Helping Professions

Who are the people we look to for help? For knowledge? For healing? 

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Table of contents

    In society, these people are known as helping professionals. It's no secret where they get their name. They help us raise kids, stay healthy, learn new skills, and make it through disasters, among many other things.

    • What are the helping professions?
    • What are some types and examples of helping professions?
    • What are the psychological helping professions?
    • Why are the helping professions important?

    Definition of the Helping Professions

    According to the American Psychological Association (APA), helping professions are jobs or positions that offer health and education services to individuals and the community. These roles often exist in psychology, psychiatry, counseling, medicine, nursing, social work, physical therapy, teaching, and education.

    Maggie is a 7-year-old yellow lab who spends her Saturdays visiting the elderly in a skilled nursing facility. Maggie and her owner Ben are great with elderly individuals and work to make them smile and feel better. They play games to help with memory and mobility. Maggie helps to bring a smile on a gloomy day. She and her owner went through lots of training together as a pair on how to behave in a therapy role. Maggie and Ben are both helping professionals, as they provide an important service to help those who live in the skilled nursing facility achieve a happier and healthier life.

    Helping Professions Service dog with an older person StudySmarterService dog with an older person.

    Those who work in the helping professions are not limited to studying psychology, though there are many concepts in psychology that are useful when working with individuals and groups in the community.

    Types of Helping Professionals

    There are different types of helping professions, such as biological, psychological, or social helping professions.

    Biological Helping Professions

    Examples of biological helping professionals are:

    • doctors
    • nurses
    • physical therapists
    • psychiatrists
    • surgeons
    • specialists
    • dentists
    • etc.

    Psychological Helping Professions

    Examples of psychological helping professionals are:

    • psychologists
    • licensed counselors
    • licensed marriage and family therapists
    • life coaches
    • occupational therapists
    • speech therapists
    • developmental therapists
    • educational therapists
    • etc.

    Social Helping Professions

    Examples of social helping professions are:

    • social workers
    • spiritual counselors
    • pastors/religious leaders
    • teachers
    • au pairs
    • caseworkers
    • firefighters
    • police
    • etc.

    Examples of Psychology and the Helping Professions

    There are several examples of helping professionals who benefit from the study of psychology, even though they may not necessarily be in a psychological field. Educators, occupational therapists, social workers, and religious leaders are a few of these.

    Educators can benefit from knowing about developmental psychology, as well as how memory works and how people learn best. Teachers who understand what their students are going through developmentally can modify their teaching style to reflect their students' needs. This can lead to more successful classroom learning goals and higher self-esteem for students. An educator is a person who provides education or instruction. The primary example of this is a school teacher or a college instructor.

    Occupational therapists (OTs) are medical professionals who help people overcome physical challenges in order to complete daily or routine tasks. While occupational therapists mostly work with physical challenges, understanding psychological concepts can help them do their job well. Understanding grief and loss, as well as neurological psychology, will be very helpful in this role, as they are helping people navigate a potentially sudden loss of mental or physical ability.

    Christa is an OT who helps her patient Michael with re-learning how to get his shoes on. Michael was in a car accident and is struggling to learn how to adapt to his new physical conditions. Christa is able to show Michael a new way of getting his shoes on that he is capable of, and helps restore Michael's hope of being independent again in the future.

    Social workers can work in a wide variety of situations. They work in child protective services, adoption agencies, elder care facilities, food provision programs, substance-use treatment programs, and HIV care. Social workers see and do it all. They work to improve the overall well-being and function of individuals and the community. Understanding a variety of psychological concepts can be extremely helpful when dealing with such a wide variety of needs.

    Harvey is a social worker who works for a domestic violence crisis shelter. Because Harvey studied clinical social work and is familiar with many psychological practices, they are able to offer survivors meaningful mental and physical support in their time of need. Harvey typically takes a risk assessment of anyone who has newly joined the shelter and provides the appropriate crisis interventions for new clients based on that assessment.

    Religious leaders provide a wide variety of services to their communities including leadership, guidance, and hope. It is really helpful for religious leaders to understand psychological principles because they may find themselves with members of their community coming to them for help with spiritual, mental, or even physical issues.

    A religious leader is someone who holds some form of authority within a religion or religious place of worship.

    Mary Sue is an archdeacon of her local Episcopalian church. Recently, there was a large storm in the area and many people in her community lost their homes. Those in her community look to her to provide guidance in this time of need. Luckily Mary Sue studied some psychological concepts in her training. She is able to provide appropriate grief support along with spiritual guidance to those coping with this natural disaster.

    Types of Helping Professions in Psychology

    Clinical, community, and counseling psychologists use their studies in psychology to directly impact individuals and the community.

    Clinical Psychologists

    Clinical psychologists work to promote psychological or mental health in both individuals and groups. Often clinical psychologists focus on one group of specific psychological disorders, such as anxiety disorders or depressive disorders. A clinical psychologist is someone who specializes in providing continuing and comprehensive mental and behavioral health care for individuals and groups.

    Clinical psychologists work by conducting therapy, doing research on psychological disorders, administering psychological assessments, or providing consultations in various settings. They may be called in to make an assessment during a legal dispute. It is important to note the difference between clinical psychologists and psychiatrists. A clinical psychologist holds a doctorate in psychology, and is highly skilled in providing clinical therapy as well as diagnosing mental disorders. A psychiatrist is a medical doctor who holds a doctorate in medicine, and is skilled at prescribing medication to treat mental health disorders.

    Counseling Psychologists

    Counseling psychologists can offer therapy, but they focus less on severe psychopathology (or mental disorders), and more on common mental health issues and lifestyle adjustments. They emphasize helping clients build skills and tools for dealing with what life can bring, and they often focus on one specific area of need, like coping with anxiety. A counseling psychologist addresses the emotional, social, work, school, and physical health concerns people have at different stages in their lives. They address typical life stresses and more severe issues that people struggle with as individuals or groups.

    Carlos is a counseling psychologist for a local private practice. He works with his clients to build healthy coping skills around grief and the loss of a close loved one. Carlos focuses on treating grief and depression and helps his clients build healthy strategies for dealing with their emotions.

    Counselors can specialize in mental health counseling, marriage and family counseling, or school counseling. Similarly, licensed clinical social workers (LCSW) are able to provide counseling and psychological services to their clients as well. LCSWs and licensed counselors differ in that LCSWs focus on physical and environmental needs as well as providing counseling. Licensed counselors specifically focus on the psychological well-being of their clients.

    Community Psychologists

    Community psychologists focus on community needs for mental healthcare, instead of focusing on individuals. This often looks like community outreach, education, and preventative measures. A community psychologist uses social, cultural, economic, political, environmental, and even international influences to encourage positive change in physical health, mental health, and self-empowerment at an individual and systemic level.

    Maribel works for her local university as a wellness educator. She often uses social events to help promote tools students can use to stop interpersonal violence when they see it, or report any violence that they feel unequipped to stop. Maribel uses a community lens to help individuals learn about consent and healthy boundaries.

    The Importance of the Helping Professions

    Helping professionals are kind of like the glue that holds us together. They are there for our physical and mental health and safety. Without helping professionals, we would not have access to critical social services, education, or resources. Helping professionals are all around us, and it can be easy to forget how much we rely on them as a society.

    Imagine a bad car accident on the side of the road. It is a difficult situation, but we find multiple helping professionals all working together. Emergency responders are there to help guide traffic and transport anyone who is hurt to a nearby hospital. In some cases, children might be separated from their parents due to injuries and a social worker might arrive to make sure the kids are safe. Emergency personnel triage injured people and keep them alive until medical doctors are available.

    Imagine a society where there were no helping professionals. No firefighters, no doctors, no nurses, no teachers, no counselors, no physical therapists, no crisis hotlines, and no shelters. No services and help for those in need. No help for you when you're sick, need mental healthcare, or need help finding a job.

    It is easy to see the importance of helping professionals when we imagine a world without them!

    Different Skills for the Helping Professions

    There are six foundational skills that helping professionals should possess:

    • A positive view of humankind
    • Emotional stability and mental health
    • Strong self-care skills
    • Intelligence and knowledge of psychological principles
    • Creativity and good humor
    • Courage

    Being a helping professional in psychology takes a lot of education and practical skills. Professional psychologists have to obtain a graduate or doctoral degree. Counselors are state-licensed, and licensure requires a specific number of hours in the field counseling clients, often at least 1,000 hours of practical experience. Clinical psychologists need field experience along with a doctoral degree to establish their own counseling practices and conduct research. Community psychologists need at least a graduate degree or higher, depending on the specific services they want to provide.

    Along with knowing a lot about psychological concepts, helping professionals in psychology need to be culturally sensitive and aware. They need to know the ethical principles of their profession and stick to them. They have to be good listeners to empathize well with others. They also need to be able to respond in the event of a crisis. Helping professionals are also trained in therapeutic communication skills including both verbal and non-verbal communication.

    Nonverbal Skills

    • Eye contact

    • Open body posture

    • Maintaining attentive silence

    • Voice tone

    • Appropriate gestures and facial expressions

    Verbal Skills

    • Skilled encouragers to help others open up
    • Open and closed-ended questioning
    • Paraphrasing and reflecting
    • Summarizing
    • Giving feedback and challenges
    • Goal-setting

    In addition to all these skills, helping professionals need to know how to prevent personal burnout, maintain their professional license, bill insurance, and keep their services safe and confidential for all of their clients.

    Helping Professions - Key takeaways

    • Helping professions are jobs or positions that offer health and education services to individuals and the community such as educators, occupational therapists, and social workers

    • Clinical, community, and counseling psychologists also fit under the umbrella of helping professionals.

    • Clinical psychologists work to promote psychological or mental health in both individuals or groups dealing with severe mental health challenge while counseling psychologists offer therapy and focus more on common mental health issues and lifestyle adjustments by building client skills and coping tools.

    • Community psychologists focus on community needs for mental healthcare. Usually, community psychologists are working towards community education, prevention, and intervention.

    • Helping professionals in psychology focus on practical skills to prevent occupational burnout, maintain up-to-date licensure, and retain safety and confidentiality for their clients and themselves.

    Frequently Asked Questions about Helping Professions

    How has counseling evolved as a helping profession?

    Counseling has evolved to focus on goal setting, and helping clients build coping skills and reach personal milestones. 

    What are some helping professions?

    • Educators
    • Occupational therapists
    • Social workers
    • Religious leaders
    • Emergency responders 
    • Counselors

    What is a helping Profession?

    Helping professions are jobs or positions that offer health and education services to individuals and the community. 

    What are the different skills for helping professions?

    There are six foundational skills that helping professionals should possess: 

    • A positive view of humankind
    • Emotional stability and mental health
    • Strong self-care skills 
    • Intelligence and knowledge of psychological principles
    • Creativity and good humor
    • Courage

    Why are helping professions important?

    Imagine a society where there were no helping professionals. No firefighters, no doctors, no nurses, no teachers, no counselors, no physical therapists, no crisis hotlines, and no shelters. No services and help for those in need. No help for you when you're sick, need mental healthcare, or need help finding a job. 

    It is easy to see the importance of helping professionals, when we imagine a world without them! 

    Test your knowledge with multiple choice flashcards

    Check the helping professionals.

    Examples of biological helping professions:

    There are ___ foundational skills that helping professionals should possess.


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