How To Become A Licensed Counselors
Learn the steps to become a licensed counselor. We outline everything you need to know.
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People who want to help others can pursue various counseling careers. Some counselors work with couples or families. Others help clients living with addiction. Licensed counselors may work in private practice or in hospitals or schools.
Counselors need a college degree and strong analytical skills, as the career requires reviewing and maintaining paperwork.
This article explains how to become a licensed counselor. Read on for answers to common questions and to learn about counseling specializations and potential careers.
Questions About Counseling Careers
Professionals in both roles try to improve clients' mental health through one-on-one and group meetings. However, therapists' training lets them offer more interventions, such as therapy sessions.
Degree-holders may work as school counselors or marriage and family therapists. Graduates with licensure can also work as mental health counselors and rehabilitation counselors. Some professionals specialize in grief counseling or pediatric counseling.
Many careers in counseling require a master's degree. This degree qualifies graduates for licensure. However, some states let substance use counselors with only a bachelor's degree practice.
States regulate the counseling profession through licensure. Licensed professional counselors (LPCs) and other workers can advance their careers with professional certifications.
How To Become a Licensed Counselor
Licensure requirements vary by career. School and career counselors need a master's degree in counseling or psychology, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Licensure candidates complete an internship under the supervision of a licensed professional.
Substance use counselors only need a bachelor's degree. However, professionals with a private practice need a license. Like school and career counselors, rehabilitation counselors need a master's degree.
Prospective counselors can check with their state's board of licensure for requirements. They may need to complete supervised work experience and pass a criminal background check.
The counseling field features many specializations, such as families, substance misuse, and grief. Specializations vary by school and degree level. Some colleges refer to specializations as concentrations or tracks. Academic coaches and career counselors can help learners select a specialization, research classes, and meet licensure requirements.
See below for popular counseling concentrations. Keep in mind that options vary by school. Students should confirm available concentrations with their prospective school. Degree-seekers can contact a school's admissions department or career center.
Marriage, Couples, and Family Counseling
Marriage, couples, and family counselors help clients develop healthy relationships with their spouse, children, or parents. Clients may need help dealing with infidelity, sexual abuse, or a family member's death. Unlike therapists, counselors provide fewer services and refer some clients to a psychologist for more specialized care.
Master's degree-seekers may study topics like couples therapy, theories of marriage and child counseling, and personality theories.
People who live with addiction may turn to substance use counselors for help. These professionals help clients identify triggers and create sobriety plans. Substance use counselors work in many healthcare settings, prisons, and private practices.
Students preparing for this career need a master's degree. Typical classes include psychopharmacology and addictive disorders. Learners often complete an eight-week practicum and an eight-week internship.
Mental health counselors may specialize in grief. Grief counselors use their expertise in the grieving process to help clients at different stages. They recommend healthy short- and long-term coping strategies. They also lead individual and group sessions.
A typical master's degree in grief counseling features coursework in advanced counseling skills, crisis counseling, and grief and bereavement. Religious-affiliated schools may require a class in counseling ministry for the bereaved.
What Are the Education Requirements for Counseling?
Licensed counselors need a master's degree. However, many careers in counseling only require a bachelor's degree. See below for each degree's academic requirements and relevant careers. Please note that programs and graduation requirements vary by school. Program websites feature the latest information.
Associate degree-seekers take major and general education classes. Common classes include introduction to counseling and introduction to psychology. Students can customize their degree with electives. Many graduates use their associate degree to transfer to a bachelor's degree-completion program.
Associate degree-holders may work as social science research assistants. These workers help professionals with data management and other tasks.
Bachelor's degree-seekers take major and general education classes. They also take upper-division classes, such as advanced counseling theories, family dynamics, and multicultural counseling in a diverse society.
Some programs feature specializations like substance misuse counseling. Many programs require a practicum or internship in the third or fourth year. Graduates may work as rehabilitation counselors or enroll in a master's program.
Many master's in counseling programs align with a specialization. For example, aspiring marriage and family therapists take classes in family systems and domestic violence. They also study group counseling theories and techniques. The program's second year features 3-4 clinical experiences. These experiences resemble the professional development (PD) licensed counselors take throughout their career.
Graduates with a license can open a private practice or work in another healthcare setting. Professionals wanting to change their specialization can earn a graduate certificate.
Professionals with a doctorate in counseling are experts in their specialization. Most doctoral programs include core classes, electives, and a dissertation. A dissertation involves extensive research and writing. Popular topics include crisis intervention, veterans' issues, and animal-assisted therapy.
Professionals with a Ph.D. in counseling may work as college professors, advanced practitioners, or counselor supervisors. Graduates may also lead an organization's counseling program.
How Much Does a Counseling Degree Cost?
College costs an average of $35,331 per year, according to EducationData.org. However, costs vary by program, school type, and learners' residency status. Students attending public, in-state schools usually pay the most affordable tuition. Private four-year schools charge an average annual tuition of $35,807. Public four-year schools cost $9,349 per year on average for in-state students.
Online learners benefit by not paying for room and board, meals, and other campus expenses. An online format allows students to enroll in the most affordable program without relocating. Programs that run asynchronously let students complete coursework around work and family commitments.
How Much Do Counseling Graduates Make?
Salary depends on many factors, including employer and geographic location. School and career counselors earn a median of $58,120 annually, according to the BLS. Counselors who work at K-12 schools or educational services companies make more. School and career counselors in California, New Jersey, and Virginia earn the most.
Substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors earn a median $47,660 annually. The highest-paying employers for this career include government agencies, hospitals, and individual and family services agencies. Counselors in Nevada, Utah, and Alaska earn more than professionals in other states.
Rehabilitation counselors earn a median $37,530 annually. Those who work at state government agencies earn a median annual salary of $53,210. Rehabilitation counselors in New Jersey, Rhode Island, and Nevada earn the most.
Career and Salary Outlook for Counselors
Counseling careers feature many similar responsibilities. Counselors may lead sessions and suggest outside services. However, each career requires skills aligned with a specific group's unique needs. These differences affect median annual salary and projected growth rate.
See below for potential counseling careers. The chart includes salary and projected growth from 2020-2030.
Substance Abuse, Behavioral Disorder, and Mental Health CounselorsThese counselors interview clients to determine underlying issues causing addiction, improper behavior, or emotional distress. They use the information they learn to recommend positive behaviors and outside services. These counselors also work with clients' families and direct outreach programs. Most counselors hold a state-issued license.
School and Career Counselors and AdvisorsThese counselors and advisors help students earn good grades, improve socialization skills, and plan for life after graduation. They give aptitude assessments, maintain records, and work with learners in small groups. These professionals also report suspected abuse to law enforcement. Some advisors enter this career after working as K-12 educators.
Rehabilitation CounselorsThese counselors help clients with mental or physical disabilities. Interviews and assessments let counselors recommend ways clients may live independently. These professionals record clients' progress, advocate for clients' rights, and network with employers to find job placements. Rehabilitation counselors can advance their career by earning certifications.
|Career||Median Annual Salary||Projected Growth Rate (2020-2030)|
|Substance Abuse, Behavioral Disorder, and Mental Health Counselors||$47,660||23%|
|School and Career Counselors and Advisors||$58,120||11%|
Certifications and Licensure for Counseling
Many careers in counseling require a state-issued license. Licensure requirements vary by state but may include a master's degree and supervised work experience. Licensed and unlicensed counselors can advance their career by earning a professional certification. A certification shows mastery of different skills and may lead to new job opportunities.
Resources for Counseling Majors
Sarah Holliday, MS
Sarah Holiday has years of experience working with nontraditional and traditional-aged students in various areas related to career coaching and training and development. Holliday holds a BA in English from The University of Maryland, Baltimore County, and an MS in instructional design and technology (training and performance improvement) from Walden University. Holliday is currently working on her doctorate and looks forward to dissertating in the near future.
Sarah Holliday is a paid member of the Red Ventures Education freelance review network.
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