CareerExplorer’s step-by-step guide on how to become a career counselor.
Is becoming a career counselor right for me?
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Regardless of the kind of counselor they wish to become, students are advised to seek out an education program that is accredited. State specifications vary, but many jurisdictions require that counselors hold a degree accredited by the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Education Programs (CACREP).
In general, accreditations focus on master’s and doctoral programs. However, aspiring counselors may also choose to earn their undergraduate degree at an institution with CACREP-accredited graduate programs.
Many schools do not offer specific undergraduate degrees in counseling. A psychology major is a typical entry point to the study of counseling. Other popular concentrations are sociology, anthropology, and social work.
Some universities offer a Bachelor of Science in Human Services, with emphasis on topics such as child and family welfare, gerontology, and human services administration. Examples of courses in such curricula include:
• Interpersonal Communications – communication in professional and personal situations
• Human Behavior and the Environment – the influence of family structures, institutions, and communities on human behavior
• Survey of Social Problems – the effects of social problems on individuals and society; potential solutions
• Prevention and Crisis Intervention – ethical prevention and intervention strategies in crisis situations involving youth, families, and the elderly in various settings
• Human Services and Social Policy – the relationships between social policies, government, and human services agencies
• Case Management in Human Services – approaches to planning and evaluating the services delivered to clients
• Statistics – collecting, organizing, summarizing, analyzing data using statistical software
• Introduction to Psychology – insights into human thought and behavior; ethical decisions; problem solving; theories on memory, learning, intelligence, and personality
When selecting a graduate degree program, it is essential to ensure that both the school and the specific program are accredited by the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Education Programs (CACREP). CACREP is recognized as an accrediting body by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA).
Here is a sample listing of master’s degrees in counseling:
• Master of Science in Counseling Studies
• Master of Science in Professional Counseling
• Master of Arts in Community Counseling
• Master of Arts in Rehabilitation Counseling
• Master of Arts in Counseling Psychology: Art Therapy
• Master of Science in Career Counseling
• Master of Science in Marriage and Family Counseling
Naturally, coursework varies from one degree program to another, but the following list provides insight into some core and major courses:
• Introduction to Addictions and Substance Use Disorders
• Professional Counseling Orientation and Ethics
• Counseling Theories
• Group Counseling Theory and Practice
• Social and Cultural Diversity Issues in Counseling
• Human Sexuality
• Aging and Long-Term Care
• Marriage and Family Therapy
• Spousal and Child Abuse
• Crisis and Trauma Counseling
• Tests and Appraisal in Counseling
• Career Development and Counseling
• Research Methods
• Diagnostics, Assessment and Treatment
• Psychopathology and Counseling
Master’s programs also have a practicum component, during which students observe and document how working professionals perform their job responsibilities. The practicum also provides them with opportunities to take what they have learned in the classroom and apply it in a supervised clinical setting.
Supervised Clinical Experience
Per each state’s requirements, future professional counselors must work a minimum number of hours in a clinical setting under board-approved supervision before they can sit for the licensing exam.
As a rule, students should expect to perform 3,000 hours of post-master’s counseling before taking the exam. Occasionally, a state will allow clinical hours to be completed during a master’s program, but this is not typical.
Licensure & Continuing Education
Generally, states require program graduates to take and pass the National Counselor Examination (NCE) and/or the National Clinical Health Counseling Examination (NCMHCE). Licensure for mental health counseling, for instance, entails both exams. Other requirements may also vary based on the counseling specialization.
Every state also has regulations regarding license maintenance and renewal. In general, the primary requirement is completion of accumulation of a specified number of education credits, obtained through formal classes, attendance at professional conferences, curriculum development, publication of books and/or journal articles related to the counseling field, and participation in other professional development activities.
Some counseling roles call for a doctoral degree, specifically positions as psychologists, university-level instructors, and counseling researchers.
Like master’s programs, doctoral programs are accredited by the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Education Programs (CACREP). Those that also receive accreditation from the American Psychological Association (APA) are among the most highly regarded in the country.