What Are the Education Requirements for Counseling Careers?

There are many different types of counseling jobs available. For example, you could become a school counselor, marriage and family therapist, mental health counselor, rehabilitation counselor or substance abuse counselor. Read on to learn about the different requirements to be a counselor and see if one of these positions is right for you. Schools offering Mental Health Counseling degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

Overview of Career Options

Counseling careers are available in several different disciplines with different types of clients. Depending on your specific skills and interests, you might be geared toward a particular sub-field within counseling. For example, if you see yourself working in the public school system, helping students determine their academic interests and goals, then you may wish to work as a school counselor.

If a clinical path is more suited to your aspirations, you might consider becoming a mental health counselor. Perhaps you'd like to help couples or families resolve their issues as a marriage and family therapist. Some other counseling specialties you could pursue include career/vocational counseling, rehabilitation counseling, substance abuse counseling and behavioral disorder counseling. For most of these careers, you need graduate-level training.

Important Facts About Counseling Careers

Key Skills Patience, effective communication, proper organization and time management
Similar Occupations Teaching, tutoring, phone services, writing
Work Environment Office and/or classroom setting
Median Salary (2015) $43,942

Source: Payscale.com

School Counselor

If you would like to become a school counselor, you need to earn a master's degree in school counseling or in general counseling with an emphasis on school counseling, and then secure state licensure if you plan to work in a public school. Some states specify that the master's degree program needs to include a designated number of hours of clinical experience. Additionally, you may need to gain experience under a provisional license before applying for full school counselor licensure. Courses in a master's degree program in school counseling often include topics in educational psychology, career counseling, professional ethics, guidance counseling techniques and group dynamics.

Depending on your state, if you plan to work in a public school you may need to be licensed as a teacher before you can get licensed or certified as a counselor. You can also expect to undergo a criminal background check in most states.

Mental Health Counselor

If you would like to work in clinical settings helping people overcome anxiety, depression and other mental problems, a career as a mental health counselor may be for you. This position typically requires you to complete a master's degree program in mental health counseling or a closely related area. Mental health counseling programs often include coursework in human growth and development, psychopathology, group counseling, client assessment and client diagnostics. You also need to secure licensure to work. While requirements vary by state, you'll generally need to complete between 2,000 and 4,000 hours of supervised clinical experience.

Marriage and Family Therapist

Marriage and family therapists are also required to secure licensure before practicing; this requires completing a graduate program and completing a clinical experience or practicum period. Most states require that your graduate degree program meets standards set by the states for licensure, so if you study in a state other than the one in which you wish to work, you may need to complete additional coursework.

Marriage and family therapy master's degree programs include general courses in areas like psychology, psychotherapy and counseling techniques, as well as coursework in specific areas, such as child abuse, drug and alcohol abuse, spousal abuse and human sexuality. In addition, you can expect to complete between 2,000 and 4,000 hours of clinical experience after completing your degree. Other requirements include taking continuing education classes and passing your state's licensure exam.

Substance Abuse Counselor

The educational requirements for substance abuse counselors vary more considerably from state to state than for other types of counselors. Some states allow you to be hired as a substance abuse counselor as long as you have graduated high school and completed coursework in specific areas of counseling and hours of supervised clinical experience; other states require you to have a master's degree. On-the-job training is usually needed for those with just a high school diploma.

Substance abuse counseling programs are available at both the undergraduate and graduate levels. Common courses in these programs include group counseling, family dynamics, interventions, 1-on-1 counseling techniques and substance abuse treatments. Prospective substance abuse counselors often need to complete a clinical experience in order to qualify for licensure. Similarly, some states have varying levels of substance abuse counselor licensure or certification, and you must advance from one rung to the next.

Rehabilitation Counselor

Becoming a rehabilitation counselor usually requires earning a rehabilitation counseling master's degree. You can expect to learn about mental health counseling techniques and skills, job placement strategies and disabilities. In addition, there is usually an internship you have to complete. With a bachelor's degree in the field, you might be able to offer limited rehabilitation counseling services.

While you may not need certification for offering job placement assistance, your state may require you to become licensed or certified if you offer mental health counseling services. To become licensed, between 2,000 and 4,000 clinical experience hours are usually needed, as well as a master's degree. You also have to pass your state's exam and meet continuing education requirements. There are also optional certifications you can pursue if you can meet the work experience and education requirements, such as the Certified Rehabilitation Counselor (CRC) certification.

To continue researching, browse degree options below for course curriculum, prerequisites and financial aid information. Or, learn more about the subject by reading the related articles below:

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