Path to Becoming a Counselor
Earn a Bachelor’s Degree
The first step required to become a counselor is graduating from an accredited bachelor’s degree program. Most students on the path to professional counseling enroll in a Bachelor of Counseling or Bachelor of Psychology program, since both contain the necessary foundational knowledge for a career in this area. Bachelor’s degree options typically take around 4 years to complete and can be enrolled in traditionally or online.
Once the initial undergraduate degree program has been completed, upcoming professionals should then locate a Master’s in Counseling that has received proper accreditation. The Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP) is the agency of choice for accreditation of these programs, with most states requiring this type of accreditation for licensure.
Earn a Master’s Degree in Counseling
Master’s in Counseling programs can take around 2 years to complete on average, with some programs offering shorter or longer completion estimations depending on your needs. Master’s programs can also offer specialization options to help create the best training for your during your learning experience.
Some students may find it beneficial to consider even higher level college programs for their career. Doctoral degrees in Counseling are not required for entry into careers, but can be a good way for you to gain more knowledge and expertise about counseling as a tool for client success.
Consider a Doctorate Program
If you choose to move into a doctoral-level program, you should validate that your program has received accreditation from the American Psychological Association (APA). This agency has long been the most reliable resource for students interested in majors related to psychology and counseling.
Counseling can be a very influential service to its clients. In order to obtain your license, you may be required to engage in a clinical experience requirement that helps you learn from licensed professionals in your field.
Get Clinical Experience
The clinical experience requirement for most states lasts around 2 years, during which you can work with clients under the supervision of a licensed and approved supervisor. Some schools can assist you with locating a facility to engage in this experience, while others may assign you with the task for setting up a supervisor and clinical location.
Obtain State Licensure
Once you have completed all of the previous steps, you can apply for licensure as a counselor in your state. Part of this requirement involves a licensing examination, which will test your skills and abilities in your field.
Keeping Your Licensure with Continuing Education
As an added measure for ensuring your validity and expertise as a counseling professional, states also require that you take part in continuing education during your licensure. Most counselors attend conferences or take classes each year as a means for meeting this requirement within their state. Regular documentation and certificates of completion should be turned in to your licensing agency to fulfill this requirement.
Employment and Salary for Counselors
Licensed counselors can work in a tremendous variety of settings, including those focusing specifically on mental health. Counselors can work with individuals that are managing the symptoms of common mental health disorders like anxiety or depression, or even assist clients while they work through circumstances within their lives.
Counselors can also be found in schools, acting as mentors and guidance professionals for students. In this setting, counselors can work individually with different students on future planning and assist them with working through problems at school or home.
The setting for counseling professionals can be just as diverse as the earnings. Depending on the type of clients you work with and the organization you are employed with, you could see a wide range of earnings as you gain more experience in counseling. In the section below, you can view average salaries for professionals currently employed as counselors in different specialized areas.
Average Salary for Counselors
- Substance Abuse, Behavioral Disorder, and Mental Health Counselors: $44,360 on average per year (BLS).
- School and Career Counselors: $56,310 on average per year (BLS).
- Rehabilitation Counselors: $35,630 on average per year (BLS).
Skills Counselors Tend to Have
If you are interested in becoming a professional counselor, you should be aware of some of the skills that can set you on track for success in this field. Since counselors spend a lot of time talking to others about their lives and issues, upcoming professionals should begin with having great communication skills.
Other skills that can be beneficial for you to have are those that encourage research and insight, compassion, and positive social interaction. Providing counseling services to clients can be an extremely important tool that utilizes a broad range of skills from the provider.
Counseling Organizations to Know
Professional organizations in counseling can be a useful resource for new and existing counselors working with clients on a regular basis. Benefits to joining these organizations include access to new information and research in the field, communication with other licensed professionals, and provisions relating to job openings and conferences within your area.
The most popular professional organization for counselors is the American Counseling Association. This agency provides information for counselors in all fields, making a great general guide for you as you begin your new career.
Organizations focusing on specialized counseling fields are also available for you to consider, including the American Mental Health Counselors Association, the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapists, and the American School Counselor Association.