How Can I Become a Community Counselor?

Explore the career requirements for community counselors. Get the facts about job duties, education requirements, professional licensure and the employment outlook to determine if this is the right field for you. Schools offering Medical Social Work degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Is a Community Counselor?

Community counselors work with individuals, groups or families struggling with ordeals or issues related to mental health, family or relationships. Those working in rehab centers provide multi-level guidance and support to disabled/injured persons in recovery. Community counselors specializing in mental health work to improve clients' behavior, thoughts and emotions. They address a number of problems such as addiction, depression and stress.

The following chart gives you an overview of what you need to know about entering this field.

Degree Required Master's degree
Key Responsibilities Assist clients through difficult life events
Coordinate client treatment with other healthcare professionals
License Required Licensure/certification (requirements vary by state)
Training Required Internship/residency
Projected Job Outlook (2014-2024)* 10% for community and social service occupations
Average Annual Salary (2015)* $42,010 for community and social service occupations

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS)

What Activities Would I Perform as a Community Counselor?

Your job duties depend on your position title and where you work. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), you may work as a rehabilitation, mental health or substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselor, among other related positions.

As a rehabilitation counselor, you assist clients with a variety of disabilities; these may include conditions they have had since birth and those acquired due to accidents and other traumas. General duties for this type of position include assessing client needs, providing vocational counseling and developing individualized programs for independent living. You may also develop working relationships with service providers and serve as an advocate for the client and their family.

As a mental health counselor, you may work with clients and their families to address issues related to addiction, depression, grief, suicide and stress, among others. You may also provide educational and career counseling as well as community outreach and client advocacy. As a substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselor, you work with individuals, groups and families to assist with prevention, treatment and recovery for addictions that include drugs and eating disorders or behaviors such as compulsive gambling.

What Other Types of Related Positions Are Available to Me?

The BLS states that, as a health educator, you'll most likely be employed by the government or a government-sponsored program; this includes positions with nonprofit agencies and organizations. This career may require you to obtain and distribute resources, create and hand out informational materials and organize and provide lectures on public health issues. Other activities include setting up health screenings and serving on policy and other types of community-oriented committees.

Other mental health position titles, according to O*Net OnLine, include correctional counselor, case manager, mental health program specialist and child care counselor. Another O*Net OnLine search indicated that similar positions include clinical social worker, mental health therapist and community support worker.

What Qualifications Will I Need to Meet?

Employers generally require a master's degree, but this varies by specialty and according to state regulations. The BLS indicates that entry-level positions usually require a bachelor's degree with some prior experience; volunteer experience may be acceptable in some cases. If you are interested in becoming a health educator, the BLS states that you would need a degree in health education.

Do I Need a License or Certification?

In order to become a licensed counselor, the BLS states that you need a master's degree. Since each state has its own licensing and certification requirements, it is important for you to determine your state's requirements. If you are interested in pursuing an advanced degree, then the BLS suggests you should focus on community or public health education. If you already have a degree in psychology, for example, you may want to consider a master's degree in public health.

Public health is a broad field with many specialties. The BLS lists gerontology, substance abuse counseling, rehabilitation counseling, career counseling and community counseling among others. Although some employers offer on-the-job training and employer-sponsored courses, the BLS indicates that prior to being hired, you may have to complete a supervised internship.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

Another counseling job may be in the school and career sector. School and career counselors help students or job-seekers find their skills and make academic/occupational decisions. They need a master's degree and a state-issued credential. Probation officers and correctional treatment specialists also help people commit to positive courses of action. They work with past offenders to keep them from committing crimes. A bachelor's degree is needed in this field.

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