Counseling Certification

As in most fields, earning a certification is a great way to boost your personal development and career prospects as a counseling professional. There are various types of counseling certifications, including national certified counselor and certification in contemporary theory in addictive behavior. Certifications help professionals gain specialized knowledge in various subsets of counseling and improve their prospects for advancement within the field.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects employment for counselors practicing in areas of the field where certification is available to grow over the coming years. Substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors are projected to see a 23% increase in employment between 2016 and 2026. This is much higher than the average for all occupations, which is about 6%, according to the BLS. While certification is not always a requirement for these and other lucrative positions in counseling, it can certainly improve your employability and help you enhance your expertise in the field.

Why Should You Earn Counseling Certification?

Certification is a source of continuing education that demonstrates a commitment to the counseling profession. At the same time, certification provides counseling professionals with specialized expertise in a subset of the field in which they have professional and/or personal interest. In many cases, these are niche areas where licensure isn't commonly available or is not available at all. In addition, a certificate providing evidence of specialized knowledge can serve as a draw for potential clients in future practice or other forms of employment. This is a marketing benefit in that prospective clients look for counseling professionals who are specially trained in niches that serve their individual needs.

There are also financial benefits to counselor certification. Earning board certification from the National Board for Certified Counselors (NBCC) opens the door to a variety of professional opportunities, including free or discounted continuing education courses, discounted liability insurance, and membership in directories used by potential clients who are seeking a counseling professional. Additionally, certification can be a highlight on a resume for prospective employers who are looking for those who demonstrate a commitment to a particular area of the field and show that they possess expertise. Counselor certification leads to increased opportunities for career advancement and professional development in many ways that merit the associated expenditure of time and effort.

What Can You Do With a Certification in Counseling?

Generally, certified counselors operate within the counseling field, working in private practice or for a clinic, school, or other organization that helps people address various mental, physical, and emotional issues. However, those with counseling certification can also work in fields that are tangentially related to counseling, such as social work. Those who earn counseling certification are typically people-oriented and display a sense of compassion that allows them to empathize with the plights of others. This quality of relating to others helps counseling professionals connect with clients and facilitate the healing process.

  • School and Career Counselor: School and career counselors typically work with youth of all ages to address individual issues regarding their personal life and/or academic and professional paths. Career counselors often work with adults as well. These professionals can benefit from certification in areas like addiction and mental health.
  • Substance Abuse, Behavioral Disorder, and Mental Health Counselor: These counselors likely benefit most from certification in counseling subsets like addictive behaviors and mental health. They often work with clients who need help dealing with issues surrounding drugs, alcohol, and other addictive substances and those with behavioral or mental health problems.
  • Rehabilitation Counselor: Providing physical and emotional support for people facing various different types of disabilities, rehabilitation counselors work to ensure a good quality of life for their clients through the creation and implementation of treatment plans for work and home environments. These professionals can benefit from certification in rehabilitation, which is required by some employers.
  • Marriage and Family Therapist: Often working with married couples, marriage and family therapists help people deal with issues such as interpersonal communication, death, divorce, and job loss. These professionals help their clients develop healthy ways to process and deal with life events.
  • Social Worker: Providing assistance to people from all walks of life, social workers help their clients form a stable existence through programs in areas like healthcare, childcare, and crisis management. These professionals benefit from certification in areas like mental health and substance abuse, because they often address those issues.

Certification in Counseling Salary

Position Median Annual Salary Projected Growth Rate
School and Career Counselor $55,410 13%
Substance Abuse, Behavioral Disorder, and Mental Health Counselor $43,300 23%
Rehabilitation Counselor $34,860 13%
Marriage and Family Therapist $48,790 23%
Social Worker $47,980 16%

Types of Counseling Certifications

There are many types of counseling certifications. A more general certification, such as a certificate in mental health counseling, may be attractive to candidates who are interested in demonstrating a background in counseling or commitment to the field to prospective clients or employers. A more specific certification, such as career counseling certification, may be necessary to qualify for niche jobs like career counselor. The NBCC is the main credentialing body for the counseling profession, but there are many specialized organizations and institutions that offer certifications in various areas of the field.

Specialized Counseling Certifications

  • Certified Clinical Mental Health Counselor: If you want to become a certified clinical mental health counselor, you must have completed an educational program that includes coursework in clinical diagnosis and treatment, family or couples counseling, and advanced clinical skills. Applicants must also have supervised clinical experience, a professional endorsement from a colleague, and a passing score on the National Clinical Mental Health Counseling Examination.
  • Contemporary Theory in Addictive Behavior: Earning a graduate certificate in contemporary theory in addictive behavior provides students with an in-depth understanding of addiction, substance abuse, and compulsive behaviors. Students may apply coursework that they complete in the pursuit of a graduate certificate toward a master's degree at a later point.
  • National Certified School Counselor: To become a national certified school counselor, you must demonstrate completion of graduate coursework in the following areas: counseling consultation and program development; addictions counseling; family counseling; counseling children, adolescents, and/or at-risk youth; and counseling for trauma, violence, or abuse. You also need clinical experience, a professional endorsement, supervised hours, and a passing score on the counseling exam.
  • Contemporary Theory in Couple and Family Systems: A graduate certificate in contemporary theory in couple and family systems provides the initial training or reinforces previous education in the field of couple and family therapy. Students take courses on human development as it relates to professional counseling, as well as family systems theory and therapy methods for clients in the couple and family demographic groups.
  • Master Addiction Counselor: Those who are serious about getting certified in addiction counseling must meet the requirements regarding educational background, skills, knowledge, and abilities. They must also have training and experience in the field of addictions counseling. Master addiction counselors may apply for status as a substance abuse professional through the U.S. Department of Transportation.
  • National Certified Counselor: National certified counselors must demonstrate that they meet high standards for education, experience, supervision, examination, and ethics. Individuals with this designation can use the NCC credentials for marketing purposes to secure discounted liability insurance and to benefit from national advocacy efforts on behalf of national certified counselors.
  • Contemporary Theory in Mental Health Services: Students pursuing a graduate certificate in contemporary theory in mental health services complete coursework on such topics as human development, legal and ethical issues, theories of psychotherapy, and counseling with diverse populations. Students may apply this coursework toward their later pursuit of a master's or doctoral degree in counseling.

NBCC Counseling Certification Application Requirements

There are various elements to the process of becoming eligible for counseling certification through the NBCC, which is one of the primary credentialing bodies in the field. You must first earn overall certification as a national certified counselor (NCC) through the NBCC before you can earn any of the three specialized certifications the board offers.

To be eligible to become an NCC, you must have earned a master's degree in counseling that included coursework in specific areas, such as human growth and development theories, research and program evaluation, and group counseling theories and processes. In addition, you must have completed at least six semester hours of supervised counseling as a field experience. Overall, you must have at least 100 hours of supervised counseling to become eligible for NCC certification.

Other requirements for NCC status include endorsement by a professional colleague, at least 3,000 hours of postgraduate work experience, and a passing score on either the National Counselor Examination for Licensure and Certification (NCE) or the National Clinical Mental Health Counseling Examination (NCMHCE). State-licensed counselors, those who have a counseling doctorate, and those who graduated from certain programs can waive the work experience requirement.

The Counseling Certification Process

As is typically the case with most forms of licensure and certification, there is an involved process that counseling professionals must complete in order to earn counseling certification. While the various steps differ from state to state and by area of specialization, this process generally requires coursework in particular areas, hours of clinical or field experience, and a passing score on at least one examination. Some certifications require that you complete a specific program of academic coursework and have only a bachelor's degree, while counseling professionals can often earn other certifications through the work they did to earn their counseling license.

Coursework required for certification is typically centered in the specific subset of the counseling field named in the certification, such as mental health or substance abuse. The number of required credits varies, with some certification programs requiring students to complete as few as 20 to earn their credential. The number of required experience hours can also differ, as can the particulars of the experience, such as whether supervision is required.

Counseling professionals must earn a passing score on various examinations to earn different certifications in the field. These include the NCE, the NCMHCE, and the certified rehabilitation counselor exam.

How Long Does It Take to Earn a Certificate in Counseling?

While some certifications require you to complete a structured set of specific courses, others simply require evidence that you have already completed the eligibility requirements. Because of this, the amount of time it takes to earn a counseling certification can vary significantly on an individual basis. For those who are completing a certification program through a school or other institution, these programs can take as little as six months or as long as one year. As is the case with most postsecondary programs, there are factors that influence this duration, including full-time or part-time status. In general, online counseling certifications require students to complete at least 20 credits, and students can work at their own pace. Typically, part-time students pay similar tuition to full-time learners, but this can vary from institution to institution.

How Much Is a Certification Program in Counseling?

Students and professionals can earn counseling certificates from various organizations and institutions. Professional organizations that bestow counseling certificates generally set their own costs and fees that may be associated with the application or award process. Some candidates choose to earn an online counseling certification from an institution of higher learning. These programs vary in cost as well, but a student can expect to pay approximately $10,000 over the course of their certificate program.

There are many factors that affect the cost of certification in this field. Professional associations may charge students more or less than other organizations based on the relative value of benefits they offer with certification. These benefits often include discounted liability insurance or discounted continuing education credits. Students earning their online counseling certification from a college or university may pay lower fees if they enter the program with previous credits that apply toward the completion of their certification process or if they receive some form of financial aid, such as a scholarship or grant. Students must also account for the costs that typically accompany educational pursuits, such as housing and technology fees.

Counseling Certification Maintenance and Renewal

Most counseling certifications must be maintained in various ways and renewed after certain periods of time. While they vary by certification, maintenance requirements typically include the payment of annual fees, compliance with ethical standards, and different forms of continuing education. Counseling professionals can generally fulfill continuing education requirements through online courses, in-person seminars, and networking conferences where panels speak on current issues in the field.

The amount of time that can pass between earning the certification and required renewals differs by certification, but most require recipients to check in with their credentialing body in some way every one to three years. A counseling professional who allows their certification to lapse typically must recomplete certain certification requirements, such as work experience hours or examinations.

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