One cardinal aspect of the counselor education program is the practicum exercise. It is said to be the heart of any effective counselor training. Counselors who do not go through the practicum exercise cannot be said to be qualified counselors.
The counseling practicum is to counselors what teaching practice is to teachers and what the law school is to lawyers.
What Is a Counseling Practicum?
Counseling practicum is a component of the counselor education program where the theories, procedures, skills, and principles learned by student counselors are put into practice under the supervision of an experienced, qualified, and professional counselor educator.
In other terms, counseling practicum is a compulsory course student counselors undergo during their training under the structured supervision of qualified counselors to acquire theory and practice in the techniques and skills needed to become effective counselors.
Key Elements of Counseling Practicum
For a counseling practicum exercise to take place successfully, these 4 key elements must be present
1. Counselor trainers
The counselor trainers are usually university lecturers or professors who are experienced in counseling and teaching student counselors. Their assignment in the practicum exercise is to assess the student counselors’ ability to apply the theories they have learned in the classrooms.
2. Counseling program
For a counseling practicum to take place, there must be a structured program providing instructions to student counselors with a specific curriculum. This is usually done in the university and the completion of the program gives student counselors the certification to practice as professional counselors.
3. Counseling trainees
These are the student counselors or learners who are on the journey to acquire the skills and experience needed to be certified as professional counselors. They could either be students at undergraduate or postgraduate levels. They are also called would-be counselors or counselors-in-training.
4. Real-life situations
This speaks of the day-to-day experiences of people the student counselors are exposed to outside the walls of the lecture room (or in the “field”). The counselors go to places where counseling services are offered and do not just watch how it is done, but engage in it themselves.
Types of Counseling Practicum
There are two types of counseling practicum. They are micro-practicum and macro-practicum.
1. Micro Practicum
A micro practicum is a practicum exercise that is done within the lecture room by student counselors among themselves. Some students assume the role of counselors while others assume the role of clients while they are being supervised by their lecturers. Micro-practicum is equivalent to peer teaching in the teacher’s training program.
2. Macro Practicum
The second type of counseling practicum is the macro-practicum where student counselors are taken out of the lecture room to handle real-life situations.
Here they don’t just act as counselors but they are counselors and the clients before them are truly seeking assistance from a professional. Macro-practicum is equivalent to the teaching practice exercise in the teacher’s training program.
Objectives of Counseling Practicum
- To provide student counselors the opportunity to integrate the separate academic courses which they have been exposed to in the counselor education program
- To provide counseling opportunities where the student counselors can be challenged to select, administer, analyze, and interpret relevant psychological test results to acquire such abilities
- To develop the student counselors’ initiative and resourcefulness to face novel and challenging counseling situations
- To develop and acquire skills in forming and handling group counseling and other group activities
- To make student counselors acquire administrative skills in the organization and administration of guidance services
- To help students counselors acquire and apply counseling skills in real-life situations
- To provide the opportunity for student counselors to initiate, maintain, and terminate counseling relationships in real-life situations
- To develop in student counselors the ability to identify client’s real problems, rearrange the problems in order of priority, as well as to set both short- and long-term goals
- To equip student counselors with the ability to evaluate counseling outcomes without bias
- To expose student counselors to the world of work
Importance of Counseling Practicum
Counseling practicum is not only important to the student counselors; it also benefits the lecturers. Here is an overview of the importance of counseling practicum to students and lecturers.
Importance of Counseling Practicum to the Students
A student counselor who has not gone through practicum lectures and practice will not be able to fully appreciate what counseling is all about. Such a student counselor would be in the dark about how to handle real-life cases as professional counselors should.
At best such a student would use mere intuition or layman’s approaches.
- Without counseling practicum, professional deficiencies will be present in the practice of student counselors and clients will begin to doubt the counselor’s qualifications and counseling itself.
- Practicum offers students the opportunity to practice in real-life situations and lets them utilize the theories, techniques, and skills they acquired from lectures.
- Practicum encourages student counselors to be ingenious, motivated, and ready to practice novel ideas to help clients and the growth of counseling.
- Practicum enables students to recognize places where counselors could perform or be employed from the list of student placements.
- Practicum offers student counselors opportunities to be in control of giving professional help and they can provide individual and group guidance and counseling in education, vocational, and personal-social areas.
Importance of Counseling Practicum to the Trainers
Practicum exercises enable the trainers to know the professional abilities or qualities of their products— their strengths and weaknesses, which enables the trainer to periodically measure and evaluate the counselor training programs as well as their input.
From the way trainees perform, trainers can detect deficiencies in the training program. Practicum placement activities enable the trainers to expand both traditional and non-traditional practical placement areas.
It also allows supervisors to see for themselves who among the trainees need further assistance, and in what respect they need it, as well as identify those who have imbibed the culture of counseling properly.
Preparing for Counseling Practicum
The preparations needed for a successful counseling practicum exercise must be done at different levels: by the practicum committee, by the hosting school or organization, and by the student counselors.
Preparation for Counseling Practicum by Trainers/Practicum Committee
The practicum committee and trainers should:
- determine when the practicum exercise will start as well as the duration of the practicum exercise
- stipulate essential requirements for the practicum exercise
- secure or approve practicum sites for student counselors
- secure and make psychological tests and inventories available for student counselors
- assign supervisors to student counselors
- suggest to supervisors ways to monitor the practicum exercise
- give the trainees information on what they are expected to know and do during the practicum
- prepare and give the supervisors counseling practicum assessment sheets
- determine when training scores should be submitted to the department.
Preparation for Counseling Practicum by the Host Institution
The host institution should:
- Provide a counseling room that can ensure privacy for the client
- equip the counseling room to be typical of a standard counselor’s office
- ensure host supervisors are ready to share their experience, expertise, and professional materials with the student counselors
- insert guidance and counseling in their timetable if not there before.
Preparation for Counseling Practicum by Student Counselors
Student counselors should:
- confirm their posting by looking for it on the notice board or portal
- pick up the letters of posting
- attend all briefings on the practicum by the school or host institution
- pay a visit to the practicum site before the actual date of commencement to meet the host supervisor or head of the place and know the offices assigned to them
- prepare posters advertising their profession either after the initial visit or while just trying to settle down
- cultivate and demonstrate certain intangible characteristics such as creativity, cooperative attitude, enthusiasm, flexibility, and responsiveness as they go on in the practicum.
Qualities of A Good Practicum Site
- There should be enough clients with counseling needs for student counselors for the duration of the practicum exercise
- The practicum site should be easily accessible to student counselors and trainers
- The practicum site should have adequate facilities for the practice of counseling
- There should be at least one onsite supervisor
- The site should have at least one practising counselor.
Sample of Counseling Practicum Report [PDF]
If done well, a counseling practicum can make all the difference in the future of student counselors and the profession as a whole. Schools and students should become more intentional about it and not just treat it as another compulsory course to be passed but as a platform for molding.
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.