The Britannica Encyclopedia describes counseling as: the process of helping individuals discover and develop their educational, vocational, and psychological potentialities and thereby to achieve an optimal level of personal happiness and social usefulness. The concept of counseling is essentially democratic in that the assumptions underlying its theory and practice are, first, that each individual has the right to shape his own destiny and, second, that the relatively mature and experienced members of the community are responsible for ensuring that each person’s choice shall serve both his own interests and those of society.
There are many different paths in which one can take to become a counselor. Some countries require a Master’s Degree in Counseling while others require just a Bachelor’s Degree with some training in the field of education, sociology and psychology. According to Lovell (2012) “there are no firm policies in place that governs the practice of counseling in Belize”. Having a Masters Degree in Counseling guarantees that you are a counselor and will be able to practice in Belize. Due to the lack of counselors and inadequate policies just about anyone can practice counseling.
This can be done by attending a one week course/training in counseling after which one can offer such services. Practices like these causes inadequacies in the system as many may not be getting the proper counseling needed. There is a huge gap in the provision of psycho-social care in our country with only one Child Psychologist, Dr. Augustine, one Psychiatrist, Dr. Cayetano and ten certified counselors (Masters Degree in Counseling). The Psychiatrist is allowed to make medical prescription as she holds a degree in medicine; however, (only in Belize) the Psychiatric Nurses can also do medical prescriptions.
There is only one counselling centre in our country which is staffed with one full-time professional counsellor and complemented by a team of social workers. The Mental Health Association which was previously the Mental Health Board in 1998, is in the process of becoming a regularize body. Becoming regularized and internationally accepted means the Association will be in charge to get rid of the inconsistencies in psycho social care which includes enforcing the laws on qualifications needed to become a practicing counselor.
Horizon 2030 which details out the goals planned for Belize to achieve by year 2030, in Pillar 11, Education for Development - Education for life, its’ strategic plan includes the development of educational support systems. Its action to achieve this strategy includes the development and implementation of a strategy for expanding the cadre of trained school counsellors, complemented by mandatory parent psycho-educational and counselling sessions for families. The Ministry of Education has commit to providing counseling in all primary and secondary institutions.
This is accomplished by the employment of a School Counselor/Teacher to provide counseling to students. To be employed as a School Counselor/Teacher one must have an Associate’s Degree in Education or an Associate’s or Bachelors Degree in Social Work. Currently, most high schools have stationed School Counselor/Teacher. They provide emotional, social, developmental and behavioral services to students. School Counselor/Teacher listens to their students and guides them in the right path to become that of a productive citizen.
Apart from guiding, School Counselor/Teacher teaches lessons such as Life Skills and plans activities to increase student involvement and student life at school. There are certain procedures however that the School Counselor/Teacher is required to follow and contact the necessary authorities if a student needs help beyond which they can provide. Although much more needs to be done in psycho care, I do believe that steps have made to getting more informed about counseling. While growing up, the first I heard about a counselor was entering high school in 1997 at orientation.
The principal informed the entire freshman body that we have a school counselor. I could not recall however if there were an introduction into services been provided by the counselor or what we can visit the counselor for. My friends and I would always talk about those who go to counseling saying either they were suicidal or parents were having problems at home. Now with the Ministry of Education implementation of School Counselors/Teachers, I do believe that students will be getting the necessary support need from an early age to guide them in the right path.