How to Become a Counselor: Education, Licensure & Careers
- February 25, 2021
- Posted by: Ipolani Mugford
- Category: Student Resources,
Where Should a Prospective Counselor Begin?
Counselors have an indispensable impact on each of their client’s lives. Counselors have an inherent goal to help their clients recognize and understand their challenges while exploring various approaches to think and behave to discover solutions.
Because of the influence counselors have on individuals, counselors must hold the proper education and training to ensure their clients benefit from their practice. This guide presents the steps that you will encounter along your journey.
What Does a Counselor Do?
Counselors address individuals’ emotional, mental, and behavioral needs while building a healthy relationship with their clients. Whether a client is dealing with prolonged challenges or a minor setback, counselors aim to help their client overcome their hurdles to reach a sense of wellness. While there are many different disciplines counselors could fall within, the objectives of counseling remain the same.
Counselors apply a comprehensive approach while using their abilities to treat mental, emotional, and behavioral issues. Successful counselors hold specific skills to assist their clients, particularly displaying excellent listening and critical thinking skills to engage with their clients while showing empathy.
If you’re attending school full-time, you can earn a bachelor’s degree in psychology within four or five years. If you decide to go for your master’s degree, expect another two to three years. A doctorate degree in psychology can take anywhere from four to seven years.
What Education Does a Counselor Need?
To become a licensed counselor, you are required to earn your bachelor’s degree, though most states mandate achieving a master’s degree. The majority of people exploring a career in counseling will earn their bachelor’s in psychology, counseling, or social work.
As an undergraduate, it’s anticipated you’ll study human development, counseling skills, psychology, or approaches to counseling. Pursuing a bachelor’s degree in a counseling-related field will set the groundwork for when you work towards your master’s degree.
While obtaining your master’s degree, you will undergo specialized training to become a licensed counselor. As a graduate student in a master’s program, you will likely work beside a certified counselor to gain first hand exposure in the field while completing your counseling internship. Most states require more than 1,000 hours of supervised professional experience before applying for your counseling license.
A doctorate is not commonly required, though many counselors seek their doctoral degree after possessing an extensive background in the field. While obtaining your doctorate, you have the most desirable career growth opportunity, whether it’s becoming a director, manager, or overseeing colleagues and students. With a doctoral degree, you also possess the credentials to teach prospective counselors looking to earn their counseling license.
Credentials and Licenses
The credentials and licensure for counselors depend on certain factors, including their scope of work and the state where they practice. The National Counseling Exam is a requirement by many states. However, some states may also request you to pass an exam given by the state’s counseling board. Preparing for these state board exams varies by state, so each prospective counselors’ goal is to determine the state licensure and board requirements.
For example, suppose you are interested in becoming a mental health counselor. In that case, you may be required to pass the National Counselor Examination (NCE), an exam intended to evaluate your knowledge, skills, and techniques to determine your effectiveness in maturing into a licensed counselor. Following acquiring your credentials and licensure, most states require renewing your license every three years.
Counselors typically choose a specific field to focus on before applying for a license. The education and experience will prepare the counselor to become certified in the discipline they specialize in to meet their clients’ needs.
What Fields Can a Counselor Work In?
There are countless fields a counselor can work within, though the main specialties are grouped into mental health counselors, school counselors, marriage and family counselors, rehabilitation counselors, and substance abuse counselors.
Mental Health Counselors
Licensed mental health counselors diagnose and treat mental health challenges and conditions. Mental health counselors assist clients with psychological struggles by outlining positive coping mechanisms to work through hardships. Mental health counselors generally have at least their bachelor’s degree, in addition to the required certifications needed to become a mental health counselor.
Licensed School Counselors
A school counselor intends to help students achieve academic, personal, and social goals. School counselors also accommodate students by outlining an action plan to reduce the stress of making college choices while reaching the next steps in their academic careers. While working with students is imperative, it is crucial to also work with students’ parents or guardians.
School counselors should be comfortable working with students in either individualized or group settings while being well-versed in communication and possess interpersonal skills. It is also fundamental that school counselors showcase excellence in guidance and problem-solving. School counselors may also benefit from having the ability to speak a second language.
School counselors also need to be accurate in keeping up-to-date records with their students to record students’ development. It would help if you had a psychology, sociology, or education degree to be a valued candidate. School counselors are also tasked with conducting research and attending conferences to enhance their ability to support their students.
Licensed Marriage and Family Counselor
Marriage and family counselors concentrate on helping clients improve relationships, whether the focus is individual, couple, or family-oriented. Marriage and family counselors promote an open discussion while assisting clients in developing strategies and gaining skills to cope with challenging situations.
One of the most profound duties of a marriage and family counselor is their ability to understand multiple perspectives then shift into a mediator role. Marriage and family counseling is goal-oriented, where the object is to identify solutions in a safe atmosphere. To be a successful marriage and family counselor, it is fundamental to be empathetic while presenting creative thinking strategies to discover a compromise between two parties.
Licensed Rehabilitation Counselor
Rehabilitation counselors aid individuals with physical, mental, developmental, or emotional disabilities to live independently. A rehabilitation counselor aims to evaluate their client’s abilities, interests, experiences, health, and education while creating a treatment plan. The treatment blueprint strives to accommodate clients to accept their limitations while promoting their strengths to overcome their obstacles.
Licensed Substance Abuse Counselor
Substance abuse counselors provide treatment to individuals who struggle with alcohol or drug abuse. They establish rehabilitative techniques while forming a personalized therapeutic regimen to support individuals in their recovery. Substance abuse counselors excel in individual settings and support groups while working with people from a broad age range.
How Much Do Counselors Earn?
The compensation that counselors earn depends on their discipline and experience. Tracing back to the different fields counselors can work in, the average annual salary for a mental health counselor is $46,240 per year, and their growth rate is forecasted to grow 25% from 2019 to 2029. However, a school counselor has a higher average salary of $57,040, though the projected growth rate is 8%, which is three times lower than a mental health counselor.
The projected national average for occupation growth is currently 4%. However, the job outlook for mental health counselors, school counselors, marriage and family counselors, rehabilitation counselors, and substance abuse counselors are all at least double the national average.
As with every occupation, salary correlates with experience. To put this in perspective, the lowest 10% of school counselors, essentially those just starting in the field, earned less than $34,380, whereas the top 10% of school counselors earned more than $96,090. Due to the demand of individuals seeking to improve their well-being and become their best versions of themselves, the desire to explore counseling is rising.
What is the Future of Counseling?
Jumping into your counseling career presents infinite possibilities, though it can be intimidating about where to begin. Regardless of which field you choose, all counselors are beneficial to society in a number of different ways. As individuals proceed to explore counseling, counselors have an obligation to stay up-to-date with education and training in their field to meet the highest professional standards.