If you want to help people deal with mental health, emotional and social problems and enjoy working closely with others, becoming a professional counselor might be the right career choice for you. Professional counselors have a minimum of a master's degree in counseling and in many cases, a state license. Master's degree programs in counseling generally involve about two years of full-time study and the completion of a supervised internship. Once you've obtained your degree, you may be eligible for a number of exciting and rewarding career options.
Many counselors choose to open private practices, providing counseling and psychotherapy to individuals, couples, families and in some cases, groups. Counselors are qualified to diagnose and treat emotional and mental disorders, according to the American Counseling Association. Some of the common problems you might encounter as a private practitioner include depression, anxiety, job, family or relationship stress or substance abuse. Private practice often appeals to counselors who wish to work independently and who want to be in charge of their own schedules. They might see clients during regular business hours, in the evenings or on weekends, so they need to be flexible and have good time management skills. Some counselors may specialize in working with specific populations, such as children and adolescents, or in certain areas, such as substance abuse or couples counseling.
Mental Health Counselor
Some counselors work in mental health clinics, hospitals, college and university counseling centers, nonprofit community centers and employee assistance programs. Mental health counselors who work in these settings provide diagnostic services, assessment and counseling to individuals, couples, families and groups. Their schedules are often determined by the work setting and the needs of their clients. Two of the main benefits of working in an external setting is that you'll usually receive clinical supervision from an experienced counselor and you'll also have the opportunity to interact with and learn from your colleagues.
Substance Abuse Counselor
While some counselors might provide substance abuse counseling in private practice, counselors who want to specialize in substance abuse treatment often work in dedicated drug and alcohol treatment facilities. They work in inpatient treatment centers, outpatient substance abuse counseling agencies or hospitals. Substance abuse counselors work with individuals and groups to help them recover from addictions. While a master's degree qualifies you to provide substance abuse counseling, many counselors also obtain voluntary certification from the National Association for Alcoholism and Drug Abuse Counselors.
In many cases, employers prefer candidates who have some specific education or experience in career counseling, but this is not always a requirement. Career counselors work in schools, colleges and universities and government-funded employment centers. They provide guidance, advice and counseling and administer career aptitude tests. In addition to a state license, career counselors often decide to obtain voluntary certification in career counseling from the National Career Development Association.
- American Counseling Association: Who Are Licensed Professional Counselors?
- Bureau of Labor Statistics: Mental Health Counselors and Marriage and Family Therapists: Work Environment
- National Association of Alcoholism and Drug Abuse Counselors: NAADAC Certification Program
- Bureau of Labor Statistics: School and Career Counselors: How to Become a School or Career Counselor
- National Career Development Association: Membership Categories
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