Thinking About a Career in Counseling – Explore The Options -- Jan 15
Counseling is a varied and interesting career path and is especially rewarding for those that love helping and working with different people.

The term counseling broadly covers a wide range of areas and if you are considering a career in this field, specializing is a great way to hone your skills and job opportunities. Counselors also work in a variety of industries, including public and private sectors, and the type of situations and experiences you encounter are continually changing day today.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average pay in this area is $46,240 per year, and the projected growth in the industry is 25%, which is much higher than the average. There are many factors that determine pay in each state, and private practice may offer an opportunity to earn higher wages than the average over time.

What is a counselor?

The American Counseling Association (ACA) defines a counselor as some that "empowers diverse individuals, families, and groups to accomplish mental health, wellness, education, and career goals."

This type of role develops a relationship with the client to help them navigate and deal with a variety of issues that may affect everyday lifestyles. The job entails using methods such as communication, coping techniques, self-esteem management, and goal setting to improve outlook and encourage positive behaviors.

What qualifications do you need to become a counselor?

To become a counselor in any capacity, individuals will require a range of qualifications and a license to practice. Each state has varying requirements. However, every counselor requires a permit to offer services legally.

Whatever path you choose, a licensed counselor must hold a masters in counseling or a doctoral degree in counseling from an accredited institution. Once qualified, the training and qualifications don't stop there. Clinical practice and ongoing professional development are also needed to ensure you are up to date with the latest medical and legal aspects of the job.

How long does it take to become a licensed counselor?

If you've decided to move forward with a career in counseling, it's essential to know that the path can take anywhere between three to five years minimum. This time includes undertaking a masters in counseling, completing internship training, and getting licensed.

Each state may also have different requirements, such as how much supervised post-degree experience you have and minimum clinical expertise.

Getting a masters in counseling

The first step to pursuing a career in this field is undertaking a masters in counseling. There are many ways to obtain this qualification, including traditional lesson based learning and online masters in counseling degree options. Online degrees can also offer an accelerated degree, which can cut study time down to as little as 18 months. However, many traditional routes take around three years to complete.

A masters in counseling will give you the direction you need to choose the type of career or area of counseling you want to practice in. Depending on the curriculum you choose, you could go down the path of Master of Science, Master of Education, or Master of Arts. Some states require the degree from specific institutions, so it's best to check where the degree is accredited.

The Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Education Programs (CACREP) is the main body for accrediting masters in counseling and doctoral courses. This organization also accredits online programs alongside brick and mortar college qualifications.

Internships and training

Alongside qualifications, individuals also require practice experience. This is typically conducted in an internship environment, as work is supervised by a qualified and licensed professional. Before you get a license, a minimum number of hours of work experience need to be carried out. This can range from between 100 and 300 hours for practicum environments and 600 hours for internship roles.

Each state has different requirements, so it is best to check what you need to meet these. Some states will also require post-graduate training hours to be completed before licensing.

What counseling areas can I work in?

There are several areas that a counselor can specialize in. Before you look at careers, it's essential to understand the different types of counseling that is practiced. By looking at the types, you can then decide what job would suit your preferences.

Types of counseling

Individual counseling

As the name suggests, a counselor works one to one with a client to support and help work through challenging periods in the client's life. This is an individualized approach and often includes working with clients that are experiencing mental health issues, substance abuse, and life changes.

Couples therapy

Couples counseling is another specialization to explore. A counselor will work with couples to improve the bonds in a relationship and resolve conflicts that could be stopping each person from moving forward.

Group counseling

Group counseling is a practice that involves working with a variety of people experiencing similar issues. Common group therapy sessions include working with individuals to address substance abuse, anger management, trauma, and grief.

Family therapy

In this area, counselors work with families to help a range of issues within the group. Families can have very different views on experiences and issues within the unit, so working to determine coping strategies and communication is vital. In some cases, this practice may include working with the family together or individuals in the group.

These four main types of counseling have different approaches and techniques to overcome obstacles in the client's life. By choosing a niche, you can hone your skills in the area to provide the best and most positive experience for everyone.

Types of counseling careers

There are a variety of career options that take into consideration the above types of counseling. Take a look at some of the most common to help you decide on the best route to take:

Mental health counselor

You might be surprised to hear that according to the National Institute of Mental Health, approximately 51.5 million adults were diagnosed with some form of mental disorder in 2019. However, only around 44.8% of the diagnosed adults in the United States received help for these conditions.

As a mental health counselor, the role involves helping people with diagnosed disorders treat and cope with the issues they experience. Mental illnesses can affect people at any age, so working with all ages is a part of this job. The main aspects of this role include using psychotherapy techniques alongside problem-solving to achieve the best outcomes for clients, whether that's an individual suffering from substance abuse or a family in turmoil.

To become a mental health counselor, you need to hold a masters in counseling, and specializing in your degree can help prepare you for this area. Work experience via internship and practice hours is also vital to obtain a license.

School counselor

This role is sometimes known as a guidance counselor and plays a vital part in supporting children throughout their education. Children in this setting experience a wide range of emotions and challenges throughout their school life, and this job provides a safe and open place for pupils to talk about these issues. By collaborating with students and faculty, you will also work to improve both students' and schools' lifestyles and achievements.

A bachelor's degree in social science or education is typically required to pursue a career in a school counseling role. Alongside this, a masters in counseling with a specific focus on education settings is needed. These qualifications prepare you for the environment, and you'll learn the fundamentals of human behaviors, mental disorders, and counseling ethics.

Military counselor

Life in the armed forces is a mentally challenging experience. While there are positives of the endeavors of a life in the military, there are also very difficult and traumatizing aspects that many individuals experience.

As a military counselor, you work with a range of personnel, veterans, and family members to support their time throughout their career and when moving into civilian life. The U.S military employs many different roles, including counselors, caseworkers, and psychologists at various levels throughout units to support teams and families. The role of a military counselor is varied and may involve individual counseling, group therapy, and family counseling aspects.

To become a military counselor, a masters in counseling with a military focus is required. Work experience is also vital to gain a license. In this career, you will also undertake further training and development to ensure you are up to date with changes in government and military trends.

Rehabilitation counselor

There are many people living with debilitating issues throughout the United States. These disorders can be both physical and mental, and a rehabilitation counselor works with individuals to develop coping strategies to support independent living.

Rehabilitation can come in many forms, and often professionals collaborate with other services such as social care, mental health counselors, and physiotherapists to provide the best care for patients. This role has been described by the Commission on Rehabilitation Counseling Certification (CRCC) as providing analysis and diagnostic information on mental, emotional, or behavioral conditions of their clients in order to develop an appropriate treatment plan for adjustment or healthy development.

For this career option, you need a masters in counseling, which should focus on rehabilitation. Plus, you'll also need relevant experience and internship after you've completed the masters in counseling degree.

Grief counselor

Grief affects people in different ways, and sometimes individuals find it hard to cope with a range of factors such as loss, terminal illness, and divorce. These issues can start to affect everyday life and prevent obstacles that prevent moving on from the situation. As a grief counselor, you will be a specialist in helping patients in these circumstances.

In this role, you guide and support clients to address and cope with their grief and help them develop strategies to move forward. The main factor in this job is allowing people to accept loss and helping to avoid deeper states of distress that could lead to depression. Grief counselors often work in one to one settings and also provide group therapy and family counseling.

As with any counseling role, a masters in counseling is a prerequisite to pursuing a career in this field. Focusing on specialized subjects such as grief and human behaviors is essential, and this degree will open up learning into psychology and human development, among other areas.

Substance abuse counselor

Substance abuse is a prevalent area of study for aspiring counselors. Unfortunately, many people experience issues in this area across the United States. In a 2018 survey conducted by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Service Administration, it was estimated 20.3 million people aged 12 and over had a substance abuse issue (drugs and/or alcohol). Prolonged abuse of these substances can also lead to further problems such as depression and anxiety.

As a substance abuse counselor, you work with clients to evaluate their mental and physical state to ensure they are ready for suitable treatment. By supporting and building a relationship with patients, you develop preventative measures to improve the recovery process.

To be a licensed substance abuse counselor, a masters in counseling is required. Work experience and a post-graduate internship is also a prerequisite. This role is employed both in the private and public sectors and works with a range of health organizations to support rehabilitation.

Job outlook in the sector

The call for counselors is high due to the significant number of people experiencing mental and physical health disorders. In all careers, individuals must study a minimum masters in counseling qualification to become registered to practice legally.

The work environment in this role typically includes community health centers, private practices, and public medical facilities. However, there is also a growing requirement for people that hold a masters in counseling and relevant experiences in the commercial sector, such as career counselors and wellbeing advocates.

Studying for a masters in counseling can also open up opportunities in education in schools and colleges and provides job prospects in specialist medical fields such as psychology and social care.

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