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The Role of a Community Counselor

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The Role of a Community Counselor
Donte Love

The purpose of this paper is to address the role and function of the community counselor. Additionally, the framework of the community counseling model is taken into account, including some of the strategies used in community counseling.

The Role of a Community Counselor
Community counseling can be defined as “…a comprehensive helping framework that is grounded in multicultural competence and oriented toward social justice (Lewis, Lewis, Daniels, & D'Andrea, 2011). While this definition may serve as a starting point, any meaningful understanding of the role and function of a Community counselor requires more than a brief description or a cursory glance at a definition. The community counseling model is based on four fundamental assumptions and several concepts. The first assumption is: “1. Human development and behavior take place in environmental contexts that have the potential to be nurturing or limiting” (Lewis et al., 2011). This assumption refers to the connection between people and their environment and its potential to act as a source of support or as a limiting factor on their development. The community counseling model effectively deals with the environmental factors that have an influence on the development of problems that people encounter. “2. Even in the face of devastating stress, people who are treated respectfully can demonstrate surprising levels of strength and access resources that a pessimistic helper might not see” (Lewis et al., 2011). Traditional approaches to counseling have featured a narrowly focused scope with an emphasis on the negative aspects of client’s lives. This has resulted in less than effective outcomes with respect to client’s sense of self. The Community counseling perspective emphasizes the client’s strengths and resources with an approach that stresses respect and empowerment. “3. Attention to the multicultural nature of human development is a central component of community counseling” (Lewis et al., 2011). The Community counseling model necessitates the importance of understanding multiculturalism on an individual and group level. “4. Individual development and community development are inextricably linked” (Lewis et al., 2011). As individuals interact with their surroundings they are confronted with inequalities and social systems that negatively impact their well-being. Community counseling confronts the institutions that have a detrimental impact on the lives of individuals and the community as a whole. These assumptions and the definition of Community counseling impart a multifaceted approach to helping and lay the foundation for understanding some of its primary components. However, the concepts of multicultural competence, social justice and the strategies that are used to bring about the healthy development of individuals and the community require a look at the role and function of community counselors.
Community counselors have the responsibility of serving both individuals directly and serving the community. It follows then that the community counselor’s role includes human development and community development. Ultimately, healthy human development is about choice, respect empowerment and a sense of belonging, all of which are emphasized in the community counseling model. An effective community counselor uses focused and broad-based strategies to bring about healthy human development. Focused strategies can include office-based counseling and outreach activities. “In an ideal situation, person-to-person outreach is joined by educational efforts that help individuals and communities understand their new challenges and learn the skills they need for dealing with them. These educational efforts can strengthen people’s ability to deal with stressors and in some cases, prevent long-lasting effects on mental health” (Lewis, Lewis, Daniels, & D'Andrea, 2011).
Broad-based strategies include developmental and preventive interventions aimed at the community at large, to teach members of the community new skills and help community members gain awareness of challenges they are likely to encounter. These strategies can include values-clarification seminars, assertiveness training, decision making and life planning workshops and cultural activities. These strategies have an emphasis in prevention and make the community counseling model a more workable paradigm than person-to-person counseling alone.
Facilitating community development requires advocacy that focuses on issues that affect the client and the client’s environment. This may require the community counselor to act as a consultant to help others help the client. Consultation describes any action you take with a system of you are not a part. A consultant is a person in a position to have influence over an individual, a group, or an organization, but who has no direct power to make changes or implement programs. The community counselor acts as a consultant in various instances where community advocacy is necessary. When this happens there are some assumptions made regarding the consultation process such as; 1. The consultation has the purpose of solving a problem or is an educational process, 2. The consultation process involves the consultant (counselor), the consultee (client), and a target-client, 3. The consultation is voluntary-meaning that the consultee has asked for help or agrees to the help, 4. The consultation process is temporary, 5. The consultant seeks to help the consultee and the target-client, 6. The consultant works with the entire person of the consultee. There are three types of intervention that the community counselor uses to intervene on behalf of clients. The first is called a primary intervention and involves a proactive intervention aimed at enhancing mental health. Examples of this type include: for individuals - enhancing coping skills, for families/couples - parent education, couples communication, for groups - enhancing communication patterns and or decision making processes, for communities - developing mechanisms to increase community input into governance. The second type of intervention is secondary and is aimed at an at-risk population and involves the identification and treatment of problems before they have serious consequences in the life of an individual, group, organization or community. Examples of this include: for the individual - early identification and remediation of learning difficulties, programs designed to provide remediation to juvenile offenders, for groups - mentoring and tutoring programs for chronically truant students, for organizations - enrichment programs designed to enhance the employment experience of high burnout job classification, for communities - programs designed to improve housing and /or community safety. The third type of intervention that the community counselor can be involved in is called a tertiary intervention and has the purpose of treatment and rehabilitation and is designed to reduce the impact of a debilitating mental health problem. Examples of this type include: for the individual - counseling, rehab programs, etc., for groups - counseling, mediation, etc., for organizations - conflict resolution, organizational development, for communities - interventions designed to address communities where the is a high incidence of mental health issues such as child abuse, substance abuse, HIV/AIDS, etc.
A good deal of counseling is about helping people find effective ways of dealing with stress. Community counseling is no exception. People experience stress when one or more of their basic needs go unmet. For people of color, racism, discrimination, and marginalization have been a source of stress for some time and continue as institutionalized sources of stress. People of color also routinely face environmental barriers that limit their choices. Community counselors must become culturally competent service providers to help people form diverse backgrounds. As a result, the community counseling model emphasizes the development of specific competencies outlined by the Association from Multicultural Counseling and Development (AMCD). Learning ways to help people from diverse backgrounds prevent problems in their lives can include; stress management programs, health promotion projects, life skills training, parenting classes, and programs oriented toward oppression reduction and social justice.
“Social justice is the ideal in which all members of a society have the same basic rights, security, opportunities, obligations and social benefits. Social justice counseling is a philosophy and approach aimed at producing conditions that allow for equal access and opportunity; reducing or eliminating disparities in education, health care, employment, and other areas that lower the quality of life for affected population; encouraging mental health professionals to consider micro, meso, and macro levels in the assessment, diagnosis, and treatment of client and client systems; and broadening the role of the helping professional to include not only counselor/therapist but advocate, consultant, psycho-educator, change agent, community worker, etc. (Sue & Sue, 2003).”
A social justice paradigm has relevance within the community counseling model. A social justice orientation would include not only the five basic counselor qualities that are essential to all effective counseling as stated by Rogers (1957); respect for the client, genuineness, empathic understanding, communication of empathy, respect and genuineness to the client, and structuring, but would also work from a strengths based perspective. This perspective would be based on building trusting relationships, empowering people to take the lead in decisions about their care, working collaboratively, and tapping into personal resources of motivation. Counselors should use the assessment process to focus on demands and resources, stressors and strengths. Used within the context of the community counseling framework the client and counselor must jointly identify client sources of support in this area. The attention given to the environment distinguishes the community counseling model from traditional counseling approaches.
When an event occurs that has the result of changing relationships, routines, assumptions and roles, it is called a transition. Transitions can include expected and non-expected events. These transitions can require new adaptive skills and on behalf of the people going through them. By reaching out to those people counselors can allay some of the issues that people might be faced with. Counselors work directly with clients in schools, neighborhoods and workplaces and help them learn new coping mechanisms to deal with the problems they are facing. Community counselors identify people who are going through transitions in life that make them susceptible to mental health problems through outreach programs. Community counselors play a role in addressing environmental barriers that affect the groups of people in the community.

References Lewis J A Lewis M D Daniels J A D'Andrea M J 2011 Community CounselingLewis, J. A., Lewis, M. D., Daniels, J. A., & D'Andrea, M. J. (2011). Community Counseling (4th ed.). Belmont, CA: Brooks/Cole.
Rogers C R 1957 note on "The nature of man.".Rogers, C. R. (1957). A note on "The nature of man.". Journal of Counseling Psychology, 4, 199-203.
Sue D W Sue D 2003 Counseling the culturally diverse: Theory and practiceSue, D. W., & Sue, D. (2003). Counseling the culturally diverse: Theory and practice (2nd ed.). : Wiley.

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