Very instrumental to the growth and thriving of guidance and counselling in Nigeria is a reform in the counsellor training programs of our nation.
This is because one of the major problems facing guidance and counselling in Nigeria is the fact that many graduates of guidance and counselling are not equipped with the skills to function as counsellors and help clients navigate their challenges.
If our universities continue to produce counsellors who cannot practice, it will continue to tannish the image of the profession. And because people generalize quickly, society will begin to see counsellors as mere degree holders who cannot make any meaningful contribution when brought on board.
I have highlighted in this article some ways to improve the counsellor training programs of Nigeria.
How To Improve the Guidance and Counselling Course in Nigeria
1. Emphasizing career guidance in secondary schools
One reason I noticed that most of my classmates didn’t take the study of guidance and counselling seriously is because they weren’t interested in the course in the first place. Majority of the students studying guidance and counselling in Nigeria do not want to study the course.
Because of this, they are only going through the program to become graduates, not to practice. We now have many certified counsellors but very few practicing counsellors.
While the solution to this is to admit only students who chose the course, it reveals another challenge: students don’t know about the course so won’t choose it. The solution is to therefore intensify career guidance at the secondary school level so more interested students can begin to apply for guidance and counselling
This single reform will both change the game of the training program and set the stage for the implementation of other reforms.
2. Teaching oriented practicum exercises
An inclusion to the counsellor training program that is supposed to make the program very effective in training competent professional counsellors is the practicum exercise. But with the current state of practicum in our institutions, it makes no significant difference from if it were absent.
The practicum exercise in Nigeria is aimed at assessing how the students perform on the field, not to teach them. In my case we were asked to counsel students, record the session and submit for grading.
A more effective approach is to have a lecturer present with the student counsellor while they counsel other student counsellors and give them instant feedback as to what they should work on, not for the purpose of grading but for the purpose of teaching.
When several of such practical teachings have been done, the lecturers can then assess how well the students have improved. Once the focus of practicum can be turned towards teaching as against assessment, it would make the counsellors better at practice.
3. Early specialization
In the world of practice, counsellors are more effective and sorted after when they specialize. The same way you would choose a brain surgeon over a general surgeon when you have a brain disease, people will prefer specialized counsellors when they have specialized cases.
Apart from this, specialization will help the counsellors provide better services and be more skilled in their area of specialty. Instead of knowing a little about career guidance and a little about marriage counselling, counsellors will be more valuable when they are masters in their field.
Counsellor training programs can start at a broad level in the first year but as students progress, they should begin to be guided towards choosing a speciality.
This is the only way to make first degree in counselling enough for practicing counsellors. Else, counsellors will necessarily need to go for second degrees where they can specialize.
4. Association with counselling professional bodies
There is no synergy between the bodies of professional counsellors and student counsellors. So while students transition to become counsellors they usually have no counsellor they can look up to except their lecturers who themselves are not practicing.
Unlike doctors who can easily find doctors around, counsellors do not readily see practicing counsellors around them although they exist.
This subtly sows a seed in them that what they are training to become does not exist.
However, if student counsellors periodically meet practicing counsellors through the activities of the counseling professional bodies, they can find inspiration, find role models and begin to share in the experience of what it feels like being a practicing counsellor.
5. Organising field trips to witness counselling
Another avenue that can help student counsellors have a foretaste of what they are becoming is having visits to counselling centers. Although my university had a counselling centre, I never entered there until for my final clearance.
Similar to associating with the professional bodies, visiting counselling centres intimites student counsellors with what is obtainable in their works of work.
This is different from visiting places where counselling is needed but visiting places where counselling is done to see the kind of cases they handle, the challenges they face, the shocks they face when transitioning from school to practice, and so on.
6. Teaching of advocacy and business aspect of counselling
Truth be told, with the current state of guidance and counselling in Nigeria, more is needed from counsellors than the skills to help solve clients problems. Counsellors in Nigeria need to learn how to advocate for their profession and themselves wherever they find themselves.
If counsellors are not taught advocacy, they will soon find themselves in environments that think they are useless and they will accept that fact.
In addition to advocacy, counsellors need to be taught how to turn their skills into profitable businesses.
It must not be in the form of intensive business lectures, but counsellors must be made to see that the market in Nigeria is not fully opened to them yet and they need to put in conscious efforts to make money off their skills even if they don’t get conventional jobs.
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7. Decentralization of counselling from education
The centralization of the guidance and counselling course around education is a huge limitation on the course that needs to be removed. The fact that counsellors are trained like regular teachers is the reason why many of them are teachers today.
Society and counsellors themselves, have an ideology of counselling being useful only in schools or in education.
If psychologists whose job descriptions have some overlap with that of counsellors are not seen as people who should be limited to schools, it means once our institutions stop centralizing counselling around education, society will stop seeing it so too.
8. Establishment of professional courses
It is an indisputable fact that every skill that is needed to be effective counsellors can not be taught within the four years of counsellor training programs no matter how many reforms are implemented. The same is the case with every other profession.
However, once student counsellors are done with their first degree, the only other option to advance in their career is to go for masters, then PhD and so on. There are no any other counselling professional courses offered by any organization in Nigeria that we know of.
This is another place where the professional bodies of counsellors can come in. This would both serve as a source of revenue for the bodies and increase counsellors’ skills even as it helps the professionalization of the profession.
9. Use of ICT
Whether we accept it or not, the world is becoming more and more intertwined with technology. There is no single thing you can do not that does not involve the use of technology in some way, and not just technology in the broad sense but the internet.
If counsellors are not intimated with the developments of the digital age, they will lose relevance in today’s society. Not only will good enough knowledge help them leverage these digital tools to ease their jobs, they also need the knowledge of tech and its challenges to provide more practical counsel based on the current state of society.
Career guidance will be ineffective if counsellors don’t know about the digital trends as they will provide obsolete guidance that aren’t applicable with the digital world of work.
ICT should also be used in providing better instruction to students. Students counsellors can watch videos of live counselling sessions, additional resources can be provided to supplement what the regular classroom can provide.
The four years of counsellor training can become highly effective in producing professional counsellors who are skilled to practice.
To improve counselor training programs in Nigeria, counsellors should be allowed to specialize early, ICT should be introduced to instruction, guidance and counselling should be decentralized from education, and counsellors be taught how to advocate for themselves and approach their practice as a business.
Like every reform that will work, these adjustments need to be implemented sustainably for results to be seen.
Olusegun Iyejare is a career coach and certified counselor. He helps individuals discover and maximize their potential to live satisfying lives regardless of obvious limitations holding them back.