Though arguably some of the most important work, counseling centers and social work institutions tend to be extremely understaffed, especially in underprivileged communities around the world. If you’re working toward a degree in counseling or social work and looking for hands-on experience, there is no shortage of opportunities for you to share your skills through counseling volunteer abroad programs. Whether you’re looking into counseling for schools, families, or in a special interest, such as rehabilitation, becoming a counseling volunteer abroad can help you practice your trade with people in need anywhere in the world.
Why Volunteer Abroad
Counseling as a profession is often acclaimed as a “calling,” since it takes a charitable heart and an open mind to seek an occupation as a counselor. Becoming a counseling volunteer abroad takes that much needed philanthropic attitude to the next level. Those who volunteer in counseling abroad will find themselves highly satisfied in their placements, during which they will be able to get involved with individuals, families, and communities and make an impact on an international scale.
Volunteering abroad in counseling exposes volunteers to new methods of therapy and can introduce new counselors to diverse client populations. Counseling volunteers are deeply appreciated by permanent staff of counseling centers and clinics, where extra work is plenty and staffing is limited, and their volunteer work will directly lift the some of the burden off the shoulders of local staff. Additionally, individual clients and whole communities will value the work each volunteer does during their placement.
When it all boils down, there is simply no better way to learn a country’s social, familial, and economic culture than actively exploring these issues with citizens in a safe and communicative environment through counseling volunteering abroad.
Opportunities for counseling volunteering abroad exist everywhere, in developing countries and established nations alike. If you wish to volunteer in an established counseling center under supervised attention, most countries in Europe are a viable option; however, if you’re looking to work one-on-one with youth in less formal settings, countries in Asia, South America, and Africa may be a better choice.
European nations, such as the Netherlands, Belgium, and France, need counseling volunteers in low-income neighborhoods and to work with at-risk youth most often. Language requirements vary from country to country, but if you’re interested in expanding your knowledge of a second language many volunteer programs in Europe will provide language lessons for interested volunteers; counseling volunteering is also an excellent opportunity to practice and expand your language skills.
African countries, like Ghana, Benin, and Cameroon, are in the greatest need of counseling volunteers. In these nations, there is a high rate of terminal illness, like HIV/AIDS, so many counseling opportunities exist around dealing with disease outbreaks or terminal illness, counseling families who have experienced loss and discussing health issues with community members. Individuals can also volunteer in counseling at local orphanages in Africa, to help youth cope with the loss of loved ones, or in refugee camps, where families are dealing with displacement due to political conflict.
Though some Asian nations, like China and Japan, have well-established counseling facilities, many developing nations in Asia, such as Cambodia, Laos, and Burma, face problems associated with high poverty and high disease rates. Asian countries are also particularly good locations for international disaster counseling volunteer work, as the region is especially susceptible to natural disasters.
South American countries, like Chile and Argentina, provide the opportunity to become a counseling volunteer abroad in a variety of roles, but many placements revolve around youth education. If Spanish is in your wheelhouse, you could be placed in a school where your counseling sessions could help young South Americans make important decisions about their education and future.
Counseling Volunteering Abroad
Working as a counseling volunteer abroad can look very different depending on the location and placement you choose, since counseling can be quite a diverse field.
Youth Centers: Many individuals who become counseling volunteers abroad are placed in a youth counseling program, working directly with local children and teenagers. Some youth centers are live-in, while others are after-school programs, but both placements give volunteers hands on counseling experience with young people.
Orphanages: Many counseling volunteer programs abroad are affiliated with orphanages or group homes, where volunteers can expect to aid in the daily tasks that keep the facilities running, such as helping to prepare meals, as well as participate in therapeutic conversations and discussions about relevant treatment of psychological issues among the children.
Rehab Centers: Rehabilitation centers typically require residents to undergo individual, group, and often family counseling sessions. Counselors with limited experience are often used to lead group therapy sessions and observe various activities at rehab centers.
Disaster & Trauma Counseling: Counseling volunteers are in high demand in locations where sudden, life-changing trauma occurs, whether that be a disastrous weather event or a political event resulting in refugees fleeing their homes and being forced to adjust to new situations and environments. Centers that specialize in trauma counseling utilize volunteers both to help aid with the influx of a large number of people in a short amount of time and to help victims of trauma process the events and learn how to move on with their lives.
Age Groups: Youth center and orphanage volunteers can expect to work with younger children, from infants and toddlers to school-aged children. Rehabilitation centers see a large range of age groups, because they typically work with both adults and their family members. Disaster response centers also deal with families, and a large number of young children who often suffer most greatly from traumatic events.
Typical Requirements: Different countries have different regulations when it comes to counseling volunteer work. Some nations allow students to lead one-on-one counseling session, while other countries are more strict and may require counselor volunteers to have specific certifications or licenses to participate in volunteer programs.
Duration: If you are placed in an orphanage or other institution catered to children, you may be required to volunteer for a longer period, in order to allow children to acclimate to your presence and feel comfortable with you. However, other placements working with adults or large groups of people, like refugee camps, often permit shorter periods.
For individuals with compassionate hearts, volunteering in counseling abroad will be a life-changing experience. Many people, all over the world, are unable to receive proper counseling due to various reasons and environmental and financial constraints, so counseling volunteers can provide these individuals with vital services to overcome the challenges they face. Thousands of youths and families all over the world are in need of individuals with counseling expertise who have the desire to share their skills and time to better the lives of others.
Counseling students will be able to apply strategies learned in the classroom during first-hand conversations with those in need. Moreover, if you are seeking employment as a counselor, in the more and more uncertain global economy, hands on experience can be invaluable in proving your counseling capabilities and your commitment to the field. If you’re considering a professional career as a counselor in a foreign country specifically, working as a counseling volunteer abroad is the perfect stepping stone to a more permanent career abroad.
Whether a strategic career move or a simple way to give back to those in need, counseling volunteering abroad combines unique travel experiences with the opportunity to change not only your own life but the lives of individuals around the world.