What Does it Take to Be a Counselor?
Why Does Earning Counseling Licensure Matter?
Counseling licenses confirm that individuals who are treating patients have the necessary academic preparation and experience. Some counseling fields require a different type of license; marriage and family therapists, school counselors, addiction counselors, and general mental health counselors all earn different licenses. A counselor with one specific type of license is not allowed to practice in a different area. While these requirements may seem strict, they are vital for protecting patients and providing the best healthcare possible.
How to Become a Counselor
Although exact licensure and practice requirements will vary depending on the counseling career you pursue, there are some that all aspiring counselors should expect to undertake. The first academic requirement to meet is the completion of a bachelor's degree, typically in psychology or a related field. All professional counseling positions will also require a master's in counseling, and in some cases, a doctorate. To obtain licensure in any state, there are supervised professional work experience requirements, which is usually about 3,000 hours of post-master's work. The following web page provides a more detailed look at the path to professional counseling practice.[ Becoming a Counselor ]
What Makes a Good Counselor?
There is a reason that the process of becoming a licensed counselor requires so much time, dedication, and hard work. Building up the courage to confront your issues and speak with a counselor or therapist is often a nerve-wracking experience, and no patient wants to spend good money on counseling sessions with someone they don't feel they can trust. Successful counselors and therapists have interpersonal skills. Therapy is more than just listening to someone on a couch, after all. Therapists must be able to express themselves, showing an abundance of acceptance, empathy, and dedication to others before themselves. Effective therapists are patient, calm, and comforting. They present themselves as someone who is on their patient's side, ready and willing to form an alliance and work toward common goals.
Beyond the interpersonal relationship with clients, it is vital that all counselors and aspiring counselors possess traits of integrity and trustworthiness. One of the most sacred bonds between a healthcare professional and their client is confidentiality, and this especially matters in cases of individual mental health, relationships in crisis, and for students in school settings. Integrity and the drive to do the right thing should come naturally to a person who is seeking a career in a counseling profession. A selfless drive to understand and assist others will help carry you through the necessary hard work and long hours required to obtain licensure and begin practice.
Counseling Degrees Available
- Counseling Certifications: Certifications are short-term, non-degree programs designed to prepare students for careers in counseling. While practice licenses cannot be earned with a certificate alone, individuals may use learned skills and knowledge in their jobs and personal lives.
- Bachelor's Degree in Counseling: Earning an undergraduate degree in counseling or a related field is the first step toward licensure. Those who choose not to pursue a master's degree can still find entry-level work in fields such as rehabilitation or healthcare.
- Master's Degree in Counseling: Master's programs consist of intensive study and supervised field experiences and practicums. The completion of a master's degree in counseling opens the doors to licensure and professional counseling practice.
- Ph.D. in Counseling: Counselors who take on a doctoral program complete advanced research in their field as well as the writing and defense of a dissertation. Graduates are prepared for careers in clinical supervising, academia, and the coordination/direction of facilities.
Online Counseling Programs
Online learning is becoming increasingly popular and a more accessible choice for today's prospective students, and counseling programs are no exception. Whether you're seeking a certificate, bachelor's, or master's in counseling, there are online options available to you. Courses are typically developed and taught by the same faculty who teach on campus, with the same rigorous curriculum, assignment requirements, and learning outcomes. Online degrees are ideal for nontraditional students who are seeking a new career, returning to school, or who are otherwise unable to attend traditional classes on campus.
Accreditation for Counseling Degrees
Accreditation is important for students of every academic discipline to consider when selecting a school. For prospective counselors, state licenses can only be awarded to students who earned their degrees from an accredited institution. There are regional and national accrediting organizations. To earn and maintain accreditation, a school must meet and demonstrate certain educational and institutional standards across all departments, programs, and administrative offices. Accreditation holds schools accountable for their academic quality and procedures, meaning students can place a higher level of trust in the fact that they're receiving the best education possible.
Career Resources for Counselors
- Professional Counseling Organization Contacts
- Work-Related Counseling Helps DC Area Professionals Stay on Track
- Avoiding Counselor Burnout While Seeking Resilience: An Interview with Thomas Skovholt
- Cancer-Patient Counselor Saundra Weller Helps Patients Live Life after Treatment
- Social media creates new opportunities for counseling professionals
Types of Counselors
Counseling careers are as diverse as the needs of patients. Several specializations in the counseling field are listed below, but the information displayed here is certainly not exhaustive. If you are unsure of the focus you want to pursue, using this list to research each specialty may help pinpoint your personal and professional goals.
- Mental Health Counselor: Mental health counselors work with individuals, couples, families, and larger groups to discuss and help treat emotional and mental issues. Licensed MHCs must have at least a master's degree in counseling.
- Marriage and Family Counselor: Services offered by marriage and family counselors focus on identifying and solving problems within interpersonal or intimate human relationships. Master's degrees are typically necessary, but state requirements vary.
- School Counselor: School counselors are often the first exposure people have to mental health care in their lives. They advise students on academic and interpersonal matters. Most have a master's degree in school counseling and a certification.
- Behavior Analyst: Behavior analysts utilize conditioning practices to assist individuals in adjusting their behavior. They often work with individuals with developmental disabilities. Master's degrees are a minimum requirement, and doctorates are often preferred.
- Grief Counselors: A grief counselor helps individuals, families, or groups cope with a major loss or negative life change. Doctorate degrees are often required to handle this complex, emotionally-charged field.
- Rehabilitation Counselor: Rehab counselors work to overcome barriers to independence in individuals with physical, mental, or developmental disabilities. Most positions typically require a master's degree and additional licensure/certification.
- Addictions Counselor: Addictions counselors typically work with individuals battling substance abuse or alcoholism. A bachelor's degree and an appropriate certification/license can be sufficient to practice in this counseling field.
- Pastoral or Faith-Based Counselor: Faith-based counselors combine theology with modern counseling in order to serve clients who are devoted to their spiritual beliefs. A master's degree is typically required, although licensure may not be necessary if you practice within a religious organization.
- Geriatric Counselor: Geriatric counselors assist individuals and families with struggles related to the aging process of oneself, or of a loved one. Master's degrees are required for professionals in this field.
- Veterans Counselor: Often employed at a VA hospital or clinic, veterans counselors work with military individuals on all aspects of civilian life: relationships, finances, career goals, and family. A master's degree is typically required for this career.
- Domestic Violence Counselor: These counselors assess situations and advise and assist individuals facing domestic abuse and violence. The minimum education requirement for some domestic violence counseling jobs is a bachelor's degree.
- Child Pediatric Counselor: Pediatric counselors work with children with mental disorders and illnesses, such as depression, ADHD, and anxiety. A master's degree in mental health counseling is required for this occupation.
How to Become a Counselor in Each State
Find Counselor License Requirements by State
District of Columbia