How to Become a Counselor: Step-By-Step Career Guide

The field of counseling can be a great place to earn an education and positively influence the lives of others. If you have come to this page for more information about pursuing a career in this specialized area of counseling, you can find the information you need in the guide below.

Our team of educational experts have searched reliable resources in an effort to provide you with more insight into counseling from start to finish.

It is important to consider the entire educational and training path for your future career before ever enrolling in your first degree program. Whether you are just graduating from high school or in a career and seeking a field change, there are methods available for you to consider for certification in the field of counseling.

Educational programs, training requirements, and accreditation are just a few of the topics that will be discussed in this guide, which can help you identify which programs might be a better fit for the job you desire.

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.

Consider an online counseling program: School counselors help students overcome obstacles and shape successful futures. Walden’s online MS in School Counseling program will give you a solid foundation in school counseling theories, approaches, and best practices while enabling you to gain hands-on experience. Learn more.
Online Counseling Programs At Walden
Search More Schools

Steps to Becoming a Counselor

1. Earn a Bachelor’s Degree in Counseling or Psychology

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.

View Online CACREP accredited counseling programs

2. Identify Key Specializations and Areas of Interest

Before moving forward to your graduate studies, it's key that you consider what type of counselor you'd like to be in your career.

There are many specialization options for counselors, including:

  • Marriage and family counseling
  • School counseling
  • Grief counseling
  • Addiction counseling
  • Career guidance counseling

If you're not sure what type of counseling specialization is the right fit for you, you have options. You can choose to enroll in a general counseling graduate program and choose a specialization down the line (or you can practice as a general therapist). You can also reach out to local counselors and ask if they'd be willing to sit down with you and describe their specialization, allowing you to gain insight into whether their counseling niche may be the right fit for you.

3. Pursue 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 estimates depending on your needs. Master’s programs can also offer specialization options to help create the best training for you 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.

4. Complete Practicum or Internship Hours

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. This experience can also provide you with additional insight into what counseling specialization might be the right fit for your interests.

5. Earn a Counseling Licensure or Certification

Requirements for state licensure depend on your location, and it's important to be aware of what you'll need to do in order to practice as a therapist. Part of this requirement involves a licensing examination, which will test your skills and abilities in your field. You may take this test as a part of your master's degree program, or you may need to wait until your clinical experience hours are complete in order to test and gain your license to practice as a counselor.

If you're considering moving to another state or would like to be certified in more than one state for other reasons (such as practicing online), be sure to stay informed of licensing requirements so that you can begin practicing independently as soon as possible.

🗪 Consider: The Counseling Licensure Guide is a good start to understanding different licensure options for professional counselors.

6. Fulfill Any Remaining State Requirements

Sometimes, requirements for counselors change according to new research and regulations. It's important that you stay informed of changes in your state so that you're able to maintain your license. Joining a professional organization for counselors can be helpful to make sure you're informed of changes in the field that could affect your license.

7. Advance Your Knowledge and Expertise Through a Doctorate and/or Continual Learning

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.

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.

Consider a Featured Online Counseling Program

☰ For detailed degree information, view the guides to:
Online CACREP Accredited programs | Online MPCAC Accredited programs

Get Your Counseling Questions Answered: How Long Does It Take to Become a Counselor?"

What Do Counselors Do?

Counselors work to help people develop coping skills, deal with difficult situations, work through trauma, and more. Some counselors work with children while others work with adults. Many counselors have a specialization (such as addiction counseling), while others are open to working with all clients.

While many counselors work with clients in individual sessions, others conduct family and group therapy sessions where they work to facilitate conversation and understanding. In addition to practicing, some counselors also work in research, contributing to the advancement of best practices in the field.

What's the Difference Between a Counselor and a Psychiatrist?

A counselor works to help people develop coping strategies and skills that can support their mental health. A psychiatrist does some counseling, but also is a medical doctor who is licensed to prescribe medication for mental health disorders.

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 have 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

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.

Top Masters in Counseling Programs

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.

Online Counseling Programs

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

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.

Still Looking For A Counseling Degree?

Here are some of the most popular online counseling programs. On each page you will find a detailed write-up of the program, specific courses, and schools that offer that program that are currently accepting applicants.

Counseling Career Guide

Still Looking for a Counseling Degree?

Here are some of the most popular online counseling programs. On each page you will find a detailed write-up of the program, specific courses, and schools that offer that program that are currently accepting applicants.

© 2024 Counseling Degrees Online | About | Schools by State | Privacy Policy & Terms