools to help children succeed in their studies. They can also apply to places where children might be at a higher risk of mental health issues. For instance, counsellors might work in a hospital, domestic violence shelter, social service office or juvenile detention centre. If you start your own practice, you may work from an office or provide services in the child's home.

Please note that none of the companies, institutions or organisations mentioned in this article are affiliated with Indeed.

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