Licensed Professional Counselors (LPCs) are in high demand and beneficial to our society. Counselors are needed to offer guidance and provide stability to those in need.
How To Become A Counselor
To become a counselor there are certain requirements that need to be met. Coursework and internships could take 8 years to complete. The following steps will help you navigate national and state requirements to meet your end goal of becoming a counselor.
Acquire a Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology
A bachelor’s degree in psychology is designed to be completed in 4 years for full time students. To begin your degree you’ll have to have the following requirements: obtain a diploma from an accredited high school, successfully complete the SAT Test and/or the ACT Test, and apply to an accredited university. If you’ve not taken any prior college courses, you’ll need to complete on average 60 hours of general classes needed for most degrees. The rest of your coursework, approximately 40 hours, will be in the field of psychology. These classes will be geared towards behavioral science, human development, statistics, research, and concepts and methods of psychology.
Obtain a Master’s Degree in Psychology
Your master’s degree in psychology is the next step in becoming a counselor. The coursework will take 2 years to complete and will comprise of advanced psychology classes, in depth research, and practicum experience or an internship. Typically, your master’s degree will also involve you creating research papers, dissertations and published works.
Secure an Internship or Obtain Practicum Experience
While you are working towards completing your master’s degree, you will be expected to participate in an internship program or obtain practicum experience. Generally, your internship will consist of observation of other licensed professional and real work as a counselor under the supervision of other licensed professionals.
Apply for National and State Certifications
Begin the application of national and state certifications as a graduate student. Newsletters, publications, study guides and tips are available to aid in your success. The benefit of this certificate is to show that you have met the national standards of your field.
Complete Clinical Experience
Achieve a minimum of 3,000 hours post master’s degree supervised clinical experience, within 2 years of completing your master’s degree. During this time you will work alongside other licensed professionals who will act as supervisor or consultant to your work. Clinicals are offered in places in which real clients go to be counseled by licensed professional counselors. This can be done at schools, mental health facilities, rehabilitation facilities, individually owned counseling offices, and any other place that employs counselors.
Take the NCE Exam
In order to become a counselor you will need to take and pass the National Counselor Exam (NCE) created by the National Board for Certified Counselors (NBCC). This is required in all 50 states and U.S. territories to be considered a counselor. In most states you will need the following in order to apply to take this exam: get approved to take the test from your State Department of Education, register with the Center for Credentialing and Education (CCE), and pay a fee in order to take the test. The fee varies by state, but is typically around $275.
On average, it will cost you $127,000 to become a counselor. Typically, a bachelor’s degree will cost around $96,000, a master’s degree will average around $30,000, and licenses and fees will total no more than $1,000. Be thorough in your search for financial aid and grants, as these can be very helpful in lowering your expenses.
Job Description / Responsibilities
Counselors provide psychological care to clients in need. As a Counselor, you will be able to help people in your community live independent and successful lives. Counselors are expected to adhere to the following duties and responsibilities:
- You must possess knowledge of psychology principles, techniques and methods.
- You will effectively communicate with clients, using diplomacy and assertiveness.
- You shall maintain confidentiality and exhibit a professional demeanor.
- You will convey knowledge in a professional and constructive manner to patients, their families, facility staff and other community organizations and programs.
- You will maintain records and monitor progress of clients. You will meet regularly with your clients and adjust treatment and recommendations as needed.
As a School Counselor, you will:
- Recommend remedial plans for students whose social, academic, and emotional problems prevent them from succeeding in a school setting.
- Provide guidance to students and their parents who have expressed career interests.
- Provide information and assistance to students graduating who are seeking continued education.
- Recommend and arrange placement for students in specialized school programs.
- Investigate and implement district policy in emergency situations involving students, such as suicide threats, battered children, sex offenses, pregnancies, narcotics, and assaults.
- Assist with student attendance problems.
As a Rehabilitation Counselor, you will:
- Provide counseling and enable patients with disabilities to live and work independently.
- Arrange for patients to get career training and assistance to help them obtain careers of their choice.
- Develop treatment plans in cooperation with other faculty, including medical services, physical and mental therapy, education and job training.
- Provide information to educate the public about persons with disabilities and the importance for acceptance and modifications within society.
As a Marriage and Family Counselor, you will:
- Interview patients and family members to assess the nature and extent of psychiatric problems.
- Help patients to process and adjust to life changes, and guide them in future decision-making.
- Assist patients in developing skills to cope with life changes, psychological disorders, and stressful situations.
- Provide appropriate support to patient’s family members, including explanation of treatment, instructions in how to support treatment and interventions to increase acceptance of treatment.
As a Mental Health Counselor, you will:
- Assess and diagnose patients with psychological disorders.
- Evaluate suicidal risk and create safety plans for patients.
- Provide crisis intervention as needed including referral and follow up.
- Counsel patients in support of their career exploration and decision-making, goal setting and achievement of academic goals.
- Refer patients to support groups, treatment facilities, or other community services.
Counseling jobs are expected to increase in the next 10 years, according to government statistics. Over 86,000 jobs will be available, which is a 15% increase from the current employment rate of counselors.
Over the next 10 years, counseling careers will be in high demand. Substance abuse counselors will see a 22% increase in jobs due to states treating drug offenders instead of giving them jail time. There will be an increase in the elderly population, which will increase jobs by 9% for rehabilitation counseling. Although there is an expected rise of school enrollment, the 8% increase in school counseling jobs is unknown due to potential government budget cuts.
Mental health and marriage and family counselors will see the highest demand with a 19% expected job increase. These new positions will be created due to health care reform, which will increase the number of people with health insurance. Also, new insurance laws will include coverage for counseling services, causing more people to seek these services who couldn’t before.
Counselors can be found in a variety of work environments, but typically work in an office setting with a full time schedule. This environment generally will involve low stress and predictable working conditions.
A counselor may also work in rehabilitation centers, patient’s homes, correctional facilities, community centers, halfway houses, and mental health facilities. Depending on the environment, counselors may be required to work nights and weekends to accommodate their patients.
Counseling patients with mental health problems and substance abuse issues can be very stressful. Depending on the work environment, the counselor may have large workloads, few resources, and hostile clients. A counselor may be required to intervene in crisis situations. The education and training that a counselor receives will provide them with the skills to combat these stresses.
The following list of resources provides current and aspiring counselors with industry news and advancements, and aids in the certification process and job search:
- National Board for Certified Counselors: A national certification system that establishes and monitors certification of counselors who elect to participate in the program. This website also offers resources, a job search engine, publications and many other services for its members.
- NBCC Job Board: A resource for certified members of the National Board for Certified Counselors to search for and apply to jobs.
- The National Certified Counselor Newsletter: A newsletter that provides certified members with updates and communications about the National Board for Certified Counselors.
- The Professional Counselor Journal: An electronic journal of the National Board for Certified Counselors dedicated to research, theoretical topics and innovations in counseling.
- American Counseling Association: An organization that provides counselors with support services such as webinars, publications, journals, education sessions and legislative news.
- Counsel for Accreditation of Counseling & Related Educational Programs: An agency that accredits college degree programs in counseling, and provides aspiring and current counselors with information on continuing education.
- American Mental Health Counselors Association: A national organization for mental health counselors. It promotes education, advocacy, leadership and collaboration to help counselors thrive.
- National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: This resource provides free and confidential support, prevention and crisis resources for people in suicide distress, and best practices for professionals.
- Professional Counseling: A Process Guide to Helping (8th Edition): An informative text on the process of becoming a Counselor. This book offers step-by-step instruction on the process of counseling and the traits needed to be successful.
Practicum and Internship: Textbook and Resource Guide for Counseling and Psychotherapy: A comprehensive guide that provides thorough coverage of the practicum and internship process.
Certain personality traits and learned skills are fundamental to becoming a successful counselor. The list includes empathy, time management and advocating skills. The following abilities are important to the counseling profession:
- Empathy: The ability to understand and identify with another person. Being understanding of your patient’s emotions and experiences, and showing compassion makes it easy for your patient to open up to you. Practicing empathy for a patient with substance abuse issues requires offering advice without judgment and criticism, which will in turn create trust with the patient. This will open them up to the counseling process.
- Listening Skills: Active listening involves concentration, retention and appropriate response. It may also require recognizing what the patient is not saying. When working with children, using these skills will make extracting detailed information easier.
- Communication Skills: Excellent verbal and written communication skills are vital to counseling. A counselor must communicate clearly one on one with patients, over the phone with other professionals, and through writing in emails, reports and record keeping. Clearly stating treatment instructions to your patient as a counselor will make treatment more successful.
- Flexibility: In order to accommodate patients, a counselor needs to be flexible with the times and environment in which the patient is able to be counseled or receive treatment. If a patient experiences severe social anxiety, the counselor may need to travel to the patient’s home for counseling and treatment.
- Time Management: Managing your time and the patient’s time involves good organization skills. Counselors tend to have large workloads and many patients, but being prepared at all times is very important.
- Critical Thinking: Keeping diversity in your counseling approach and being able to offer your patients specialized treatment requires critical thinking. Implementing backup plans when patients aren’t compliant with treatment is a good way to practice critical thinking.
- Setting Boundaries: Establishing healthy boundaries with patients helps to protect you and your patients. It is not ethical to have romantic or sexual relationships with clients. Being able to connect with your patient without crossing these boundaries may be difficult at times, but it is very important for their treatment success.
- Research: Staying up to date with new trends within the industry and researching more effective ways to counsel will maintain your success as a counselor. Implementing new and proven assessments and other counseling techniques ensures your patients are getting the most up to date treatment.
- Advocate: There may be times when a counselor needs to be an advocate for patients or the profession. Social acceptance of the mentally ill or disabled requires communities to provide modifications. Counselors must work to advocate for these changes, so that their patients are successful in living independently.
- Business: If you plan to own your own practice, you’ll need to understand finance, advertising, taxes and other business practices in order to be successful. Regardless of the type of counselor you plan to become, at minimum you’ll have to be a good record keeper. This will include keeping organized patient files, patient assessments, government forms and research data.