Students at Haikou Experimental Middle School in Hainan province receive counseling. (ZHAO MAO / FOR CHINA DAILY)
It was seven in the morning, and 38-year-old Zhao Hao was already having a hectic day: talking with patients, while training, designing lessons for students who want to be counselors.
A reporter-turned-counselor, Zhao specializes in parenting. He said he was lucky to choose a field with promising career prospects.
"I used to work for TV programs and came in contact with families with various issues, eager for counseling. Parents consider their children more important than anything else in the world, and are willing to shell out money in order to provide their children a good education, but they may be reluctant to spend money on themselves," Zhao said.
"I observed huge demand for parenting counseling and I believe the market potential is huge in the sector," he said.
According to a recent report by the LeadLeo Research Institute, a market research provider, how to educate children has become the second-most frequently counseled topic on online psychological clinics, after self-adjustment, and is followed by social interactions, career guidance and marriage issues.
About 46 percent people surveyed showed strong demand for a parenting counseling session, according to the report, taking up a large part of the multibillion-dollar business.
"Parents are under too much pressure from working, housing issues, children's education, taking care of their elder parents. Sometimes they tend to transfer the anxiety to their children, push them to study harder for a better future and less stress when they grow up. Many times, my counseling work was psychology related," Zhao said.
Working as a counselor and trainer for counselors since 2010, he started his own company－Golden Crown (Beijing) International Cultural Development Co Ltd, a Beijing-based counseling and training company specializing in parenting, marital relations, and sexual harassment issues.
"Parents have various concerns, and from my past counseling and training experience, grades at school is the mostly brought-up topic.
"Parents also worry about whether children would behave well in school, whether they would be isolated or bullied, and about sexual harassment," Zhao said.
Zhao added that the tightened regulations on after-school tutoring, which aims to reduce excessive academic workload on students in primary and middle schools, make some parents relieved while a number of parents are even more anxious.
"Some parents fear less work may make their children incapable of performing well in exams, and are worried that failure to pass the high school entrance exam will push their children to attend vocational training schools, which are considered less capable of guaranteeing decent jobs and broader views," he said.
Although there is a surging demand for parenting counseling, Zhao said not a lot of parents are willing to pay for classes on how to become good parents, or counseling sessions, unless they encounter urgent and specific problems that needed to be solved.
"It is interesting to see a large number of parents on our free counseling or tutoring sessions for parents on how to manage their temper, how to better communicate with children, and how to cultivate their children's sense of self-discipline."
"However, when we started to charge fees, not all of them chose to continue with the lessons or tutoring sessions. We talked with some of the parents, and they said that our content is somehow less practical," Zhao said.
To Zhao's knowledge, it is quite hard to make parenting counseling and tutoring－something intangible where immediate outcomes are hard to see－as attractive as, say, piano lessons that produce discernible results sooner or later.
Zhao said his company has seen negative growth in the past three years. "Currently, it is very hard to make money out of parenting counseling and tutoring, and that's why many companies step into the business and out very quickly. Training counselors is relatively easy to make a profit.
"Going forward, the situation will get better. More importantly, having worked for over 10 years in the field, I now realize that parenting counseling and tutoring is a lot more than just a moneymaking tool. I feel obligated and passionate to help families in need," Zhao said.