Person with no credentials wants to work in the counseling field?
December 27, 2022 9:36 PM   Subscribe

Someone wants to work with people who have been traumatized - but they are older and have no credentials. They are super-aware, have many years of self-taught healing modality training via books and teachers, have huge insight into the human condition and psyche, but no diplomas or credentials to put on a wall. They are also older, over 60.

They have good insight, empathy, compassion and a real desire to help others. They are also self-taught in matters of nutrition and its effect on the body and mind. Is it feasible at this point in their life to find a vocation in the field of counseling? If so, where and how is it done?
posted by watercarrier to Society & Culture (26 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Life coaching is scantly regulated. They could probably do that.
posted by less-of-course at 9:47 PM on December 27, 2022 [1 favorite]

Lots of people that I think would have previously been simply life coaches now seem to be on Instagram and doing coaching and special memberships to their special programs. Maybe start following some of those types of people and see how they are doing things to get some ideas?
posted by catspajammies at 10:32 PM on December 27, 2022

I think it takes a lot more than empathy and awareness to work with people suffering from trauma. It's never too late to go back to school.
posted by brookeb at 11:01 PM on December 27, 2022 [54 favorites]

If they want to work with people who have a history of trauma, they really, really need to be working under supervision. Book learning and personal experience are not enough and it is too easy for professionals to inadvertently re-traumatize a client. Having an experienced supervisor will give them a safety net that vital to protect the clients plus give them a safe space to process their own reactions and learn how to do better.

Places like a rape crisis center or a crisis hot line often provide both training and supervision to their volunteers that give this person a chance to start helping immediately.

I wouldn't rule out going to back to school. Assuming they have a bachelor's degree - it would take about two years to get a masters and there are programs out there that will accept any bachelor's degree, it doesn't have to be in psych. It takes longer to licensed but the thing is that you start with working with real clients in your second year - and I assume that this person is very motivated by wanting to help real people, not by the title or money.

I met a man last month who went back for a master's in psychology in his 70s. He actually decided he didn't need to be licensed so a decade later he continues to work as a perpetual intern on a schedule that suits his life and his energy levels.
posted by metahawk at 11:14 PM on December 27, 2022 [54 favorites]

Here is something from Oprah about the difference between a life coach and a therapist. If this person specifically wants to work with trauma, that is psychotherapy and not coaching.
posted by metahawk at 11:18 PM on December 27, 2022 [4 favorites]

Life coaching is NOT for people in crisis, and you can get a certificate in life-coaching nowadays. And some of these certifications cost as much as a car.
posted by kschang at 11:58 PM on December 27, 2022 [3 favorites]

A big part of therapy training is setting very good boundaries and managing your own second-hand trauma. I managed social workers for a program but never did therapy myself because I don't have the training. People suggested very often that I job shift to therapy because I have similar experience as your friend, but I absolutely knew I was a bad fit because it would require a lot of consistent boundary setting and second-hand trauma. The most effective social workers in my team were people who kept a gentle distance with clients and could enjoy their non-work time by not mentally/emotionally carrying work home with them. They didn't burn out or get judgemental about clients because of emotional bonds.

Your friend needs to do professional training or work within a very structured supervised program. They may want to consider foster parenting or mentoring if it's a case of having a lot of care to direct somewhere useful, but again - training and support.
posted by dorothyisunderwood at 12:19 AM on December 28, 2022 [13 favorites]

Do they want to work with adults or children? A friend took a job as a learning support assistant, which does not require a great deal of qualifications or experience. She moved from there to an emotional support assistant post (ELSA) and now runs a nurture group at the school, under the supervision of the SENCO. This is for children with a range of special educational needs, including histories of trauma.
posted by paduasoy at 1:35 AM on December 28, 2022 [2 favorites]

If they want to be a counsellor, they will have to get the credential if they want to act with respect towards their clients. This is too important a work to be a cowboy. It’s not all about knowledge and insight, this work is a practice and skill.
posted by chiquitita at 3:20 AM on December 28, 2022 [10 favorites]

An important part of the training process to work with traumatized people is not just credentials but extensive supervised, reviewed experience. Your friend cannot or at least should not wade into any sort of counseling on their own without that background of many many hours of someone else overseeing and reviewing their abilities and technique.

If they want to get started helping people without that formalized training, they’re looking for something like hotline volunteering or finding a non-counseling way to help people like volunteering at a shelter for survivors of domestic violence.
posted by Stacey at 3:30 AM on December 28, 2022 [15 favorites]

Just echoing what others have said. Mental health is health. Just as having keen insight into anatomy and a background in working out doesn’t make you a physiotherapist, being empathetic and reading about treatment modalities doesn’t make you a therapist.

People who need treatment deserve professional expertise. That includes training, mentorship, and supervision. One of the really difficult things about seeking therapy is that it’s actually quite devastating if you’re the client a sole practitioner gets stuck (doesn’t have the expertise) with. So many people have to deal with untrained or unsupervised help. Your friend needs to really consider why they think it’s okay to try to help people with trauma without a professional framework.

That said, there are lots of ways to contribute like volunteer hotlines and even getting involved on the fundraising or communications end.
posted by warriorqueen at 3:58 AM on December 28, 2022 [9 favorites]

Even in childhood fields... we have many nice empathetic providers, but also one who has extensive formal therapeutic training to go with that, and I could about cry thinking of the differences. There are things the others don't even imagine and inadvertently trample right over based on what intuition and more accessible resources tell them. They're still good people to have in our lives but in terms of actually solving issues (including issues like "even this support group is super hard sometimes") and making progress, the highly credentialed provider drawing from all the intersecting theory and training is where it's at.
posted by teremala at 4:53 AM on December 28, 2022 [8 favorites]

For me, as a client of various psychotherapists and counsellors over the last two decades, what is important is not the paper but what it stands for (where i live): training including therapeutic self-awareness (that is, the therapist has gone through therapy themselves) and supervision (meaning the therapist has a supervisory relationship to another therapist where they can reflect and unburden themselves, evaluate their own work).
As a potential client i would not be comfortable with a therapist or counsellor without formal training, nor entrust my child to them.
Whilst it is certainly true that a diploma, license etc cannot guarantee that the provider is good, or will be able to help me, at least i have a frame of reference for my expectations.
Especially intending to work with traumatised people without proper training sounds like a very bad plan.

That said, i agree with replies above, working/volunteering at hot lines, crises centers, etc seems like a low threshold entry as any reputable provider will train their volunteers and provide both supervision and resources for treatment recommendations, a framework so to speak.

Re life coach, where i live calling yourself a life coach and billing clients does require a license and limits the scope of services one may legally offer. But this is something i am sure one can find out for the relevant country. Whether it is a good idea - personally i don't think so.
posted by 15L06 at 5:16 AM on December 28, 2022 [1 favorite]

They should find a non-professional volunteer job with a population in need. Like a homeless shelter, hospice, children’s hospital, therepeutic school. Actual psychological counseling requires training and supervision, as everyone else has said. But I have found that those few friendly souls who take the time to chat and smile make a huge difference during a difficult time. I’ve been emotionally sustained by the compassionate security guard. My son’s whole school day is anchored by his relationship with the sweet school secretary. Just being an empathetic human in those roles is huge.
posted by haptic_avenger at 5:33 AM on December 28, 2022 [14 favorites]

They may be able to get a substance use counseling certificate without much additional training, it depends on the state. In IL a CADC requires 4 community college courses or I did a faster crash course. I did one that covered the material in 6 months at less than 3,000 usd and there were scholarships available. A licensure exam, previous education of a high school diploma or GED and A small internship was also required. I took this in addition to counseling education and licensure I had for work reasons but most CADCs don't have any additional licensure. Depending on the state these licenses may be called slightly different things. These counselors are supervised and the pay is low. However, it can be fulfilling and quick way to get into a counseling job. Many people with substance use have significant traumas histories, though the focus would be on substance use.

There are many ethical debates about this licensure without the education that other counseling jobs require. But, it may be a legitimate pathway to something they want to do.
posted by AlexiaSky at 6:16 AM on December 28, 2022

There is a reason that this field is regulated by governments. It has been shown, time and time again, that it requires regulation (ie, licensure and standards) because by definition the individual is working with vulnerable folks. This requires regulation because practitioners can cause a great deal of harm.

Go to school, get a license, practice under the law. If one does not want to do those three things, there are multitudes of other ways to help humans that don't require those three things.
posted by furnace.heart at 6:29 AM on December 28, 2022 [4 favorites]

Best answer: I'm a licensed therapist, and I'm currently working on trying to shift my mindset away from the credentialism of the industry, but it's hard. I absolutely don't think healing and compassion require advanced degrees, and I think a lot of the way the industry has been established reinforces problematic ideas of individualism and toxic capitalism. The Western medical model of, "You are broken, I am well, I shall fix you," causes all sorts of problems. However, we live in an individualistic toxic-capitalist society, and credentials and state oversight at least function as some degree of accountability.

There are networks of peer providers working toward/in more peer-support/mutual-aid models. These networks seem mostly led by QTBIPOC folk, who are most at risk from the carceral model of the mainstream industry and who are often drawing on traditional cultural practices of healing, nurturing, and care.

That said, the important part to me in that is the network aspect, which echoes what people are saying above about training and supervision. It's not just one person deciding they're a helpful helper; it's a community coming together to build and maintain community.

Stefanie Kaufman of Project Lets is a strong voice in the field; here's an article from them on crisis response, which is where they focus.

If your friend has lived experience of mental health challenges, they may also want to look into the Clubhouse movement. Some of it is radical reimagining of mental health support, some of it's neoliberal focus on productivity; it varies.

None of that is likely to pay well, if that's a concern of hers.
posted by lapis at 7:43 AM on December 28, 2022 [10 favorites]

At 60, a person has an expected lifespan of 25 years or so. Investing in a Bachelor's, then Master's Degree or PhD would give them the opportunity to do meaningful work. One issue is that insurance is a big expense, and makes it difficult to work part time. But large numbers of 60- and 70-year olds work full time quite happily. Some people become ministers to do pastoral counseling and chaplaincy.

I recommend talking to a career coach, and visiting university admissions and graduate admissions offices. There's likely a reasonable and satisfying path to doing meaningful work.
posted by theora55 at 7:57 AM on December 28, 2022 [1 favorite]

Seconding Stacey's suggestion of volunteering at a domestic violence support center. In my experience, these places do provide some training for their hotline and intake volunteers, so your friend wouldn't be going in cold, although the amount and depth of training (maybe 15-20 hours of lecture/discussion) doesn't really compare to a degree program. I also know someone who's worked in the kind of school role paduasoy describes -- positive behavioral supports for at-risk kids (most of them unhoused). Not sure what type of on-the-job training she got, but that was work for money rather than a volunteer role.

One thing in your question gives me pause, a little -- the mention of nutrition. This won't be relevant to most trauma experiences, and I hope your friend is aware of this. I'm sure we've all met people who think you can vitamin your way out of anything, and that's not an attitude I'd recommend bringing into work with people who have experienced IPV or homelessness or anything else.
posted by eirias at 7:57 AM on December 28, 2022 [9 favorites]

I'm almost done my licensing as a therapist and honestly it's mostly a bunch of jumping through hoops and paying lots of money, and filling out forms. It does indicate that you have a certain number of hours of experience that people can vouch for, and that you have a familiarity with ethics and other topics by passing a test, but in my opinion, that's about all it indicates. As far as the Master's degree, it's also a pre-set curriculum and I didn't learn much from it I didn't already know or couldn't have read by myself. Clinical supervision is sometimes useful, often not. I'm in support of ethical people without licenses doing counseling-adjacent/healing work.

She could go the route of:
certified peer specialist (a certification that is offered in some states to do peer work with others dealing with mental health diagnoses)
life coach certification
Drug and Alcohol counselor (may just requires bachelor's)
crisis hotline counselor (often doesn't require master's degree/license)
Reiki practitioner
volunteer work related to counseling (big brothers/big sisters, court advocate, mentor/tutor, etc)
posted by bearette at 9:00 AM on December 28, 2022 [4 favorites]

Regarding nutrition, there is plenty of evidence that nutritional deficiencies (vitamin D, vitamin B, iron) can have a direct effect on mental health. Of course, telling impoverished people living in food deserts to just eat more nutritious food isn't helpful. But there is a link.
posted by bearette at 9:05 AM on December 28, 2022 [1 favorite]

She can also attend a "mental health first aid" training, or specific trauma trainings offered to the population in general through the Red Cross or other non-profit organizations

I'll also add that training in specific modalities to work with trauma (such as EMDR and IFS), which is often only open to those with Master's Degrees, has in many ways been more useful to me than the coursework I did.
posted by bearette at 9:13 AM on December 28, 2022 [1 favorite]

Another option for your friend may be getting involved as a community health worker. This is a newer field in public health that emphasizes the value of people's lived experiences over more formalized clinical training.

Different states have different programs, but community health workers are awesome!

"Community health workers (CHWs) are lay members of the community who work either for pay or as volunteers in association with the local health care system in both urban and rural environments. CHWs usually share ethnicity, language, socioeconomic status, and life experiences with the community members they serve." More about CHWs.

Your friend may find some opportunities that are a good fit by looking up any community health worker groups in their local area.
posted by forkisbetter at 9:49 AM on December 28, 2022 [5 favorites]

posted by jocelmeow at 1:40 PM on December 28, 2022 [1 favorite]

traumatized people who lack the basic education or awareness to know that they should verify and assess a counselor's credentials before sharing sensitive information are the people who are at most catastrophic risk of being harmed by an untrained and unlicensed counselor. and these are the only people this uncredentialed person would ever be in a position to see. this is a recipe for disaster.

someone who really has the awareness and self-education to work with traumatized people would think of this on their own.

there are life-coaching and peer-counseling adjunct roles for people with lots of compassion and life experience but no credentials. they might be helpful in those roles. but they must not seek to put themselves in therapist-like positions of implicit authority, particularly over traumatized people.

if they want to work one-one-one with vulnerable people, getting credentialed is the ethical thing to do. when you are a client, credentials tell you that your counselor has respect for some body of knowledge other than their own intuition. it tells you they are not afraid to publicly state the standards they adhere to, so that you can make an informed assessment of their competence and judgment, and it tells you they are willing to be scrutinized and judged by their professional peers. and it tells you who to report them to if and when they do something seriously wrong. all of this is important.
posted by queenofbithynia at 4:43 PM on December 28, 2022 [11 favorites]

Seconding forkisbetter on the CHW recommendation, at minimum as a starting point. They're vital and we need more of them in this country!

I also fully agree with queenofbithynia regarding the importance of credentials/licensure/accountability/code of ethics in the field.

An aside as to why I agree this is a good route: as a licensed, registered dietitian, I have similar concerns to folks above regarding unlicensed/untrained folks certain giving nutrition advice without working with an RD or NDTR or similar professional - it can get sideways really quickly, is protected medical nutrition therapy advice and can be litigated against in some states (NC is one), and we have to continue to stay up to date with continuing education. Credentials are only half of the issue - I regularly encounter doctors giving outdated advice or recommendations that don't take into account an individual because it's hard to do that in a 10 minute patient encounter, and that lack of nuance can result in harm or retraumatization. I'd rather see someone like your friend in a high-impact community or clinical- adjacent role where their experience can be added to the most up to date evidence based best practices.
posted by OhHaieThere at 12:01 AM on December 30, 2022

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