A youth counselor is generally seen as a friend and mentor to troubled teenagers. She may work with clients on a one-on-one basis or counsel small or large groups of youths. Her work may be conducted in schools, shelters, hospitals or group homes or take place in informal atmospheres like coffee houses or community centers. Depending on the scenario, she may dispense concrete advice or merely listen to the concerns, fears and frustrations of the youth who come to her for guidance.
The job of a youth counselor commonly has many facets and responsibilities. Since the problems and issues faced by young people are so wide ranging, a counselor has to be prepared to hear all kinds of stories and offer solid advice to the best of her ability. She is also generally expected to recognize problems that she cannot readily resolve and advise young people accordingly.
In addition to traditional counseling, a person with this job is frequently called upon to assist young people in completing homework assignments, provide moral support in juvenile court and intercede in disputes with friends, parents and teachers. She is commonly expected to concurrently be a friend, teacher, advocate and adviser to a youth in turmoil or transition. A youth counselor is often perceived by her clients as the only trustworthy person in their lives.
Aside from being a sounding board, a youth counselor commonly presents solid plans of action to her clients. This may be done on an individual basis or through workshops or group meetings. Some sessions may focus on dealing with common human emotional issues like self-esteem, peer pressure and anger management. Other approaches may promote self-awareness and conflict resolution through poetry, music or drama writing workshops. Regardless of the approaches she implements, the goal of a youth counselor is normally to help young people survive the traumas associated with their ages and emerge as functional, happy and productive adults.
A successful youth counselor is commonly required to have understanding and compassion for her clients while maintaining a professional and objective outlook on their situations. She should be discreet in protecting their secrets and fears but recognize a situation that demands intervention from outside agencies. It is helpful if she has contacts at different agencies to refer clients whose problems may involve substance, physical or emotional abuse or relate to criminal activity.
To apply for a position as a youth counselor requires a high school diploma or equivalent. Most positions offer on-the-job training, although experience in working with youth and youth-oriented issues is considered a plus. Being available to work nights and weekends is a common prerequisite for this position.