The woman who lacks self-esteem and confidence, yet wants a career of her own will find support at the Northern Virginia Information and Couseling Service for Women.

"Women's organizations tend to start up and fold," said Joan Parks, founder and president of the center which opened in Vienna in 1974. "But no matter what happens, I want this center to survive."

In 1975, 276 women sought counseling at the center; this year 600 clients are expected to seek advice on marital, personal and employment problems.

The nonprofit center has a professional staff that gives private sessions counseling women on assertiveness, self-awareness and survival in separation and divorce.

ICCW was designed after a center at Yale University that successfully treated depressed suburban women, said Parks. Like the center designed by the Yale psychology department, ICCW's average client is weel-educated, married or recently divorced, "suffering from loss of self-esteem and having a very low confidence level," said Parks. "She has been reduced to a marshmallow and honestly believes she couldn't make a decision if she had to."

This woman is only situationally neurotic, Parks said, and "once she sees herself she comes out of it very quickly."

Parks started the center after she had been through the problems that many of the center's clients have. She dropped out of college to get married, Parks said. She yielded to the needs of her family in her efforts to be the perfect wife and mother but, she said, the isolation she felt as a non-working homemaker seemed like solitary confinement.

She decided to go back to college, Parks said, but eight years rolled by before she was able to overcome strong guilt and ambivalent feelings about being away from her children to pursue her own goals.

She finally entered George mason College and earned her degree, she said, and soon afterward, she and a friend plopped down $1,000 each to rent office space and opened ICCW.

Like Parks, all the counselors are women who have been through experiences similar to their clients'.

"They pulled themselves up, got their masters in counseling and are now committed to helping other women," said Parks. She said that the counselors are so dedicated that they donated their time at first and only recently began receiving partial salaries.

Counselor Anne Daugherty, who described herself as having been "non-assertive," now leads an assertiveness siminar at the center. Her only goal is life was to be the perfect wife and mother, she said.

"My house was spotless," Daugherty said. "Even my outside interests were to support my husband. I wasn't doing anything for me."

After reading a book on assertiveness and practicing it, she started to stir thing up in her marriage, she said. "Problems and feelings bubbled to the surface," she said, but she and her husband were able to iron them out.

"At least I wouldn't have the problem of trying to explain to a man a woman's side of a problem," she said.

Parks employment counseling with women at ICCW has led to a consultant's job with an outside research project. The project seeks to put women employees more in touch with their goals and to improve the climate for their upward mobility, Parks said.

While Parks is still president of ICCW, she does no counseling at the center now because "that part of me is too far in the past. I'm out of touch with that woman now and I forget how painful it was," Parks said.