How To Become A Counselor: 14 Courses & Online Options

How to become a counselorYou want to help others achieve their goals and become the best version of themselves.

You’re committed to working with clients to negotiate changes and challenges.

You want to make a positive impact on others’ lives.

So – you’ve made the momentous decision to become a counselor, but now what? The various pathways to becoming a counselor can be perplexing.

Do you really need a degree?
What about clinical experience?
How about all those certifications?

Navigating this bewildering career path can be difficult. Equally, knowing how to advance in this profession can be tricky, as there are various types of courses, programs, and certifications offered. Are these opportunities legitimate? Will they help you reach your ultimate goal of becoming a counselor? Read on for clarification.

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How To Become A Counselor

Depending on where you are in the world, check your local guidelines too for becoming a counselor. You will probably begin by obtaining your Bachelor’s degree in a related field such as communications, human resources, psychology, or business. In addition, you can pursue a counseling-specific Master’s degree in order to stand out.

You will also want to research what tests you have to take as a specific type of counselor. Some areas may require you to take an examination. For example, in the United States, there are 30 states that require state content examinations for school counseling licensure (Carey, Martin, Harrington, & Trevisan, 2018).

While some countries require very little more than a high school diploma, others require counselors to obtain a master’s degree with clinical experience. Further, the educational program may need to be accredited by a specific governing agency.

For instance, if you are in Europe, have a look at the European Board for Certified Counselors and the European Association of Counseling (EAC). If practicing in Australia interests you, reference the Australian Counselling Association (ACA) for more information.

The National Counselling Society will be a good place to look for an accredited program in the United Kingdom. The accrediting agency in the United States will be the American Counseling Association (ACA) and, in some instances, the American Psychological Association.


How to become an online counselor

To become an online counselor, the requirements remain the same as an in-person counselor. One will most likely need a master’s degree, although some entry-level positions may accept a bachelor’s degree.

Clinical experience will also be necessary and the amount of hours will depend on the local licensing agency. For example, in the United States, the number of hours required to qualify for licensure varies from state to state. It is important to understand that while your reach is worldwide, you may only see clients from which states you have a certification.

Although there are no other additional requirements to provide online counseling, counselors will need the capability to conduct video meetings, use text chat, and work remotely over the internet (The Recovery Village, 2021).

Someone interested in online counseling will need to be tech-savvy, have stellar communication skills, and be creative.


What Qualifications Do You Need?

Counseling qualificationsWhile attending an accredited program for counseling, you will develop the necessary basic competencies to become a counselor.

According to the Counselor Competencies Scale (Lambie, Mullen, Swank, & Blount, 2015), the Council for the Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP) strongly suggested aspiring counselors encompass competencies involving the following:

  • Professional ethics
  • Professional behavior
  • Record keeping and task completion
  • Multicultural competence in a counseling relationship
  • Emotional stability and control
  • Openness to feedback
  • Motivated to learn and grow/Show initiative
  • Flexibility and adaptability
  • Congruence and genuineness

Besides these competencies and the education and certifications described in this article, you will need the following soft skills:

  • Communication skills (Setiyowati et al., 2019)
  • Motivational interviewing (Iarussi, Tyler, Crawford, & Crawford, 2019)
  • “[A]a balancing fulcrum between the knowledge of behavioral dynamics and therapeutic skills.” (Fitriana, 2019, Abstract)
  • Creativity (Wells & Dickens, 2020)
  • Problem-solving (Pietrantoni, Hennig, Totten, Shindelar, & Keene-Orton, 2019)
  • Empathy (Miville, Carlozzi, Gushue, Schara, & Ueda, 2006; Rogers, 1957)
  • Respect for the client (Rogers, 1957)
  • Genuineness (Rogers, 1957)
  • Ability to convey empathy, respect, and genuineness (Rogers, 1957)

This is by no means an exhaustive list of all the qualities an effective counselor must have.

As a counselor, you must also enjoy working with people. If you strive to be a children’s or school counselor, you should enjoy working with youngsters. Of course, an individual must possess compassion and empathy while navigating stressful situations in order to become a counselor.

In a study by Setiyowati et al. (2019), their research concluded that counseling competence needs a significant correlation between basic knowledge, basic attitude, basic communication skills, and cultural skills. Keeping each of these in mind, you are now ready to begin your search for an appropriate counseling program.


5 Best Counseling Psychology Courses

Counseling psychology differs from counseling in that it is a specialty within psychology. These professionals rely on psychological theories and therapeutic approaches to help their clients.

Many counseling psychologists may perform psychotherapy (Cherry, 2020). Counseling psychologists typically graduate from an APA-accredited doctoral program (Jackson & Scheel, 2013), as it is standard for professionals in the United States who call themselves psychologists.

Counseling psychology may consist of individual, family, and group counseling and psychotherapy; crisis intervention, disaster and trauma management; assessment techniques for the diagnosis of psychological disorders; programs/workshops that educate and inform the public; consulting with organizations; and program evaluation and treatment outcome (APA, 2022).

Courses in a counseling psychology program that you may encounter in an undergraduate program include Social Psychology, Introduction to Case Management, Abnormal Psychology, and Statistics and Research Methods. In a graduate program, you may be required to take Legal and Ethical Issues in Counseling, Psychopharmacology, Personality Assessment, Theory and Philosophy of Counseling, and Marriage and Family Counseling.

In addition to quality coursework, it will be imperative to choose a program that is accredited and recognized.


5 Certified courses & programs

Capella University

Capella University

If you are interested in a master’s degree in addiction studies, marriage and family therapy, clinical mental health counseling, or school counseling, Capella University may be a good fit for you.

Capella is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission (hlcommission.org), Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP), Commission on Accreditation for Marriage and Family Therapy (COAMFTE), Council on Social Work Education’s Commission of Accreditation (CSWE), and the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation (CAEP).

There are also two doctoral programs offered: Advanced Studies in Human Behavior and Counselor Education and Supervision.

Find more information on their website.


Northcentral University

Northcentral University

Northcentral University offers an online Ph.D. program where you could specialize in counseling psychology. A Master of Science in Clinical Mental Health Counseling is also available. Be sure to check the prerequisites concerning what is needed to apply to these programs.

This accredited university is unique because it has weekly start dates and offers one-to-one engagement with your professors.

More information can be found here.


Liberty University

Liberty University

A face-to-face Bachelor’s degree in psychology with a focus on counseling is available from Liberty University.

While this program may not allow you to become a full-fledged counselor, you may apply to be a caseworker, counselor aide, group home coordinator, mental health technician, residential youth counselor, social service coordinator, or this may be a stepping stone to getting your master’s degree.

Seek more information from their site.


Georgian College


The Keystone Bachelor Studies website recognizes Georgian College in Canada as a top undergraduate program in counseling, and they offer an Honours Bachelor of Counselling Psychology.

This four-year program also includes an internship and field placement for students to put their learning into practice.

Find more information on their website.

With any university, you may want to check local and organizational accreditation as well to ensure that you can obtain licensure in your area.


Top 9 Online Courses & Programs

Online learning is flourishing in counselor education and it is estimated that 50 CACREP-accredited counseling master’s programs offer 50 percent or more of their curriculum through online or distance technologies (Holmes, Reid, Hawley, & Wagner, 2020).

Like in the brick-and-mortar setting, it is also important to check the accreditation of the school you would like to attend. For example, in 2020, the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP) accredited nearly 40 fully online counselor education programs in the United States (Haddock, Cannon, & Grey, 2020).


University of Queensland

University of Queensland

According to Edurank (2021) the University of Queensland has been ranked #2 in 2021 for psychology in Australia.

Undergraduate, graduate, and doctorate programs are offered. The Master of Mental Health or Master of Counseling degrees could be the programs that get you where you need to go.

Begin your own research here.


Chicago School of Professional Psychology

The Chicago SchoolThe Chicago School of Professional Psychology is a famed school for psychology and regionally accredited by the WASC Senior College and University Commission (WSCUC) and is an active member of the National Council of Schools and Programs of Professional Psychology.

This school offers a M.A. in Clinical Mental Health Counseling or a M.A. in Forensic Psychology with a professional counselor licensure track that will help you advance your career in counseling.

More information can be gained by visiting their website.


Pepperdine Graduate School of Education and Psychology

PepperThe Pepperdine M.A. in Clinical Psychology can be obtained online and provides all academic requirements needed to sit for the Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC) licensure in various states in the U.S.

Four of the terms you complete will include clinical training.

Find more out about this online university here.


2 Courses for grief counseling

Grief counseling, which can also be called bereavement counseling, is also a service that is in-demand.

As a grief counselor, you will counsel and comfort individuals dealing with loss and pain, to adjust and cope with loss and the grief that accompanies it. If you cannot find a grief counseling program that is right for you, you may consider a program that focuses on trauma therapy.


American International Theism University

American International Theism University

Consider a Master of Psychology in Grief Counseling from American International Theism University of Englewood, USA.

This is an online program accredited by the Accreditation Service for International Schools, Colleges, and Universities (ASIC).

This university is also a member of the BQF (British Quality Foundation) and is an institutional member of EDEN (European Distance and E-Learning Network).

Discover more about this university here.


Regent University

Regent University

Regent University’s Master’s in Human Services – Grief Counseling will provide an excellent foundation in working with individuals who have experienced loss. You may also even consider their Ph.D. in Counseling & Psychological Studies with a focus on grief.

Explore more about this school on their website.


2 Best career counseling courses

In your role as a career counselor, you will work with people of all ages who face the choice of education, career, and their future. You may work with the unemployed or individuals in career transition or rehabilitation.


Stockholm University

Stockholm UniversityIf you are open to an international school, Stockholm University in Sweden extends a Bachelor of Arts in Study and Career Guidance, which leads to a professional qualification in study and career guidance.

Find out if this program is right for you by exploring their website.


Florida State University


Florida State University offers a Master of Science (M.S.) and an Education Specialist (Ed.S.) degree in Counselor Education, while specializing in Career Counseling or Clinical Mental Health Counseling.

As one of only 8 CACREP-accredited career counseling degree programs in the United States, this program will prepare you for your profession as a career counselor.

Find more information about FSU here.

For additional career counseling programs, refer to our article Career Counseling Training: 9 Certifications, Trainings, and Degrees.


2 Best school counseling courses

University of Southern California

Southern California

USC’s Master of Education in School Counseling offers an online Master of Education in School Counseling.

This program takes less than two years to complete and will help school counselor candidates to apply for the school counseling credential.

Find more information here.


National University


An M.S. Educational Counseling with a Pupil Personnel Services Credential is offered by National University.

Their four-week online or on-site classes are tailored to working adults who would like to get started as soon as possible and finish faster. Moreover, National University is military friendly and veteran founded.

More information can be found on their website.


Resources From PositivePsychology.com

If you are interested in becoming a career counselor, our article on Career Counseling Resources: 10 Techniques for Your Sessions, in addition to the training article mentioned earlier, may be of interest to you.

Or perhaps school counseling caught your eye, in which case you will want to check out our article on What Is School Counseling: 14 Roles and Goals of Counselors. This article will help you understand the responsibility of a school counselor.

Maybe you have an interest in helping individuals through the grief process. Information on the demands of a grief counselor can be learned from our article on How to Do Bereavement Counseling: Resources and Interventions.

If you are specifically looking for courses regarding couples counseling, please see our article 17 Best Courses for Relationship and Couples Counseling.

Are the helping professions all sounding so similar and you would like to compare the professions? Please refer to our article Social Work Vs Psychology, Counseling, and Occupational Therapy for clarification. Additionally, How Do Coaching, Mentoring, and Counseling Differ? may be another helpful article for you.

Should you be wondering if you have what it takes to be an effective counselor, then refer to our article Characteristics of Effective Counseling and Counselors.

If you’re looking for more science-based ways to help others enhance their wellbeing, this signature collection contains 17 validated positive psychology tools for practitioners. Use them to help others flourish and thrive.


A Take-Home Message

Good luck on taking those first steps to a fulfilling career as a counselor! While it may take a bit of groundwork to determine a program that fits your needs, the reward of knowing you have the skills and qualifications to help others is priceless.

One last bit of advice, reach out to a local counseling clinic to inquire about job qualification and gain specific information concerning education and certificate criteria.

We hope you found this article helpful in creating your action plan to become a counselor and changing the trajectory of people’s lives.

We hope you enjoyed reading this article. Don’t forget to download our three Positive Psychology Exercises for free.

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  • Edurank. (2021). 39 best universities for psychology in Australia. Retrieved on April 4, 2022 from https://edurank.org/psychology/au/
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  • Pietrantoni, Z., Hennig, J., Totten, J., Shindelar, L., & Keene-Orton, B. (2019). Game-based learning in counselor education: Strategies for counselor training. The Journal of Counselor Preparation and Supervision, 12(2).
  • Rogers, C. R. (1957). The necessary and sufficient conditions of therapeutic personality change. Journal of Consulting Psychology, 21, 95-103.
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  • The Recovery Village. (2021, September). How to become an online mental health & substance abuse counselor. Retrieved on April 6, 2022 from https://www.therecoveryvillage.com/professionals/jobs/teletherapists/
  • Wells, P. C., & Dickens, K. N. (2020). Creativity in counselor education: More than case studies. International Journal for the Advancement of Counselling, 42(2), 191-199.

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