As you develop your identity as a counselor, one of the important decisions you will make is where you want to do your counseling. The main choices are: 1) seeing clients in their homes, 2) seeing clients in your office, or 3) a mixture of both. There are advantages and disadvantages to consider.
Why should you care about this now? Because it may affect which agency you choose for your practicum and internship. Some agencies work out of offices, and others require you to visit clients’ homes. In addition, you will need to decide where you want to work when you graduate, and knowing your preferred venue will help you with that choice.
Why is the venue important? Because you are considered the “tool” in the counseling process, you must keep yourself sharp and serviceable. If you are uncomfortable in your work environment, or your environment is not meeting your needs, your own mental health and performance will be affected. Therefore, choosing the right environment is critical.
Advantages of home-based counseling
There are many advantages to home-based counseling, including some that may not be immediately obvious. For clients who have mobility issues, whether from a disability, lack of transportation or child care, a home visit can be a blessing. In fact, home-based counseling allows you to reach a population that is normally shut out from counseling due to impossible logistics. Counselors who make home visits also have the advantage of seeing the client in their native environment. In addition, since the client is more comfortable in their own home as compared to an unfamiliar office, they will probably be less defensive.
Disadvantages to home-based counseling
On the other hand, there are disadvantages to home-based counseling. First, there is the issue of safety. You may be asked to travel to neighborhoods with high crime rates, and you may be asked to travel there in the evening. It is recommended that you investigate the area prior to your visit, decline if you are uncomfortable, and always make sure someone knows where you are at all times. Secondly, since you are not operating out of a common office you will be more isolated than your office-holding peers. Because it could lead to burnout, to minimize this possibility it is recommended that you attend regular meetings with a peer supervision group. Thirdly, there is the issue of distractions. There can be many interruptions in the home environment that you don’t experience in an office setting, such as the phone ringing or a child crying. Lastly, some of the homes you visit may not be as clean as you’d like. Therefore, if you are going to do home-based counseling you need to be flexible and tolerate distractions and less-than-ideal physical conditions.
Advantages to office-based counseling
Offices have advantages and disadvantages as well. The advantages of having an office revolve mostly around convenience for you. Clients come to you, so you don’t have to travel anywhere. Booking clients is easier since travel time does not have to be included in scheduling. Also, office-based visits tend to be shorter and more predictable in length, as there aren’t any interruptions or distractions for the client to deal with. In addition, safety and cleanliness are not concerns, since you have direct control over both. Finally, assuming you share space with other counselors, the opportunities for informal peer support are much greater than they are for your home-based counterparts. As mentioned, such support helps to prevent burnout.
Disadvantages to office-based counseling
There are disadvantages to having an office, however. First of all, you have to pay rent, and possibly general liability insurance if your landlord requires it or doesn’t carry their own. (Of course, this is in addition to the malpractice insurance that you already carry.) Home-based counselors, on the other hand, do not need to rent an office since any paperwork, billing, or other counseling-related tasks can be performed out of the counselor’s home. Second, you can’t write off travel expenses from your home to your office, as your home-based counterparts are able to. And, lastly, clients often feel uncomfortable going to an unfamiliar office. They may also feel embarrassed if the office is easily visible to the public and clearly designated as a counseling office.
To sum it up, because there are significant advantages and disadvantages to both in-office and home-based counseling, it is important to consider which better fits your needs.