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So you want to be a Counselor…

Updated on November 7, 2014

In today’s age the need for counselors (mental health therapist) is extremely high, especially with all the returning veterans from a decade at war on top of the everyday problems people have in general. However, if you think that means you are going to get rich; think again. In Phoenix, Arizona the median pay for a professional counselor is approximately $36,000, the average medium for the nation is $36,750 a year. Further information or to look up your area go to

Now ask yourself, is being a counselor still that important? If it is then you are a special type of person, who is able to make up for the lack of pay with the gratitude and success of your clients (patients). Believe me when it comes to gratitude; I truly understand since I am not only a student, but also a patient. The feeling a client has when they are progressing and getting relief from their mental health illness is beyond words. To be realistic there really is no actual way to repay the good that counselors do for their clients. In my case, I’m trying to give back by becoming a counselor and helping other people. Basically, I received some of my payment for services by receiving treatment for my own illnesses. For some this may sound crazy, but for others it is going to cause a response of understanding.

“We may define therapy as a search for value.” - Abraham Maslow

Where do I start?

Well first of all it is important to prepare yourself and determine what type of people you might want to help. You can do this by talking to a professional counselor who is already licensed, since they are basically the experts on such. I personally found talking to a Mental Health Counselor and a Social Worker very informative when it came to deciding what type of degree I wanted to obtain; since it gave me more than one side and one opinion. Note: Make sure the counselor you are speaking to is recommended either by a reliable source. It is important to understand there are many different types of counselors and just because you have a licensed or certification in one, doesn’t mean you are able to counsel clients in another area. For example; do you think it is a good idea to have a counselor who is trained as a marriage counselor to treat someone with a dependency illness? Probably not, since there is so much different coordination that needs to be done to treat dependencies. This isn’t saying a marriage counselor isn’t needed, since again I wouldn’t want a substance abuse counselor trying to help me with my marriage or relationships. To get an idea of what I’m talking about. We will do a quick review on some of the different types of counselors. Starting with a mental health counselor.

Mental Health Counseling is normally what most people think of when they hear the word counselor. It is the mental health counselor who is required to learn how to not only treat, but to be able to diagnose and develop the proper treatment plan for each patient. The level of education needed is a Master’s program with a minimum of 60 credit hours prior to even starting to practice or work with clients. In some states a student must work in for a specific time period to obtain a full license.

Marriage and Family Counseling will actually place must of their studying and career pursuit toward marriage and family counseling. Like mental health counselors, a marriage and family counselor has a slightly different licensing process. This is mostly due to the focus and type of client they are treating.

School Counseling is exactly what it sounds like, a counselor who works in an education setting with students ranging from Kindergarten through their senior year in high school. In some cases a school counselor will actually try to get a dual certification in both school and mental health counseling. For those looking for a basic program for school counselling, it normally only takes about 48 credit hours to obtain their degree. Unlike other types of counseling, a school counselor must be licensed by both the state and the education department. Note: It is important to have an idea of what age group you are wanting to work with, since it is important to understand whether you will be focused on violence prevention in lower levels or on helping to plan for college and a career in the secondary levels. Remember regardless of what level you determine to work at the emotional needs of the students do not go away and you must always be on the lookout.

College Counseling is exactly what it sounds like, you will be working with college level students. However, don’t be fooled your work won’t just consist of helping a student in the decision of what major to go for, you will still have to focus on student needs. Some of these needs could be helping a student adjust to being away from home for the first time and/or on students with a disability and special challenges.

Addictions Counseling is in the profession of helping people with a dependency illness, normally with alcohol and/or drugs. Some people must interested in becoming this type of a counselor have gone through their own counseling for alcohol and/or drug dependency. In these cases it is typical for Schools and the different licensing departments to require the student to be dependency free for a period of multiple years before starting the program and/or getting licensed.

There are many other counseling fields we will not go in-depth on; however for your information and knowledge here are other areas you might be interested in:

Rehabilitation Counselors Spiritual Counselors Geriatric Counselors Veterans Counselors Domestic Violence Counselors Child Pediatric Counselors Child Abuse Counselor Grief Counselors Suicide Counselors Depression Counselors Transformation Counselors Community Mental Health Counselors

If there is a need for further information to determine what type of counseling you would like to study, going to the different agencies who govern the different types of counseling is also a good place to start:

American Counseling Association (ACA)
American School Counselor Association (ASCA)
National Career Development Association (NCDA)
International Association of Marriage and Family Counselors (IAMFC)
American Association for Marriage and Family Therapists (AAMFT) Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP) The Council on Rehabilitation Education (CORE)

"Addiction isn't about substance - you aren't addicted to the substance, you are addicted to the alteration of mood that the substance brings." -Susan Cheever

The next step…

Well now that you know the type of counselor you would like to be, what do you do next? Depending on what level of education you are currently at may dictate your next step for you. If you are just a student starting off or only have a few credits, then you should look at your current major and determine if it will put you on the right track. A degree focusing on psychology is always a good start; however, there are other areas of study you might be more interested in and still receive the needed courses to further your education and to get accepted into a Master’s program. A Bachelor of Science in Counseling with an Emphasis in Addiction, Chemical Dependency and Substance Abuse might be another area of study more appeling to you. Note: Talk to your college counselor or further advice on how to take action.

What if you have already attained a Bachelor’s degree and it isn’t in one or two of the normal course work to be accepted into a Master’s program? Well first off figure out the different school that offer this field of study at the Master’s level. This could be a local or an online University, it will depend on each individual to determine which is best for you. Universities such as:

Ashford University Bellevue University Capella University Fort Hays State University Grand Canyon University Hope International University Liberty University North Central University North Carolina State University Northwestern State University of Louisiana University of New York State Southwestern Assemblies of God University USC School of Social Work University of Pennsylvania University of the Rockies Walden University

These are but a few school you might want to take a look at and determine if you meet theirprerequisites for the programs offered. Note: even if you are in doubt you meet the prerequisites, you should contact a school recruiter or counselor. Depending the school, some work and volunteer experience may make you eligible for the program.

"The ultimate goal of's too hard a question. The words come to me like tranquility, like fulfillment, like realizing your potential." - Irvin D. Yalom

Wrapping it up…

Now that you have an idea of what is needed to become a counselor, are you still ready for the challenge? To be honest, I was a little nervous when I first started my program at Grand Canyon University. I have a Bachelor’s of Arts in Social and Criminal Justice, which seems way out in left field when you think about counseling. I really didn’t think I would actually have what it took to (1) get accepted and (2) to actually pass courses at the Master’s level. Well I was accepted, even though I had a Bachelor’s of Arts degree my recruiter and counselor took into fact I had a lot of experience from both my previous profession and also volunteer work I had done. Pasting the classes, well I’m not going to say they are easy courses and on one occasion I really didn’t take my course as serious I should have and barely passed with a ‘C’. However, on the rest of my courses so far I have managed to squeak by with an ‘A’; sometimes by the skin of my teeth. But it is still an ‘A’, right?

Though any degree isn’t cheap, with scholarships and financial aid there is actually no reason anyone should not get the degree they want. Yes you will probably lose some time with family and friends, but the reward at the end will help make up for that lost time.

“If you really want to do something, you’ll find a way. If you don’t, you’ll find an excuse.” - Jim Rohn

© 2014 Sandy D


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