Professional Counseling as a Career Choice
What is professional counseling? Counseling is a professional relationship that empowers diverse individuals, families, and groups to accomplish mental health, wellness, education, and career goals.
People have many different reasons for deciding they want to become a counselor. Some people choose this career because they once had a good experience with a counselor during a difficult time in their own life and they want to “pay it forward.” Another person may have done some volunteer work at a crisis hotline and realized that they enjoyed both the challenges and joys of working with clients facing difficult times. Yet another person may have been told that they are a good listener and they ought to consider working as a mental health professional.
“I have always desired to become a counselor since I was five years old. I have always loved helping people A wonderful lady in our community who worked in the counseling field was instrumental in encouraging me to follow my dreams.” -Barbara Mceuen
Whatever the reasons, individuals that choose to seek a career in counseling usually have one thing in common – a desire to help people work through life’s challenges. Some individuals want to work primarily with children or teens. Others prefer to work with adults. Some want to work in specific settings, such as K-12 schools or college campuses. Others prefer to work in a community setting such as a mental health center or private practice setting.
Counseling can offer the right individual a rewarding career path in a health profession that is growing. It requires a strong desire to interact with people, exceptional communication skills, and an ability to complete a graduate degree. Choosing to become a professional counselor is a commitment to yourself, to others, and to society as a whole.
But choosing to become a counselor is just one of the choices that prospective students must make. Student will need to consider all of the different specializations in counseling with their varying work environments. School counselors work in K-12 educational environments (schools), while clinical mental health counselors may work in private practice, a hospital setting, or some other community agency.
The master’s degree is considered the entry degree for practice as a professional counselor. In order to work as a licensed professional counselor, it is necessary to get a master’s degree. The doctoral degree in counselor education and supervision expands on the master’s degree and is individually tailored to provide emphases in counseling, supervision, teaching, research and scholarship, and leadership and advocacy. Some individuals pursue a doctoral degree in order to work in colleges and universities teaching and supervising future counselors and adding to the research base for the counseling profession, while others might pursue the doctoral degree to advance their counseling career through assuming administrative and/or supervisory roles within their organizations. In most circumstances, an individual will need to have a master’s degree in counseling and have worked as a counselor before he or she would be eligible to pursue a doctoral degree in counselor education and supervision.
Other sources for information include the American Counseling Association and its Divisions (www.counseling.org), the American Mental Health Counselors Association (www.amhca.org) and the American School Counselors Association (www.schoolcounselor.org). The Occupational Outlook Handbook published by the Bureau of Labor Statistics and available online (http://www.bls.gov/ooh/) is an excellent resource providing information and statistics pertaining to the counseling profession.
Information on State Licensing Boards
Each State Board has different processes and requirements for obtaining a counseling license. Although graduation from a CACREP program does not guarantee you will be eligible for licensure, most states recognize what a CACREP degree contains. You will need to take the state’s licensure exam and complete the necessary number of post-graduate supervised hours in order to be fully licensed.
We have provided some resources below to help you contact the right office to get answers for your state.
For Licensure as a professional counselor, mental health counselor, marriage, couple and family counselor and/or addictions counselor:
The American Counseling Association publishes Licensure Requirements for Professional Counselors: A state-by-state report which lists licensing requirements in each state as well as contact information for the state board.
The American Association of State Counseling Boards has information about requirements in their member states.
The National Board for Certified Counselors also lists information about state licensure on its website.
For Licensure or Certification as a Professional School Counselor:
States regulate professional school counselors through their departments of education, in the same way they license or certify teachers. The American Counseling Association publishes a booklet called, A Guide to State Laws and Regulations on Professional School Counseling. You can call them at 1-800-347-6647 to purchase a copy.
A Guide to Graduate Programs in Counseling
Written for undergraduate students and other prospective counselors, A Guide to Graduate Programs in Counseling is the first of its kind to create a comprehensive, reliable means of learning about the counseling profession, entry level preparation (i.e., master’s degrees in counseling specializations), and what to consider when searching for, applying to, and ultimately selecting a graduate program in counseling that is the “perfect fit.” The Guide offers vital information relative to accreditation and its importance in the counseling profession with regards to obtaining licensure, certification, and even employment opportunities after graduating. As a CACREP publication, this book is the official source of information about accredited counseling programs and includes information about what counseling programs seek in candidates, what programs can offer students in terms of professional development and job placement, and guidance on personal and practical considerations for entering the counseling profession. Authored by counseling experts and featuring insights from voices in the field, A Guide to Graduate Programs in Counseling is a must-have resource for anyone interested in becoming a professional counselor.Buy Now
Three federal agencies have made graduation from a CACREP accredited program a requirement for independent practice in counseling.
The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) released qualification standards that formally recognize licensed professional mental health counselors who have graduated from CACREP accredited programs as mental health specialists within the Veterans Health Administration. The full text of the standards is available by clicking here
Prior to the passage of legislation and creation of qualification standards, mental health counselors were not eligible for employment within the Department of Veterans Affairs.
Department of Defense will require a CACREP accredited Clinical Mental Health Counseling or Mental Health Counseling degree in order to obtain the TRICARE Certified Mental Health Counselor credential, which grants the authority to provide independent care to TRICARE beneficiaries after December 31, 2016. There is a phase-in period through December 31, 2016 which allows for a graduate without one of those two degrees to qualify by meeting an alternative series of requirements. Prior to this legislation, mental health counselors could not practice independently in the TRICARE system. For more information see the Federal Register Listing.
Army Substance Abuse
Beginning in July 2011, only LPCs with a degree from a CACREP accredited program may be employed as Fully Functioning Army Substance Abuse Program Practitioner. This requirement is waived for those already employed by the Army Substance Abuse Program for those in the application process at the time the regulation was adopted.