Requirements to Become a Counselor

Take the next steps to Become a Counselor or Upgrade Your Licensure Credentials

A counselor is a job title which has many different specialties all around assisting people to better their lives in a tangible way. This can take the form of mental health counseling, marriage and family counseling, vocational counseling and many other forms of assisting others in overcoming barriers and becoming the best version of oneself. A counselor works with either groups or individuals in a strength based approach to help clients find and overcome barriers, including those that are self-imposed. Through using the latest research, along with establishing rapport with their clientele, a counselor is able to assist their clients in reaching their goals and overcoming adversity of all kinds. The various specializations available give one access to a very wide portion of the populace on which one can make a positive impact and the choice is up to the prospective counselor as to what group, or groups, they wish to work with.

Steps to Become a Counselor

    1. Earn a graduate degree in mental health counseling from a program that’s accredited by the Council on the Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP). This means a master’s degree or doctoral degree in mental health counseling. Your degree needs to include study of clinical counseling if your state includes an advanced tier of clinical counseling licensure.
    2. Complete a practicum and internship as part of your degree program. Practicums are typically 100 hours and internships are typically 600 hours.
    3. Pass exams sponsored by the National Board for Certified Counselors (NBCC). To become a counselor you’ll need to pass the NBCC’s National Counselor Examination (NCE). Many states require additional passage of the NBCC’s National Clinical Mental Health Counseling Examination (NCMHCE), especially for advanced clinical-tier counselor licensing.
    4. Gain supervised experience in a setting that’s approved by your state’s counseling licensure board. This is typically 2,000-3,000 hours for non-clinical counselors, and 3,000 hours for clinical counselors.
    5. Consider national certification through the NBCC. This can be helpful professionally and is separate from state licensure. Fulfilling the requirements up to this point will qualify you for the NBCC’s National Certified Counselor (NCC) credential if you’ve passed the NCE exam, and for the NBCC’s Certified Clinical Mental Health Counselor (CCMHC) credential if you’ve passed the NCMHCE exam.
    6. Become licensed by your state by fulfilling the steps up to this point. This will include your supervisor turning in documents to your state’s licensing board to confirm you’ve fulfilled your state’s supervised work experience requirement. The state-level license is often referred to as the Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC) credential, and as the Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor (LPCC) credential in states that have an advanced tier of licensure for clinical counselors. Each state has its own licensure tiers and titles, education requirements, supervision requirements, and NBCC exam requirements, so it’s important to confirm the details of licensure with your state’s Board of Counseling.

What Skills and Attributes Make a Good Counselor?

A counselor will need to have or develop their interpersonal skills in order to maximize their potential impact on their clients. Learning about active listening, establishing rapport and gaining the trust and respect of clients will all assist the counselor in being the best they can be in their field. You will need to develop your ability to listen for when clients are giving key information on what is impacting their lives to bring them to you for counseling. By developing the ability to take notes while also listening you will begin to develop a case work model that allows you to go into real depth with each of your clients. Being able to remove any personal biases and act with professional distance, while also showing you are compassionate and support the client is critical to success and to preventing the potential for burnout.

It’s important to understand that different clients will have very different needs and you will need to be flexible and adapt to your client’s needs. It is helpful to understand subtle skills such as the appropriate application of humor to help alleviate tension in a way that’s respectful in order to lighten the atmosphere during intense sessions. Understanding issues that might relate to a client’s specific needs through cultural competency and the need for equity and inclusion are skills and knowledge you will gain during your education.

While some people are naturally good with other peoples, you can develop and enhance your ability to help others during your education as a counselor. The only real requirement is a sincere desire to help people in a mentorship and counseling capacity. If you’re open minded and willing to put in the work, an excellent education in counseling will ensure you develop the skills and abilities to be an effective counselor.

What is a Counselor’s Impact on Society and Public Health?

A counselor can have a tremendous impact on society throughout the course of their career. By helping many people be able to reach their full potential, a counselor helps to unleash otherwise lost creativity and productivity. Counselors help everyone from those needing new jobs after recessions by being a vocational rehabilitation counselor, to helping marriages to persevere thereby keeping families intact and helping children in those families to flourish. Counselor’s also can help people struggling with addiction to overcome that addiction and once again become law-abiding and productive members of society. Counselors can also help troubled children find an adult they can trust and look up to who helps them to realize their aspirations and overcome barriers they have in school and at home. The cumulative effect of counselor’s efforts on individuals ends up having a huge impact on society and helps to improve public health by assisting those struggling with various barriers and difficulties that keep them from being happy, healthy and productive members of their community.

Career Opportunities With a Bachelor’s of Counseling

There are a number of states that allow people to work in various counseling positions with a Bachelor’s of counseling. Usually these jobs will be considered entry level, but they can help one gain experience and increase one’s chances of being accepted into a Master’s program. Some states allow people to become school counselors, or addictions counselors by completing their Bachelor’s education and working in a government agency. While the title of Counselor is a protected job title there are a number of areas where one can operate without obtaining licensure such as students in graduate programs working under supervision of a licensed counselor and employees of certain federal, state, and local agencies acting in an official capacity. While some states may allow limited counseling practice with a Bachelor’s degree, most states require a master’s degree or higher to attain licensure.

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Career Opportunities With a Master’s of Counseling

When you are ready to obtain your license you will need to get at least a Master’s of Counseling from one of the two accreditation groups:

It’s crucial to ensure any Master’s program you join has one or both accreditations as most states require that holders of new Counseling Licenses receive their degree from an accredited program. Once you have your Master’s and attain your license you can become everything from a school counselor, vocational counselor, marriage and family counselor, mental health counselor or addictions counselor. You will have much greater variety in the kinds of jobs titles you can hold with your Masters of counseling. However, you will often need to have a degree concentration in the relevant field such as being a marriage and family counselor, or specializing in vocational rehabilitation counseling. So it’s important to be sure to pick a Master’s degree program that has a degree concentration that meets your career goals.

Career Opportunities With a Doctorate of Counseling

No state currently requires a doctoral degree in order to obtain licensure as a counselor. However, if you are interested in expanding the skills and knowledge base of the field there are research positions where you oversee counseling research and help the field evolve. Having a doctorate is often necessary if you wish to oversee large groups of counselors in organizations, and to enter into academic positions and train the next generation of counselors. Some people feel very called to academia and want to work on developing new theories and practices to help other counselors have the biggest impact on society. For those individuals, a doctorate in counseling is the ideal choice.

Choosing a Specialty

While you consider your academic pathway towards becoming a counselor, you will want to consider what your specialization might be. By figuring out what population you wish to work with and what your personal professional goals are, you can figure out what degree concentration to pursue. Some people feel called to work with the elderly and may wish to specialize in Gerontology focused counseling. Other people prefer to work with children and may wish to specialize in becoming a school counselor. Still others might wish to work with those who are suffering under the burden of drug addiction. By taking the time to research and understand different populations, one can understand what degree concentration you wish to pursue as it will in turn lead to what group of people you will be working with on a day to day basis. When you are considering different Master’s programs you will want to strategize on what your career goals are and how to maximize your natural talents and inclinations to serve the group that resonates with you.

How to Obtain Your Counseling License

Every state has its own requirements that will vary including which tests you will need to take and how many hours of supervised practice you will need. Most states require a Master’s degree in Counseling from an accredited program. Some states or job titles will require that your program be accredited through the Masters in Psychology and Counseling Accreditation Council (MPCAC) and others will require that the program be accredited with Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Education Programs (CACREP). Once you have completed your Master’s program (or some states allow you to gain this experience during your Master’s program) you can go on to get your supervised clinical experience under the guidance of a state licensed counselor. While getting your Master’s you will be required to complete an internship or practicum.

Different states have different requirements for how many practicum hours you will need. The average range is approximately 100 to 300 hours. A Practicum will take place during the course of your Master’s degree program wherein you will be required to work alongside licensed or certified counselors. The practicum will include both supervised and independent sessions with clients. After independent sessions the student will meet with their supervisor to debrief and discuss ways to improve their work. In addition, the student will participate in various training sessions and meetings. You will also be expected to write detailed reports and take professional clinical notes on your cases. Your supervisor will also assist you in reviewing your independent work and engaging in your professional development as a counselor.

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An internship usually occurs during your Master’s program and will usually include approximately 600 hours to complete the internship. You will again be required to work under the auspices of a licensed counselor and will also include both supervised and independent work both directly with clients and also case management between sessions. While performing your duties as an intern you will be held to the same professional standards that are expected of others working in the clinical setting. You will be required to take control of your professional development by seeking out training you desire, you will also need to keep detailed professional case notes, you will be expected to collaborate and interact with others in the clinic as well as family members and any other professional contacts that may arise as part of your job duties.

Once you’ve completed your Internship or Practicum you will also need to accumulate approximately 1500 to 2500 hours of supervised clinical experience depending on the state. This will include both direct client contact as well as case work under the supervision of a Licensed Counselor.

Once you’ve completed the required clinical hours you will need to take and pass one of the following examinations:

  • The National Clinical Mental Health Counselor Exam
  • The National Counselor Examination for Licensure and Certification
  • The Certified Rehabilitation Counselor Exam.
  • Some states also have a jurisprudence, or laws and rules exams that must be passed as part of the licensure process.

    The final step is to apply for your license with the state licensure board, pay your fee and become a licensed counselor.

    Counseling Licensure By State:

    New Hampshire
    New Jersey
    New Mexico
    New York
    North Carolina
    Rhode Island
    South Carolina