As stress from increased family and work demands has built nationwide, more people are willing to turn to professionals for help.
Universities, advocacy groups and employers have encouraged mental-health counseling, and the profession now is booming in Illinois.
The number of licensed professional counselors, or LPCs, in the state rose 46 percent, and the number of licensed clinical professional counselors, or LCPCs, climbed 28 percent between December 2001 and December 2005, according to the Coalition of Illinois Counselor Organizations.
Experts say an increased public awareness of mental-health problems and available treatments is driving the dramatic growth, but they also credit a host of significant additional factors.
Money magazine recently ranked mental-health counselors 33rd among the 50 best jobs in America based on a variety of criteria including salary, projected growth, stress levels, flexibility in work hours, and ease of advancement.
Crystal Lake-based LCPC Linda Gullo went into professional counseling in the late 1990s, after her husband suffered a traumatic brain injury. In the midst of that experience, “people seemed to have so many needs and so many questions,” she said.
Gullo had spent 30 years as an educator for grades two through 12, but was ready to move on.
Those 30 years provided the background necessary to be a good counselor, Gullo said.
She has “definitely” seen more people in her profession, a fact she attributes to increased demand.
“People are more open to getting help,” she said.
“They’re more aware that we’re here.”
Most of Gullo’s patients seek her help because of depression or anxiety, but she also offers services such as post-traumatic brain disorder counseling.
Professional counseling licenses became available in Illinois in 1993 and there now are 2,165 LPCs and 4,750 LCPCs in Illinois, said Larry Freeman, ethics and professional standards manager at the American Counseling Association.
The LPC license requires a master’s-level degree in professional counseling and at least 30 credits in counseling or a related field from a regionally accredited college or university in a program provided by the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation. Applicants also must pass a licensing exam.
LCPCs have more education requirements and must pass an additional exam.
Professional counselors are the fastest-growing mental-health-licensed profession in Illinois, according to the Coalition of Illinois Counselor Organizations.
“I really think it’s because the public is becoming educated about this new mental-health field,” Freeman said.
The field includes marriage and family therapists, psychologists, licensed social workers, and licensed clinical social workers.
Eleven Illinois universities offer degrees in professional counseling, including Northeastern Illinois University, Concordia University, University of Illinois at Springfield, and Roosevelt University.
Mitchell Hicks, an assistant professor in the Department of Counseling and Human Services at Roosevelt University’s College of Education, said that organizations such as the American Counseling Association have worked hard to increase visibility and legitimize the profession as having “something to offer apart from other mental-health careers.”
Daniel Stasi, executive director of the Coalition of Illinois Counselor Organizations, said that advocacy groups such as the coalition have made it easier for counselors to bill insurance companies.
When she opened her Delight in Living Ltd. practice, Gullo garnered patients through word-of-mouth referrals, but she has seen an increase in referrals from doctors and other professionals.
Originally an LPC, Gullo earned her clinical license so that she could practice in hospitals and clinical settings and for the benefit of the additional education, she said.
The counselor does little work with insurance companies. Clients pay her up front, and some choose to submit forms to their insurance agencies.
Cindy Sullivan, the associate director of Options and Advocacy for McHenry County, which coordinates services for individuals with disabilities, said the organization “interfaces with a lot of counselors.”
“I do think that respect has grown for the field,” she said.
Sullivan said that the need for counseling in McHenry County has grown along with the area’s population and the dynamics of modern living.
“The intensity of life these days is pretty tough,” she said. “And families don’t always function very well.”
Hicks has another theory. He now is a licensed psychologist, but earned his LCPC after medical school so he could bill for the hours he needed to earn his psychologist license.
How counselors can help
Professional counselors offer help in addressing many situations that cause emotional stress, including, but not limited to:
- Anxiety, depression, and other mental and emotional problems and disorders.
- Family and relationship issues.
- Substance abuse and other addictions.
- Sexual abuse and domestic violence.
- Eating disorders.
- Career change and job stress.
- Social and emotional difficulties related to disability and illness.
- Adopting to life transitions.
- The death of a loved one.
Resources on finding a counselor
There are many different ways to locate a professional counselor. Some common methods are through:
- The National Board for Certified Counselors referral service. Call (336) 547-0607 between 7:30 a.m. and 3:30 p.m. Monday through Friday to find a certified counselor in your area.
- The Yellow Pages, listed under counselor, marriage and family counselors, therapist or mental health.
- Referrals from a physician, trusted friends, and clergy.
- Crisis hotlines.
- Community mental-health agencies.
- The local United Way information and referral service.
- Hospitals, child protective services or Employee Assistance Programs.