The primary role of a correctional counselor is helping individuals readjust and create positive living practices through therapy and customized treatment plans. Working in prisons or at government parole agencies, these counselors conduct psychological exams and utilize the results to create job-training programs. Also called correctional treatment specialists, professionals in this position create holistic rehabilitation plans that encompass multiple facets of the client’s life ranging from job interviewing skills to drug treatment plans.
Required Skills and Characteristics
In addition to stellar interpersonal skills, a counselor must be detail oriented, patient and skilled at influencing clients to accept and follow training programs and protocols. Included in the job description is the ability to handle multiple cases simultaneously. Listening and writing skills are vital as the casework equates to hours of evaluating, taking notes and preparing written reports. Also extremely important is a sincere desire to help others create a better life, the ability to calmly handle tense situations and the philosophy that inmates deserve a second chance.
A large part of the counselor’s time is spent interviewing clients and their families, observing behavior and arranging rehabilitation programs. If the client is incarcerated, it is the specialist’s job to create evaluation reports based on the inmate’s progress. The job includes counseling clients on areas such as drug dependency and sexual abuse and providing coaching on control issues such as anger management. Counselors often spend time teaching clients -- either one-on-one or in group sessions -- more acceptable methods of handling distressing situations.
Prior to helping an inmate successfully readjust to society, a counselor must develop a trusting relationship. This means reviewing files to gain historical data along with engaging clients during communication sessions and offering an environment of confidentiality. When prison inmates are nearing release, counselors work with outside agencies to assist in finding employment. Meeting with the parole board to provide progress reports and recommendations on the exiting inmate is another requirement of the job.
Education and Experience
Individuals interested in a career as a correctional counselor must prepare by obtaining an undergraduate degree in psychology, counseling, criminology or a related field. Coursework in criminal justice is advisable as job applicants must have a thorough understanding of criminal supervision and the court system. Prior to graduating, obtaining an internship with a youth correction program is recommended to create an added level of experience and strengthen a resume. Additionally, various government agencies have specific requirements such as having U.S. citizenship, successfully passing a background check and qualifying examinations, lacking a criminal record and, in most cases, being at least 21 years old. Typically, job candidates must spend one year under the supervision of a more senior counselor before engaging in independent casework activities.
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