Counseling is a career field that involves helping other people through something. That something could be a very difficult situation like alcohol or drug addiction or something more life-oriented such as helping someone choose a career. In order to become a counselor, you need a bachelor degree and then progress on to a master’s degree in counseling.
Preparing to Become a Counselor
If you plan to become a counselor, the best thing to do is choose an undergraduate college major that will benefit you as a counselor. Many aspiring counselors will choose to major in psychology. This major will give you a good background for most of the things a counselor will need to know. In addition, you can take pre-counseling courses. If you are very interested in community counseling or drug and alcohol recovery counseling, then social work is also a good major for a future counselor. You will need to make sure you have a good academic track record in order to be accepted to a good graduate program.
Counseling Degree Types
After completing an undergraduate degree, you can then proceed to a master’s degree in counseling. There are several different kinds of counseling degrees to choose from. A masters in mental health counseling is the most general type of counseling degree. You will learn how to use many different therapy techniques to serve a wide variety of clients. A masters in marriage and family therapy will teach you about interpersonal therapy, or how to help people develop and maintain healthy relationships. A school counseling masters teaches students to work with children in an academic setting. In a career counseling program, you will learn how to help people choose the correct career path and how to get there. Student services counseling programs are centered on helping college students through the college experience. Pediatric counseling programs will teach you to work specifically with children. This is just a small sampling of the multitude of counseling programs out there.
What to Expect in a Counseling Degree Program
Most counseling programs will have the same basic requirements and a few specialized requirements for the type of counseling you will want to focus on. Basic requirements will include courses in counseling theories, research methods, statistics, psychological testing, human development, and ethics. Most counseling programs require forty-eight hours semester hours of graduate study including an internship. Full-time students can complete their studies in two to three years. For specialized degrees such as school counseling, the program will focus heavily on how to counsel in schools. These type of programs will usually require you to have a specific state license in order to find work.
Most counseling programs are based on traditional college campuses and require regular class attendance. Classes in this format usually take between four and five months to complete. Some schools do offer counseling programs online, which is more flexible but requires more self-motivation and time management. What is most important when choosing a counseling program is to make sure that the program you choose meets the requirements for licensure in the state where you live. You cannot work as a counselor without state licensure.
Every state has their set of requirements for licensing counselors, but they are usually very similar. They require a set number of hours in counseling study, which your graduate program should provide. You will also need an internship of a certain length, which is usually a requirement of your master’s degree. The final step is a licensing exam. This is the only part that is not covered in a graduate school program. You are eligible to take the exam after you finish the required education and internship.
Once licensed, you may begin looking for jobs as a counselor.
Benefits of Being a Counselor
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, mental health counselors and marriage and family therapists make around $40,000 per year and will usually work in community counseling centers, hospitals, and even in private practice. School and career counselors make close to $53,000 a year and usually work in public and private elementary and secondary schools. However, they can also be found in colleges and careers centers. Substance abuse counselors make close to $38,000 a year and often work in community centers and prisons. Most counselors work full-time, which entitles them to employment benefits such as sick leave, vacation pay, and health insurance.
Most counselors find that the real benefits of counseling are not monetary, but emotional.
Counselors find great joy in helping others and strive to do their very best for every client. Counseling requires a genuine desire to help others. It can be the most rewarding experience to see your clients improve their quality of life. There are few occupations that can have such a direct impact on a person’s life.