What to Wear to Work – Tips for Female Counselors

Knowing what to wear to work is never easy, especially if you’re a female counselor. Here’s what I learned in my counseling practicum – I’m training as an alcohol and drug addictions counselor in a residential treatment program for men.

Key thought: When you’re dressing for work, find the balance between professional and approachable.

What Female Counselors Should Wear to Work

Be clear on what you need to do at work. What is your intention for your workday? What are your goals for the sessions you have with clients? That should dictate what you wear to work, more than anything. Your goals for a counseling session are very different than your goals wwhat-to-wear-to-work-257x300hen you go to a gym, grocery store, church, or nightclub. Dress with your work goals in mind.

Don’t wear feminine, pretty clothes. I’m quickly learning that the more feminine and pretty I dress for work, the more my client’s eyes rove. My counseling practicum is 95% men, and I would never wear high heels, beautifully fitted clothes, or perfume to work. Not only do I feel less professional in gorgeous, feminine clothes, I believe I won’t be taken as seriously.

Do wear conservative suits, pants, and tops. “Because females are more likely to be sexualized in our society, sexual transference is usually more of an issue with female therapists, particularly when working with male clients,” Writes Dr. Barbara LoFrisco in What Not To Wear – Therapist Edition. “Where we can’t always stop our clients from thinking of us sexually, there are things we can do to help prevent it. Dressing conservatively and professionally is one such action.”

Observe other female counselors at work. The “what to wear to work?” question is one we’ve all
struggled with (if you haven’t, I’d love to hear why below!). Ask other counselors what they feel most comfortable in, and why. Probe a little – that’s what we counselors are supposed to do! Ask what made them decide what to wear to work as female counseling staff, and why. Look for the reasons behind the decisions.

Wear clothes that allow movement. Counselors have to bend over to get forms out of filing cabinets, and reach up to get books off high shelves. The last thing you want is your client to see your blouse lifting up to show your belly, or your pants falling low to show your undies.

Wear clothes that suit your environment. Working on the downtown eastside or the poorest slums of a city is different than working at a university or hospital. What you wear to work has to depend on the organization you’re counseling in, who your clients are, and what you do with them.

Know it doesn’t matter whether you have male or female clients. I don’t think the above tips on what to wear to work for female counselors only applies to counselors who work with men. Female clients may be very affected by feminine, frilly, gorgeous clothes. Your appearance may incite comparisons, feelings of superiority, jealousy, memories from high school, or even disdain. You don’t want your clothes to be a barrier to the work you do with your client.

Here’s another great tip on what to wear to work from Dr LoFrisco: “If you are purchasing a skirt please sit down in front of a mirror first. A slight glimpse of lower thigh or knee is OK, but you shouldn’t be able to see a few inches past your knees. Now cross your legs. Do you really want clients to know what color underwear you are wearing?”

Of course, if you work online you don’t have to worry what to wear to work!

What do you think – is it better to wear clothes that are too formal, or too casual?