Counselors are trained professionals who help people with different types of life problems. Counselor training varies and depends on the type of counseling that is being done, since counselors can work in a variety of settings with a diverse array of clients and communities. There are many types of counselors, including educational, vocational, rehabilitation, mental health, substance abuse and marriage and family therapists. Training for each of these specializations is different, however, the basic steps needed to become a counselor are similar.
Educate yourself about counseling, psychology and human development. Counselors generally work with diverse populations including children, adults and families that may have mental health or substance abuse problems, as well as issues with employment, trauma and disabilities. Learning about the specific type of work that is done with different populations will help you to narrow your choices and decide what type of counseling you would like to do and what type of people you would like to work with.
Find a masters program in your chosen area. Professional counselors must possess both a bachelor's as well as a master's degree. Consider a bachelor's degree in social sciences. This will prepare you for the advanced study of psychology, sociology, child development and statistics that is often required in master's degree programs.
Get experience in your area of specialization. While in school, most counseling programs require on-the-job training in the form of an internship. This is a good way to gain experience and to figure out your specialization. After receiving your degree, you will also need at least two years of clinical training under a licensed counselor in order to qualify to take a licensing exam. Requirements for licensure vary by state, but licensure is usually required to practice as an independent counselor and to work as a supervisor.
- The National Board for Certified Counselors (NBCC) is the organization in charge of the exam that grants licensure as a National Certified Counselor.
- Burnout, also known as compassion fatigue, is a serious risk for mental health workers, including counselors who may spend many hours per week in high stress situations. Symptoms of burn out include high stress and anxiety as well as physical and emotional exhaustion. Self-care is important to prevent burnout.