During my freshman year in college, because I am a rule follower, I attended a required meeting with something of a guidance counselor (he had another name but I can’t remember)  who was supposed to help me choose what I wanted to do with the remainder of my life. My plan had been to start with the basic required courses (Math, English etc) and hope something would make itself seem interesting in the process. His advice was to choose a class in a few things I was interested in to see if it was something I wanted to pursue further.

At the time, I really had an interest in Psychology, but my own mental state was…well, not optimal. I knew myself well enough to know that if I had a client do something destructive with his/her life I was the type of person to not only take it personally but blame myself, and so I chose a different path.

I spent a great deal of college and beyond in therapy myself. My first experience was not positive. He doled out meds and changed them when I didn’t feel any different two weeks later. I didn’t like him, so I stopped. After my Freshman year I transferred schools and started seeing a graduate school student who was my “therapist” for the next three years. Unfortunately, we didn’t get very far. Partly I think because she was understandably inexperienced and partly because I sincerely had this fear that speaking my thoughts out loud would break me. I spent many sessions saying next to nothing.

I found an outlet in writing and an online forum, which probably explains why blogging is still therapeutic to me. Eventually after several years, a few huge life changes and some work with a therapist who actually gave me the no nonsense help I really needed, things started to change.

Sometimes, though, I look back on those days with some regret, because they simply weren’t as enjoyable for me. I wish that I had the ability to transfer my written words into spoken ones. Even now I communicate much more effectively through writing and have my virtual friends on that online forum to thank for helping me through many difficult times.

Technology is changing. People order pizza and shop for clothes on the Internet, and soon they may be able to send a picture of themselves to a physician and receive a tentative diagnosis. Technology is altering the way we all think about many things in our culture; it may one day affect the way we get counseling. Some experts in the mental health field envision software for our computers that will enable us to ask virtual counselors to help us with questions we formerly would have asked of a professional. These visionaries predict that the software will provide common answers, and if we ask anything that is too complex, it will recommend that we see a live counselor.

Other changes forecasted for the counseling profession are unification of certifying organizations and of counselors’ credentials. This will be an important step because people do not have to be certified to call themselves counselors. Even if counselors are certified, the credentialing organization may not be professionally acceptable. In the future, perhaps all counselors will have the same hierarchy of credentials, and it will be easier to choose the kind of counselor we need.

“Counseling Today” magazine suggests that perhaps the most sweeping change in counseling may be the shift to globalization. Of course, there will always be a need for school counselors, especially as the issues with which they deal are becoming increasingly complex. The trend toward addressing the mental health needs of society by treating the problems of the individual may turn to solving individual issues through working toward the mental health of a population. Counselors may soon address worldwide income disparity along with racial and sexual prejudices and advocate for mental health “wellness” programs. This change in the practice of counseling must be accompanied by a shift in the educational patterns and requirements in psychology degree programs. Schools with degrees based on the theories of cognitive behavioral therapy may have to expand their scope to deal with the issues of humanity.

Counselors in the school setting may need to open themselves to working with teams of professionals to serve a population of children. Change may be necessary for policies on things like bullying and working with special-needs children. Wake Forest is among the many schools addressing the future of educational counseling. Programs like Wake’s Degree in Counseling are making shifts in educating their students that reflect the changing world.

I know that, personally, had I used a virtual counselor he or she would have recommended in person counseling anyway, but sometimes I wonder – maybe it wouldn’t have taken so long to find the right fit, so to speak, and I could have spent less time in silence. It is good to know, at least, that programs are changing and improving.

Have you ever seen a therapist? What are your thoughts on virtual counseling and/or online counseling degrees?

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