Counseling is a highly rewarding job role where you will be responsible for helping people overcome various life challenges. This may include issues such as divorce, substance abuse, grief, and eating disorders. You will also have the opportunity to make a positive difference in the lives of others and support people who are at their lowest. It takes several years of training and assessments to learn the skills needed to become a capable counselor. Most counselors also need to earn a higher qualification, such as masters in counseling, which requires significant time and investment. However, those who qualify typically enjoy a long and fulfilling career with plenty of job perks. 

If you’re considering a career in counseling, then here is the ultimate guide to becoming a counselor. 

Understand the pros and cons

Working as a counselor can have plenty of wonderful benefits, although there are also some challenges that you should be aware of. You must have a realistic understanding of the job role and responsibilities. Websites like Career Explorer provide a great source of information on different job roles. You can find out what a counselor does, what the workplace of a counselor is like, the average salary, and so on. Doing career research will help you decide if a career in counseling is right for you. Here are some of the main pros and cons of becoming a counselor. 

Pros

  • Job satisfaction – Counseling is considered a highly rewarding job, as you will have the satisfaction of helping people overcome life’s challenges. You will have a positive impact on the lives of others and society as a whole. 
  • High earning potential – The average counselor earns over $50,000 per year, according to salary.com. You can boost your salary with experience and additional qualifications such as a masters in counseling.
  • Job security – Counselors are in high-demand, which means qualified counselors have plenty of job opportunities and rarely struggle to find work. 
  • Diverse job roles – Counselors can specialize in various fields of counseling including mental health, family, and substance abuse. This allows counselors to choose a field that suits their skills and interests. 

Cons

  • Stressful work – Counseling is demanding, and many counselors have to deal with high-pressure, stressful situations. For instance, family counselors may have to support family’s where there have been allegations of child abuse or neglect. 
  • Lengthy training – Learning the skills needed to become an efficient counselor takes several years of training and assessment. You will also need to complete a higher qualification, such as a masters in counseling. This qualified requires significant investment in both time and money. Student counselors must, therefore, be committed to their careers and prepared to put in the hard work to achieve certified status. 
  • Erratic schedule – Most counselors work standard hours. However, you may be required to respond to emergencies outside of your typical working hours, i.e., in the evenings or at weekends. This means that you need to be flexible with your schedule and prepared to work outside of your normal hours. 

Gain industry experience 

The best way to learn about counseling and gain insight into the industry is by completing placements and internships. Work experience will teach you about the role and responsibilities and help you decide whether you want to pursue a career as a counselor. You will also have the opportunity to build relationships with people in the industry and expand your professional network. This should help you secure a top job when you have completed your masters in counseling and obtained a state license. In most cases, you will be required to complete a certain amount of relevant work experience before you can apply for a state license. You should, therefore, start looking for placements and building your relevant experience as early as possible. You may also be required to complete a placement year as part of your masters in counseling. 

Having a good amount of industry experience will boost your resume and help you stand out from your peers when you start applying for jobs. Guidance on counselor-license.com advises that you can find counseling placements through job fairs, your school’s career center, recruitment events, and job boards. Be proactive when it comes to building your work experience and apply for placements and internships at the earliest opportunity. 

Enroll in a counseling program

To become a qualified counselor, you will need to complete a bachelor’s degree followed by a higher qualification i.e., a masters in counseling. Most students enroll in a bachelor’s degree in counseling, although you may also choose to study a related topic such as psychology. The majority of bachelor’s degree programs require four years of full-time study. However, you can choose to study part-time and complete the course over several years. There may also be the option to earn your bachelor’s quicker with an accelerated or fast-track degree program. A bachelor’s degree in counseling will teach you all of the basic skills and knowledge required to practice counseling in a professional setting. 

Choosing the best counseling degree can be daunting and overwhelming, especially when there are so many programs to choose from. Some factors you should consider when searching for a program include location, course length, costs, and accreditation. You should also check the curriculum of each program and find out what internships are offered or required as part of the course. There is a great selection of guides offering advice on how to pick the best bachelors in counseling program

Complete a masters in counseling

Once you have completed your bachelor’s degree, you will typically be required to earn a masters in counseling. This will teach you advanced counseling skills and prepare you for clinical practice. You will also have the opportunity to specialize in your chosen field of counseling while studying for your masters in counseling. A masters in counseling includes a combination of coursework and assessments, along with hands-on experience in a professional setting. The program generally takes one year to complete, although it may take two as some masters in counseling require a placement year. There is the option to enroll in an online course and complete your masters in counseling via distance learnings. This is an excellent option for people in full-time employment or with other commitments preventing them from attending a traditional classroom-based program. Make sure that the program you choose includes all of the elements required for state licensure. Otherwise, you risk having to complete additional training and qualifications before you can apply for a state license to practice. You can find a list of accredited masters in counseling by visiting The Council for Accreditation of Counseling & Related Educational Programs (CACREP) website

Explore different specialisms

As mentioned, student counselors can choose to specialize in a wide variety of fields. You should take the time to explore the different areas of counseling and choose the sector that is best matched to your skills and interests. You will have the opportunity to specialize in your chosen field when you are studying for your masters in counseling. Here are some of the most popular fields of counseling:

  • School counselor – School counselors support students throughout their time at school. They are an essential part of the educational team and help students develop the skills needed to be successful in later life. Alongside improving academic performance, school counselors also provide valuable emotional support to students. In some cases, a school counselor will refer a student to outside organizations, i.e. substance abuse facilities, for specialist treatment.  
  • Mental health counselor – Mental health counselors diagnose a wide range of mental and emotional disorders and help people live with mental illness. Job opportunities are expected to grow in this sector by 25% in the next ten years, according to the Burea of Labor Statistics (BSL). This is much higher than the average seen across all other occupations. Mental health counselors require a masters in counseling and sufficient clinical experience before being able to apply for a license to practice.  
  • Career counselors – Career counselors guide people on different job roles and help them choose a career path that will suit their skills and interests. Most career counselors are employed by career centers, colleges, and universities. Some career counselors also open private practices where they offer their services on a self-employed basis.  
  • Marriage counselor – Marriage counselors help couples overcome marital issues such as infidelity or lack of communication. The goal of marriage counseling is to resolve these issues so that the marriage doesn’t end in divorce or separation. To become certified, marriage counselors much complete a masters in counseling and specialize in marriage therapy or a related discipline. 

Apply for state licensure

Once you have completed your masters in counseling, you should be able to apply for a state license. The requirements for licensure differ between states, so you must check what is required in the area that you wish to practice. Most states require student counselors to have completed a masters in counseling and sufficient placement hours before granting a state license. However,  some states require graduate counselors to complete the National Counselor Examination before awarding a license to practice. This test has 200 multiple-choice questions and costs $275 to take. The exam is designed to check that you have the skills and knowledge needed to provide efficient counseling services in a clinical setting. It is a good idea to prepare for the exam by completing practice questions online. You can search online to check the counseling requirements by state.

Search for entry-level positions

Once you have a state license, you will be able to start applying for entry-level counseling positions. The jobs you apply for will depend upon which sector you specialized in during your masters in counseling. For example, counselors who specialized in school counseling can apply for roles within elementary, middle, or high schools. Whereas marriage counselors typically work in private practices, family services, or other government organizations. The placements you completed on your masters in counseling should help you decide which type of setting you want to work in. 

You can find entry-level counseling positions by searching on job boards or contacting employers directly to enquire about vacancies. When job searching, make sure that you leverage any relationships formed during your placements. Many graduates secure their first role through a connection made during work experience placements. Take the time to write a quality resume that clearly outlines your qualifications, experience, and achievements. Remember to include anything that will give you a competitive edge i.e. charity work or extracurricular activities. You can ask your masters in counseling tutor to look over your resume and provide advice on ways to make it more attractive to potential employers. 

Advance in your career

Qualified counselors are in high demand and have plenty of great opportunities to advance in their careers. For instance, many counselors progress into supervisory roles where they have the opportunity to manage a team of counselors and take on more responsibilities. Completing a doctoral in counseling can be a fantastic way to enhance your skills, boost your earning potential, and put yourself in a stronger position when applying for managerial roles. 

Lots of counselors also go on to open private practices. Counselors in private practice have greater flexibility and autonomy over their work schedules and also benefit from higher earning potential. Opening a private practice takes careful planning and preparation, but it can be a great way to advance in your career and get more satisfaction from your job role. 

Summary

There are several advantaged to pursuing a career in counseling. Some of the biggest benefits include job satisfaction, high earning potential, excellent job security, and the opportunity to do meaningful work. That said, becoming a certified counselor is a lengthy process that will require you to complete several years of formal training, including a masters in counseling. Becoming a counselor is not easy, but most qualified counselors enjoy long and fulfilling careers with plenty of advancement opportunities. Use the advice above to help you on your journey to becoming a certified counselor.

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