Education and training requirements for counselors are often very detailed
and vary by State and specialty, but a master�s degree usually is required to
become a licensed counselor. Prospective counselors should check with State and
local governments, prospective employers, and national voluntary certification
organizations to determine which requirements apply.
Education and training. Education
requirements vary with the occupational specialty and State licensure and
certification requirements. A master's degree usually is required to be licensed
or certified as a counselor. Counselor education programs in colleges and
universities often are found in departments of education, psychology, or human
services. Fields of study may include college student affairs, elementary or
secondary school counseling, education, gerontological counseling, marriage and
family therapy, substance abuse or addictions counseling, rehabilitation
counseling, agency or community counseling, clinical mental health counseling,
career counseling, and related fields. Courses frequently are grouped into core
areas, including human growth and development, social and cultural diversity,
relationships, group work, career development, counseling techniques,
assessment, research and program evaluation, and professional ethics and
identity. In an accredited master's degree program, 48 to 60 semester hours of
graduate study, including a period of supervised clinical experience in
counseling, typically are required.
Some employers provide training for newly hired counselors. Others may offer
time off or tuition assistance to complete a graduate degree. Often, counselors
must participate in graduate studies, workshops, and personal studies to
maintain their certificates and licenses.
Licensure. Licensure requirements differ
greatly by State, occupational specialty, and work setting. Some States require
school counselors to hold a State school counseling certification and to have
completed at least some graduate coursework; most require the completion of a
master's degree. Some States require school counselors to be licensed, which
generally entails completing continuing education credits. Some States require
public school counselors to have both counseling and teaching certificates and
to have had some teaching experience.
For counselors based outside of schools, 49 States and the District of
Columbia have some form of counselor licensure that governs the practice of
counseling. In addition, all 50 States and the District of Columbia have some
licensure requirement for marriage and family therapists. Requirements for both
counselors and marriage and family therapists typically include the completion
of a master's degree in counseling or marriage and family therapy, the
accumulation of 2 years or 3,000 hours of supervised clinical experience beyond
the master's degree level, the passage of a State-recognized exam, adherence to
ethical codes and standards, and the completion of annual continuing education
credits. However, counselors working in certain settings or in a particular
specialty may face different licensure requirements. For example, a career
counselor working in private practice may need a license, but a counselor
working for a college career center may not. In addition, substance abuse and
behavior disorder counselors generally are governed by a different State agency
or board than are other counselors. The criteria for their licensure can vary
greatly, and in some cases these counselors may need only a high school diploma
and certification. Those interested in entering the field must research State
and specialty requirements to determine what qualifications are necessary.
Other qualifications. People interested in
counseling should have a strong desire to help others and should be able to
inspire respect, trust, and confidence. They should be able to work
independently or as part of a team. Counselors must follow the code of ethics
associated with their respective certifications and licenses.
Counselors must possess high physical and emotional energy to handle the
array of problems that they address. Dealing daily with these problems can cause
Certification and advancement. Some
counselors elect to be certified by the National Board for Certified Counselors,
which grants a general practice credential of National Certified Counselor. This
national certification is voluntary and is distinct from State licensing.
However, in some States, those who pass the national exam are exempt from taking
a State certification exam. The board also offers specialty certifications in
school, clinical mental health, and addiction counseling.
The Commission on Rehabilitation Counselor Certification offers voluntary
national certification for rehabilitation counselors. Many State and local
governments and other employers require rehabilitation counselors to have this
certification. To become certified, rehabilitation counselors usually must
graduate from an accredited educational program, complete an internship, and
pass a written examination. Certification requirements vary, however, according
to an applicant's educational history. Employment experience, for example, is
required for those with a counseling degree in a specialty other than
rehabilitation. To maintain their certification, counselors must successfully
retake the certification exam or complete 100 credit hours of acceptable
continuing education every 5 years.
Other counseling organizations also offer certification in particular
counseling specialties. Usually, becoming certified is voluntary, but having
certification may enhance one's job prospects.
Prospects for advancement vary by counseling field. School counselors can
become directors or supervisors of counseling, guidance, or pupil personnel
services; or, usually with further graduate education, they may become counselor
educators, counseling psychologists, or school administrators. Some
counselors choose to work for a State's department of education.
Some marriage and family therapists, especially those with doctorates in
family therapy, become supervisors, teachers, researchers, or advanced
clinicians in the discipline. Counselors also may become supervisors or
administrators in their agencies. Some counselors move into research,
consulting, or college teaching or go into private or group practice. Some may
choose to pursue a doctoral degree to improve their chances for advancement.
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor,
Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2010-11 Edition
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Counselor Job Outlook