How to Become a Counselor


If you’re looking for a fulfilling career where you can genuinely help others, counseling might be a great fit for you. There are lots of different types of counselors, so spend some time thinking about what you want to focus on. Some popular options are being a school counselor, a mental health counselor, or an addiction specialist. Whichever you choose, start by making sure you have the right education. You need a Bachelor's Degree, and probably a graduate degree, too. In the US, there are specific licenses and certifications involved with counseling, so work on fulfilling the requirements of the state where you live. Once you’re ready, look for a job that you think would be a good fit for you.

Part 1
Completing Your Education

Completing Your Education on How to Become a Counselor

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You need a solid education to become a counselor. If you don’t already have a degree, start looking into colleges you would like to attend. While some schools have specific counseling programs, you can actually choose from a wide variety of majors. Popular choices include education, psychology, and sociology. Whichever you choose, make sure to keep your grades up so that you can get into a graduate program.[1] If there’s not an affordable college near you, look into an online program. Just check to make sure it is from an accredited university. If you think you might want to go into private practice someday, taking some business classes could prove really useful.

Completing Your Education on How to Become a Counselor

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Talk to your advisor or career center about how to get an internship. They’ll likely have great advice for you. If you already know what kind of counselor you want to be, look for an opportunity in that area of specialization.[2] For example, if you want to be a substance abuse counselor, try looking for internships at a hospital or rehabilitation center. It’s okay if you haven’t decided on specialization yet. An internship can help you to figure that out!

Completing Your Education on How to Become a Counselor

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Most counseling jobs require a Master’s Degree. Sometimes you can complete this after you are already employed, but if not, you’ll need to earn your MA before applying for jobs. It is possible to get a job with a Master’s in psychology or sociology, but it is more common to earn the degree in your area of specialization.[3] If you want to be a school counselor, for instance, you should look for schools that offer a Master’s in that field. You can expect to take a wide variety of courses, including classes on ethics and laws related to counseling.

Completing Your Education on How to Become a Counselor

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It’s not necessary to have a doctorate to work as a counselor. However, if you wish to work in management or one day teach college courses on counseling, it is a good idea to pursue a doctorate. Depending on your field, there are a few options:[4] Ph.D., which is offered in psychology and counseling. Psy.D., an advanced degree in psychology, which is based more on clinical training. Ed.D., which is a doctorate for educators and administrators.

Part 2
Working as a School Counselor

Working as a School Counselor on How to Become a Counselor

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School counselors help students, staff, and parents in a variety of ways. One of the main duties is to help students find ways to succeed academically and to prepare them for college or a career. Counselors also serve as a support system for students dealing with personal problems. Being a good communicator is really important for this type of job.[5] As a school counselor, you will also communicate with parents and help other staff members deal with students.

Working as a School Counselor on How to Become a Counselor

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As a school counselor, you will interact with a lot of different types of people. Being able to listen effectively is really important. When you talk to students, make sure to let them express themselves and don't judge. Remember that students come from all different backgrounds.[6] You can practice being a good listener and being non-judgemental in your personal life, too.

Working as a School Counselor on How to Become a Counselor

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Many states require you to fulfill a certain number of hours of either an internship or practicum before you become licensed. Look online to find your state’s requirements. Just do a simple search like “school counselor requirements Nebraska.”[7] For example in Colorado, you must complete a minimum of 100 hours internship and 600 hours practicum.[8] Your graduate program should be able to help you make a plan to fulfill these hours. What your typical day consists of will depend on where you do your internship.

Working as a School Counselor on How to Become a Counselor

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This will vary depending on where you live, but most states require you to pass an exam or series of exams before starting work. Look online to see what your state requires. Register to take the test, and spend time studying and preparing.[9] Several states require both the Praxis I and parts of the Praxis II.

Working as a School Counselor on How to Become a Counselor

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Different states use different terms, but most will require you to get either a license or a certificate to work as a school counselor. After you pass your exams, you can apply for the accreditation you need. Check the regulations in your state to find out the process.[10] In some states, you might be automatically certified after finishing your exams. In other states, you might have to earn certification in a certain field, such as K-12. For example, in Colorado, you can do this by taking certain college courses or taking an online exam through the state.[11] The American School Counselor Association website can help you with your research.[12]

Working as a School Counselor on How to Become a Counselor

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Once you’re qualified, you can start your job search. Look online for jobs that you think you would like. For example, if you want to work with teens, search for a job at a high school. If you'd like to work at a public school, check the websites of school districts for job postings. Your university career center can also help you find opportunities.[13] You can use popular sites such as LinkedIn, Glassdoor, and Indeed to look for jobs. It's also a good idea to reach out directly to schools where you want to work. You can send a professional email introducing yourself and ask to be notified when jobs become available. Use your personal and professional network. Ask your friends and family to let you know if they hear of opportunities. Also, reach out to your former classmates and professors and let them know you're looking for a job. School counselor jobs might also be listed as “guidance counselor.”

Part 3
Getting Started as a Mental Health Counselor

Getting Started as a Mental Health Counselor on How to Become a Counselor

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One of the most important parts of being a counselor is genuinely caring about people. Work on being empathetic, non-judgemental, and genuine. You can hone these skills by having in-depth conversations with your friends and family members. It also helps to read a lot of books. Reading can help you learn to relate to people and be more open-minded.[14] Get in the habit of practicing self-care. Being a counselor can be tough at times and you might feel very emotional. Set aside time each day to relax and do something you enjoy. You could try meditation, yoga, or getting together with friends. You might also find it helpful to see a counselor yourself.

Getting Started as a Mental Health Counselor on How to Become a Counselor

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In addition to earning your degree, you need to complete a certain number of clinical hours. Each state has different requirements, so check to see what your state requires. You can look online, and your graduate program advisor should also be able to help you figure this out. You will typically need to complete anywhere between 1,000-4,000 hours within 2-3 years.[15] Many of these hours have to be completed under the supervision of a licensed counselor. Make sure to check the requirements in the state where you want to work. Typically, you'll complete most of these hours by doing individual counseling sessions with a client while under the supervision of a licensed therapist. You might also have to do a certain amount of hours in different areas, such as individual and group counseling.

Getting Started as a Mental Health Counselor on How to Become a Counselor

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Every state requires you to have a license to work as a mental health counselor. Most states use either the National Counseling Exam (NCE) or the National Clinical Mental Health Counseling Exam (NCMHCE). Some states require you to also take a state exam.[16] Look online to find the specific requirements for your state.

Getting Started as a Mental Health Counselor on How to Become a Counselor

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If you work in private practice, you don’t necessarily have to become board certified. Many other employers, like schools or hospitals, might require it. Look into certification if you want to be able to explore more employment opportunities. Many states require the Certified Clinical Mental Health Counselor either instead of state licensure or in addition to state licensure.[17] Check out the website of the National Board for Certified Counselors for more specific information.[18]

Getting Started as a Mental Health Counselor on How to Become a Counselor

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There are many different types of mental health counselor. You could go into private practice by yourself or with some other counselors. You can also look for employment at hospitals, universities, and many different corporations.[19] Search online for job openings. You can also ask the career center at your school for help finding a job.

Part 4
Starting a Career as a Substance Abuse Counselor

Starting a Career as a Substance Abuse Counselor on How to Become a Counselor

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Being an addiction specialist can be really stressful. A lot of your patients might be very emotional, so you'll need to work on staying [[Be Calm in a Stressful Situation|calm]. When you are in a stressful situation, work on maintaining your composure. You can do this by taking some calming breaths and pausing for a minute before speaking. Get in the habit of doing this in your personal life. It will come more naturally at work if you do. Other important traits include:[20] Adaptability Integrity Being organized Critical thinking

Starting a Career as a Substance Abuse Counselor on How to Become a Counselor

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Each state has different requirements, but most will require you to take at least one exam. Check out the website of the National Board for Certified Counselors to learn more about the requirements in your state.[21] Your graduate program can also help you find this information. Register for the exam a few months before you want to take it and pay any necessary fees.

Starting a Career as a Substance Abuse Counselor on How to Become a Counselor

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When you’re searching for jobs, be aware that employers might also advertise for an Addiction Specialist. Figure out whether you want to work in private practice, at a government agency, or a health care facility. Do an online search for jobs in the state where you are certified. You can also get help from your college career center.

Starting a Career as a Substance Abuse Counselor on How to Become a Counselor

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Once you have a job, check with your state board about recertification. To keep your credentials, you’ll need to be recertified at some point. It might be as soon as 3 years or as long as 10.[22] You might be able to get recertified simply by doing the tasks you already do at your job.