Education and Careers
Sometimes, having an objective listener can make all the difference. That’s what counselors and therapists do—they listen to people’s concerns, uncover their needs, and help them deal with life’s challenges.
Counselors use time-tested therapies to help clients overcome depression and anxiety, grief and loss, trauma, substance abuse, and difficult interpersonal human relationships.
What They Do
Counselors and therapists help individuals, couples, families and groups who are dealing with issues that affect their mental health and well-being. Today, many counselors approach their work holistically, using a “wellness” model which highlights and encourages their clients’ strengths rather than focusing on weaknesses.
They may be mental health counselors (MHCs), marriage and family therapists (MFTs), and more. No matter their title, they use effective techniques to help clients deal with their struggles: depression and anxiety, grief and loss, trauma, substance abuse, and difficult interpersonal human relationships.
Skills You Need
As a counselor, you may work with everyone from children to married couples or the elderly, and in as many different environments as there are types of people. But what personality traits and skills will you need to be an effective counselor?
- Strong interpersonal skills
- Strong verbal skills
- Goal-setting skills
- Clear boundaries
- High ethical standards
How to Become a Counselor
Counselors must be licensed to practice in their state. Generally, you’ll need to have a master’s or doctorate in counseling or therapy, and one to two years of experience under the guidance of a mentor to qualify for licensure.
Get a Bachelor’s Degree
Before you specialize in therapy or counseling, you’ll need the general knowledge and skills of every practicing counselor. To do this, get an undergraduate degree with a major in counseling, psychology or social work.
Get an Advanced Degree
To become a counselor, most states require at least a master’s degree. To get into a graduate program, schools look for a high score on the GRE (above 1200), a GPA of 3.5 or higher, and experience in the field.
Pass the Psychology Exam
State counselor licensure boards contract with National Board of Certified Counselors to use one of two exams, the National Counselor Exam (NCE) or the National Clinical Mental Health Counseling Exam (NCMHCE).
Supervised Clinical Experience
To become a licensed counselor or therapist, most states require approximately two years of supervised clinical experience, in addition to earning your master’s degree.
Apply for Licensure in Your State
A state license allows you to practice, or call yourself a licensed counselor. The names of licenses vary, but some examples are LPC, LCPC, LPCC, LMHC, LPCMH, LCMHC, LPC-MH.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median annual salary for licensed mental health counselors is $42,840. Actual salaries vary greatly based on specialization within the field, location, years of experience, and other factors.
Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics 2018-19 Occupational Outlook Handbook.
*The salary information listed is based on a national average, unless noted. Actual salaries may vary greatly based on specialization within the field, location, years of experience and a variety of other factors. National long-term projections of employment growth may not reflect local and/or short-term economic or job conditions, and do not guarantee actual job growth.
According to the BLS, the demand for mental health counselors is expected to grow by 20 percent through 2026, much faster than the average for all occupations. National long-term projections may not reflect local and/or short-term economic or job conditions, and do not guarantee actual job growth.
Here are some other fields you might like if general counseling and therapy aren’t exactly what you’re looking for:
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