How to Become a Career Counselor

Read how a psychology professional made the switch to the career of her dreams.

career counselor patricia burgin

Patricia Burgin, MA, LMFT
Professional Certified Coach
Principal, www.SeattleCoach.com

After a decade practicing as a marriage and family therapist in Seattle, Patricia Burgin, MA, LMFT, decided to change her life by switching careers. Citing "enduring curiosity" as one of the motivating factors which led to her decision to seek "specific ways of creating a better future" both for her clients and self, Patricia embarked on a course of coach training and career counseling and became certified by the International Coaching Federation (ICF). Today she helps people find their passion through her private practice and through her ICF approved Coach Training Program.

Read more at www.SeattleCoach.com.

How long did you practice therapy?

My first master's degree was in theology, so my first experience in counseling came in the form of the pastoral type—I learned to listen for energy as well as for content—and for restlessness and hopes as much as for past hurts. After several years of that, I returned for another degree, this one in Applied Behavioral Science.

What was your area of practice?

For the next ten years I practiced as a marriage and family therapist, working with couples, individuals and always with groups.

What led you to change careers?

Two things. First was my own enduring curiosity about the restlessness, aspirations and longing for greater satisfaction and contribution I saw in people. The second factor was a handful of great clients. They'd look me in the eye and say, "I don't have a mental health diagnosis and my relationship is fine. In fact I'm cruising along pretty well. But I don't want to stop coming to see you." "Well," I'd say, "What would we work on?" The answers they came up with made me smile and led me to Coaching.

Why did you choose career counseling/coaching?

The restlessness I felt in myself and saw in these clients energized me. What if both I and the people who came to my practice really did begin to move toward specific ways of creating a better future for themselves—and for those they influence.

Is it easier to change your own career or other people's?

I think once your energy and intuition and vision are engaged, it qualifies as effortless hard work.

Is there a difference between a career counselor and a coach?

I get asked that a lot. I suppose it's a bit of a continuum with the coach focusing more on the client's life, desires, abilities, temperament and assets and the career counselor looking more at the fit and possibilities in particular job markets and industry.

How did you achieve the career change?

Rule #1: Keep your day job and feed your passion. No more master's degrees, but I did go through a course of coach training and became credentialed by the International Coach Federation (ICF). Then I went on to develop The SeattleCoach Training Program here in Seattle. I'm very pleased with our success in just the first year and consider this to be the next major chapter in my own career.

Did you keep your practice while pursuing a new career?

Personally, I developed a two-jobs mentality and kept building the coaching practice until it could sustain my weight.

What is the most important quality for a career counselor/coach?

A clear and enduring grip on what [the coach] values and what they offer.

Are there any unrealistic expectations about the job?

Two things come to mind. At this point, anyone can hang out their shingle as a "coach" and a lot of people do. That means that you'll find lots of great people and a few quacks. I don't expect regulation anytime soon—which is fine with me. The decisions of the market can be very wise. The second is that a successful Coaching practice is like any small business. You have to balance vision with managing the details with continuously improving in your craft and keeping track of the money. Not everyone wants to run his/her own show. But successful Coaches have to.

What was the biggest surprise you found about the job?

How delightful it is to be at work where I get to continuously improve and innovate—and be compensated for it.