How to Become a Counselor: Counseling Careers and Degrees

Counseling is not a career that most people think about when they are a child. It is also not a profession that is depicted as glamorous or exciting. Most people are not aware that there are many benefits to becoming a counselor including assisting people rebuild their lives, multiple career opportunities in many industries, as well as attractive compensation. If this idea sounds appealing to you, continue reading to find out how to become a counselor.

First and foremost, a counselor should possess the intrinsic character traits that make a good counselor. Some personality traits can be developed over time, during graduate school, or through an internship at a hospital or prison, or through private practice. Many people are inherently born with these skills and will naturally gravitate to a career to assist others. For instance, a good counselor will be caring and compassionate.

Effective therapists are able to relate well to their patients and empathize with their client’s pain and psychological issues. They are not judgmental which will make the client more apt to disclose the difficulties she faces. Listening skills are essential in this job as the professional will must be able to identify problems or areas of assistance in order to formulate a strategy or treatment plan. The counselor should be emotionally stable and aware of her own prejudices and bias, so as not to impose them onto her patients. Being self-aware is an important skill in order to effectively interact with patients. Counselors need to have strong interpersonal skills with the ability to communicate verbally and in written form. Lastly, a good counselor should be open-minded and tolerant of other people’s values and views. They should be open to new ideas and research and accept challenging situations.

People who want to become a counselor will need to be patient being that some forms of therapy can take a significant amount of time. A counselor should never rush a client through therapy; they should avoid feelings of frustration and blame. A good counselor will convey confidence in her client’s abilities to solve their problem to make the changes they need in their life. Most importantly, a counselor should be ethical, moral, and law-abiding. Depending on the counseling specialty, sessions should remain confidential. This level of trust and moral behavior is critical to develop a successful counseling relationship. Schools and college courses will teach counseling students the importance of ethical and moral behavior when working in the counseling field. In addition, many counselors have to work within state regulations which hold them to certain practices in the field. A counselor’s license may be revoked if they do not follow the law.

Counseling Careers

A good counselor will help patients pinpoint obstacles in their way and suggest behavioral changes to overcome them. If these obstacles are uncontrollable, the counselor will teach the patient mechanisms to cope with the situation. An effective counselor will be able to identify signs of mental illness and be able to compose a treatment plan. Counselors will be honest with their patients and let them know ways they can improve troublesome relationships through effective communication.

Most importantly, if you are wondering how to become a counselor, you need to know that this career path begins with a good education. Each state has different practicing requirements, but a master’s degree in counseling or psychology fulfills only the minimum expectations of potential employers. There are a myriad of job opportunities in the field, with the best counseling and highest paying jobs going to people with the most education and experience. Most counselors work in healthcare, substance abuse, education, or social service settings.

How to Earn Your Counseling Degree Online

Once you know that you’d like to pursue a career in counseling, you’ll need to learn about the various types of counseling specialties that exist. The counseling profession is very broad, so deciding if you’d like to specialize in mental health counseling, substance abuse counseling, guidance counseling, community or rehabilitation counseling, or school and vocational counseling must be decided. Exploring career options is an exciting task, however it can be somewhat daunting; so be patient when making your decision. Take lots of time to find out about the profession to determine if it suits your personal interests and personality. For instance, a mental health counselor will be involved in helping people who have emotional and psychological disorders. Counselors may provide therapy to depressed individuals or to people who struggle with substance abuse. In contrast, a school counselor may work with children or adults to assist with career development or personal situations affecting them academically. Both counselors will serve a different audience, so take into consideration your tolerance and inherent desire to help in the occupation you choose. Once you have decided on the profession to pursue, you should evaluate the types of education and training you’ll need.

Besides the traditional classroom approach to receiving a degree, the online counseling degree option does exist. More and more people are pursuing this option because of the benefits it provides. Although some substance abuse jobs only require a bachelor’s degree to practice, most counseling jobs require a m aster’s degree or doctorate from a Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP) accredited program. Once the formal education requirements are fulfilled, most states will also require licensure or certification. A popular certificate is granted by the National Board for Certified Counselors, (NBCC) to counselors who have completed a graduate degree and two years of work experience in the field. The mental health profession grants similar certificates to certify the skills and knowledge of counselors.

A counseling degree online can prepare different types of therapists including the clinical psychologist (PhD, EdD or PsyD), the psychiatrist (MD), Psychoanalyst (MD or PhD), licensed social worker (LSW,MA, PhD), School Psychologist or Marriage, Family, and Child Counselor. To find the right school for you, look not only at the specialty and your personality preferences but also the requirements of the profession and the school. Prerequisites and time to completion will vary. Cost will also be a factor. Some online schools may require on-site residency or internships; so research if you have the time and commitment for this. Most importantly, will you have the resources, motivation, and discipline to complete an online degree?

An online counseling degree will require good time management and organizational skills. While if offers the flexibility in scheduling, the student must be committed to completing assignments on time. While there is some cost savings involved in pursuing a degree online, some programs will require an online presence for residencies and internships. Some “hybrid” schools may provide most courses online, but may require the student to attend classroom-based instruction once or twice a month. Not all schools and programs are accredited. Depending on the degree you are pursuing, some states mandate completion from an accredited program before offering licensure. There are different types of accreditation. If you are not sure of the types of accreditation, check websites, such as Guide to Online Schools ( for information.

To find the best programs read articles and interviews by actual students. Student reviews offer the best way to learn about a program before enrolling. Look at a school’s ratings and student-to-faculty ratio. Also, research the total cost of your education. Many schools offer scholarships, internships, and assistant teaching opportunities to assist students with their expenses.

Psychology Degrees USA: Counselor Salary

In the United States, there are so many colleges from which to choose. How do you know which one is the best for you since most undergraduate courses are the same at each school? The decision will come down to choosing a school that fits your personal needs and interests. It’s probably best for you to visit each school to find out if you feel comfortable and if you will be challenged there. If you have the time, you might want to sit in a lecture or two to see if the teaching styles of the faculty suits your learning needs. Decide if you feel comfortable in lecture-style classrooms or if you prefer smaller class sizes. Large universities will typically have larger undergraduate classes than a private university or college.

For the student seeking to major in psychology, you will find that schools are ranked by the value of the education they provide, potential employability, and school facilities. When choosing an undergraduate program, you will want to make sure that you find a school that will prepare you for the future. A counselor salary correlates to how prepared you are to work in the field. Most students will choose an accredited program that will lay the groundwork for an eventual graduate degree.

Counselor Salary

That is not to say that programs that are not in the “top” ten may not suit you. When choosing a school, find a program based on the specialty of the program and description of its curriculum. The American Counseling Association,, can provide general information about counseling and specialties areas, such as school, college, mental health, rehabilitation, multicultural, career, marriage and family, and gerontology.

Once you have determined your specialty, research the education that is needed and the licensing requirements. Before applying to a program, get a summary of the possible career opportunities in the career and the salary outlook for the role. Many websites and resources provide the background information that you will need to narrow down your decisions. Sites such as,, provide the profiles on programs, locations, climates, and salary projections for psychology specialties. Websites such as,, and the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) provide valuable information on projected economic trends in the field. According to the BLS, the average annual counselor salary for people in education and vocational services is about $51,000. The low end of the salary range is $38,000, and the high end is $65,000. School counselors can earn more money by working in the summer. Counselor jobs can be found in state and local government, residential facilities, and private practice.

The Council for Accreditation and Counseling and Related Educational Programs,, provides helpful information about the profession and continued education. The National Board for Certified Counselors,, provides information on national certification requirements for counselors.

In addition, check your state departments of education which can provide information on colleges and universities that meet state certification and licensure requirements. You may also want to check with your state employment service offices for job opportunities and entrance requirements for counselors.

There are many resources to help you choose about the college you will attend. Locate schools and programs within your city or state. Depending on what area of counseling you choose to pursue, you might find a certificate program at a two-year college to help you get started in the profession. If you have the time to invest four to eight years in graduate training, you may want to become a licensed social worker or counselor. Salaries and job opportunities will increase as you further your education. Some clinical social workers can provide therapy after completing a master’s degree, two years of clinical training, and receiving a license to practice psychotherapy. A counselor degree is diverse and varied. Students who choose this profession have many options to explore.

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