When considering a career in counseling, you need to first and foremost understand educational requirements (which we detail below). Generally speaking, most counselors work their way to a Master of Counseling degree and licensure. Even if you are studying in an undergraduate program like a Bachelor of Counseling, you can start to lay the foundation for your future.
Education Requirements for Counselors
The state you live in may have specific requirements for you to abide by in order to become licensed as a counselor.
The minimum degree requirement for licensed counselors in the U.S. is a master's degree, which should have a major in counseling or a specific counseling-related field. Some colleges offer specialized programs such as Clinical Mental Health Counseling or School Counseling, which would be excellent options for students intrigued by counseling within certain settings.
Some doctoral level programs may also be useful for upcoming master's degree holders, which could provide access to specialized areas such as Counselor Education and Supervision. Depending on what role you would like to obtain as a professional in this field, master's or doctoral degree programs could be what you need to get the job you dream about.
How Long Does it Take to Become a Counselor?
Before you ever consider enrollment into a Master's in Counseling program, you should completed an undergraduate degree program in counseling, psychology, or other related field. The bachelors program consists of topics that act as a foundation for future degree programs and can take around 4 years for students to complete.
The next step on your path is a master's program. Master's degrees can take anywhere from 1-3 years to complete for most students, depending on the institution attended, the rate of classes taken, and a student's enrollment status. Choosing the quickest route can have you finishing your educational requirements within 5-6 years.
Types of Counseling Licensure
- Counseling Licensure Guide
- State Counseling Licensure
- What It Takes to Become a Counselor
- LPC: Licensed Professional Counselor
- LFMT: Family and Marriage Therapist
- LCSW: Licensed Clinical Social Worker
- LMHC: Licensed Mental Health Counselor
- CCMHC: Certified Clinical Mental Health Counselor
- MAC: Master Addictions Counselor
- BCBA: Board Certified Behavior Analyst
- NCC: National Certified Counselor
- NCSC: National Certified School Counselor
- LCPC: Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor
- LPCC: Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor
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Clinical Experience for Becoming a LPC
Completing your educational requirements is not the final step towards becoming a Licensed Professional Counselor. Beginning in your graduate program, you may be expected to start your clinical experience requirement that is needed for licensing.
Note: Some schools can assist you with locating a placement for this experience, while others may leave it up to you to set up your experience with mental health agencies within your community.
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Since many counseling agencies allow master's students to practice under the supervision of a licensed counselor, this could be a great opportunity for you to gain experience and the agency to gain additional workers for their everyday demand.
The supervised experience requirement for most states is around 1,000 hours of direct experience under a licensed supervisor. While most of the work performed during this experience is with clients in the field, at least 100 hours must be completed with the supervisor present and observing. The entire experience requirement totals to 2 years for students engaging at the maximum rate.
Different Types of Counselors
Counseling is a field that can be very beneficial for a wide range of people for different purposes. Receiving your degree in counseling can potentially open up doors into different sectors of the counseling field, such as in specific areas in education or mental health.
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Most graduates interested in pursuing a specialized field in counseling will first receive their degree and then move into certification programs to learn more about practice in that area. There are many different popular options for you to review prior to making a final decision about which type of counseling would be the most fitting for you. Take a look at some common counseling options listed below.
- Mental Health Counselor
- School Counselor
- Substance Abuse Counselor
- Marriage and Family Counselor
- Grief Counselor
- Career Counselor
- Trauma and Crisis Counselor
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.