THE HUMAN heart is perhaps an eternally unsolvable mystery, but the job of a psychiatric counselor is to delve deep into this enigma and heal the hurt that lurks inside. Although on the surface this appears to describe what psychiatric counselors do, in fact, the job entails much more. Through the employment of specific methods, psychiatric counselors work to reveal the entanglements of a person’s psychology.
(Psychiatrist, M.D., Cheongdam Harvard Psychology Center)
Annals: What do psychiatric counselors do?
Choi: Psychiatric counselors aim to soothe and console the advisee. Counselees seek the help of psychiatric counselors when they recognize that there is a problem in their lives. Psychiatric counselors try to assist by talking the counselee through the problem they are facing, identifying what it is and giving realistic suggestions on how to address it. In many cases, the work lies in helping the patient acknowledge or directly face what the real issue is and helping them realize that they have the strength to overcome it.
Annals: Then how do counselors go about this process?
Choi: That really depends on the counselor, as each counselor has to judge which treatment methods to use depending on the patient’s condition, and even then the opinions of different counselors may vary. Some may opt to make use of treatment processes that implement play and art, while others may focus on discussion. For example, when treating children counselors are more likely to incorporate play therapy and art therapy as these allow children to open up and ease into conversation. Because there are such a large variety of treatment methods, psychiatric counselors need to have an open mind and must be able to use different tools and methodologies to address the different psychological issues that people may be having.
Annals: How do psychiatric counselors tell what kind of treatment is appropriate in each case?
Choi: That is a difficult question to answer because everyone is different and every case is different. The way in which treatment is executed has changed greatly in recent years. While many psychology experts used to recommend the Freudian style of psychoanalysis (the classic method of the patient sitting on a long couch and the counselor simply listening), nowadays we are moving away from that methodology. Now, the concept has shifted to being more patient-friendly. Psychiatric counselors are evolving their therapies so that they adapt to the patient’s needs and the style of treatment the patient prefers, instead of following a rigid and methodical formula. The psychiatric counselor also needs to judge whether medical treatment is necessary when they are dealing with the patient. Other than that, psychiatric counselors consider the different characteristics of their counselees – such as age and level of education – before going into the counseling process, and then judge what kind of treatment would be best.
Annals: It must be difficult to have to deal with all the emotional strife of counselees. What are the hardest aspects of the job?
Choi: Many psychiatric counselors experience what we call burnout. Psychiatric counseling can be extremely exhausting on the emotional front. This is especially true if the counselee is not showing any will to change or improve. It gets tiresome. Because much of the time the psychiatric counselor is dealing with the counselee’s despair, there is always a danger of being affected by this emotion and being pulled in. Also, when inexperienced psychiatric counselors do not see improvement in their counselees, they become impatient and frustrated.
Annals: How does one get into this career field?
Choi: That varies as well. The most orthodox path that people follow is to major in psychology and earn a psychology degree in graduate school. But one of the appeals of this career is that it is not limited to only those with graduate school degrees. Because there is no separate license issued by the government to become a psychiatric counselor, counselors come from many different backgrounds and this makes the occupation more approachable. Those who are good with relationships and interacting with other people can excel in this field. I would say that the diversity among counselors’ backgrounds is a great advantage. You come to realize that in the world of psychology, there are no real right answers. This variety of backgrounds allows for different ways of approaching problems.
Annals: What kind of qualities would you say make a good counselor?
Choi: First and foremost, the counselor must have hope and faith that the patient will get better. They have to have faith in the work that they do and faith in the people that they help. Naturally, the person should also have strong morals and be good-hearted. They should be strong so that they do not give up quickly, self-confident and able to maintain healthy relationships with other people.
Annals: Could you tell our readers what makes the job worthwhile?
Choi: The fundamental reason that people live is to find happiness. And whether one feels happy or not ultimately stems from one’s psychology and heart. Sometimes, we think that if we have this or that it will make us happy. But psychiatric counselors have as their objective helping people realize that happiness comes from within, and so we are able to observe and contribute to the change and development of the heart. The aspect that makes the job most worthwhile is perhaps the rewarding feeling that comes from knowing that you have made the life of someone better.