Professional development encompasses all activities that provide or strengthen professional knowledge/skills.
Ongoing professional development is a requirement for mental health practitioners in order to maintain competency and for keeping up-to-date on the latest research and evidence-based practices in an ever-changing field.
This is a list of ideas for counselor professional development.
Professional Development for Counselors
1. Find a mentor (and meet with them regularly). A mentor can provide guidance and support. They’ll help you grow by sharing their own experiences and expertise. A mentor can also help by talking through challenges and helping you to stay motivated when you’re discouraged.
2. Sign up for relevant e-mail lists. This is a great way to stay up-to-date on the latest research, treatments, training opportunities, and resources in the counseling field.
Here are a few email lists that I find informative and helpful for professional development:
3. Become a member of a professional organization (e.g., American Counseling Association). This provides opportunities for advocacy and for networking. Membership benefits may also include free CE trainings or subscriptions to professional journals.
4. Keep up-to-date on the latest research. If you are a member of a professional organization, take advantage of your member benefits, which may include access to professional journals. You can also browse sites like ScienceDaily or use an app like Researcher.
5. Facilitate professional trainings or manage a booth at a conference. Share your professional knowledge with others by leading a training or hosting a webinar. Alternatively, consider offering to help manage your agency’s booth at a professional convention.
6. Read counseling and psychology books (such as On Being a Therapist by Kottler or Mindsight by Siegel). Reading up on relevant topics in the field will help to ensure that you’re using effective and evidence-based treatments in your practice. Reading can be especially helpful to the new counselor who struggles with imposter syndrome or questions their abilities. Psychology books can also help counselors deepen their understanding of the human mind and behavior.
7. Practice self-awareness. Self-awareness is the ability to recognize and understand one’s own thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. It helps you to know your values, limitations, and personal biases as well. Self-awareness is important for recognizing how your own “stuff” may impact your work with clients. It may also help you to build stronger relationships. What’s more, by being self-aware, you can identify the early signs of burnout and take steps to prevent it.
8. Become familiar with local resources in your community. By learning about the available resources in the community, you’ll be better able to assist your clients with some of their case management needs.
9. Volunteer. Help out at a homeless shelter or a local food bank, pick up trash in your neighborhood, or visit with residents at a nursing home. If you have a special skill such as knitting or baking, consider using your talents to help others.
10. Join a professional counseling forum and participate in discussions. The ACA has several. You could also go the reddit route (i.e. r/psychotherapy).
11. Review your professional code of ethics on a regular basis. (Here’s the code for professional counselors: ACA Code.)
12. Attend webinars, trainings, and conferences. Stay informed by subscribing to email lists, participating in professional forums, and searching Eventbrite for local events for professional development. (For Eventbrite, enter “mental health” in the search box.) PESI is another resource for professional development, but the seminars can be costly.
13. Network/consult. Make it a point to network with other professionals that you meet at work or professional conferences.
14. Subscribe to psychology magazines like Psychology Today or Psychotherapy Networker. Reading about relevant topics in the field will help you to stay sharp.
15. Further your education by taking classes or earning a certificate. Consider specializing in something or enhancing your skillset.
16. Pick a different counseling skill (such as reflecting meaning or the ’empty chair’ technique) to strengthen each week. (You can even use flashcards to pick a new skill or simply review!)
17. Write an article or book (or book review!) If you’re gifted at writing, share your expertise with others by publishing an original work. If a writing a book or article is too much of an undertaking, consider writing book reviews or reviewing products online.
18. Take free online courses. There are plenty of sites and institutions that offer free classes. Take advantage of this opportunity to enhance your professional knowledge or learn new skills.
20. Practice self-care on a regular basis to prevent burnout. Why is self-care included in a post on professional development? Because self-care is crucial for counselor wellness. A counselor experiencing burnout may even put their clients at risk. Self-care is essential for professional development.