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What Courses Are Needed to Be a Counselor?

Depending on their specialty, counselors may offer students career guidance, help couples repair their relationships, or help addicts recover from substance abuse issues. Read on to discover what courses can prepare you for a variety of counseling careers.

Industry Overview

You may decide to work as guidance, career, rehabilitation, or mental health counselor, or perhaps as a marriage and family therapist, behavior specialist, or religious advisor. The education and courses you'll need to depend on the counseling career you want to pursue. Generally, you'll need to earn at least a master's degree in order to become licensed to practice counseling, but education and licensure requirements can vary by state and specialty.

Important Facts About Required Education for Counselors

Prerequisites High school diploma or GED equivalent
Online Availability Full online degree programs available
Concentrations Cognitive & brain sciences, social psychology, quantitative/psychometric methods
Continuing Education Ph.D. in Counselor Education and Supervision
Median Salary (2018) $56,310 (school and career counselors)
Job Outlook (2016-2026) 13% (school and career counselors)

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Baccalaureate Degree

If you decide to pursue a bachelor's degree to prepare for a career as a counselor, you can major in psychology, counseling, human services, or another related area. Through these programs, you can take courses designed to expose you to different counseling areas.

You'll also take classes that introduce you to the different fields of psychology, including research-oriented disciplines. You might study topics like:

  • Principles of psychology
  • Ethics
  • Multicultural issues in human services
  • Behavioral science research methods
  • Abnormal psychology
  • Psychology statistics
  • Psychology of disability
  • Childhood and adolescent development

Many programs in these areas offer internship opportunities, which can provide supervised introductory counseling experience.

Graduate Degree

The graduate-level courses you take will depend on your master's degree program. For example, if you enroll in a program that focuses on mental health, you can take classes on mental and emotional disorders, abnormal behavior, chemical dependency, and personality disorders. If you enroll in a program that focuses on school or vocational counseling, you'll take classes on the psychology of learning, career counseling, and adolescent psychology.

Regardless of the specialty, you're studying, you'll likely take courses that teach you the counseling techniques used in your discipline. Your program may also have research and clinical courses, where you'll get hands-on, supervised practice putting those techniques to use. Other common courses include:

  • Clinical assessment
  • Introduction to counseling
  • Individual counseling practice
  • Family therapy
  • Research design