You 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.
Before you continue, we thought you might like to download our three Positive Psychology Exercises for free. These science-based exercises explore fundamental aspects of positive psychology, including strengths, values, and self-compassion, and will give you the tools to enhance the wellbeing of your clients, students, or employees.
This Article Contains:
How to Become a Counselor
Depending on where you are in the world, your local guidelines for becoming a counselor may differ. You will probably begin by obtaining a 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 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, 30 states require state content examinations for school counseling licensure (Carey et al., 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. If practicing in Australia interests you, reference the Australian Counselling Association for more information.
The National Counselling Society will be a good place to look for an accredited program in the United Kingdom. The accrediting agencies in the United States are the American Counseling Association and American Psychological Association.
How to become an online counselor
To become an online counselor, the requirements remain the same as an in-person counselor. You 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 number of hours you need depends 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 states where 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?
While attending an accredited program for counseling, you will develop the necessary basic competencies to become a counselor.
According to the Counseling Competencies Scale (Lambie et al., 2018), the Council for the Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP) strongly suggests that 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
In addition to 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 skills (Iarussi et al., 2019)
- “A balancing fulcrum between the knowledge of behavioral dynamics and therapeutic skills” (Fitriana, 2019, Abstract)
- Creativity (Wells & Dickens, 2020)
- Problem-solving (Pietrantoni et al., 2019)
- Empathy (Miville et al., 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.
Setiyowati et al. (2019) 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 a doctoral program accredited by the American Psychological Association (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 and disaster and trauma management; assessment techniques for the diagnosis of psychological disorders; programs/workshops that educate and inform the public; consulting with organizations; and evaluation of the program and treatment outcomes (American Psychological Association, 2008).
Undergraduate courses in a counseling psychology program may include social psychology, introduction to case management, abnormal psychology, and statistics and research methods. In a graduate program, you may be required to take courses on 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
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, CACREP, Commission on Accreditation for Marriage and Family Therapy, Council on Social Work Education’s Commission of Accreditation, and the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation.
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 offers an online PhD 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 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.
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, or social service coordinator, or this may be a stepping stone to getting your master’s degree.
Seek more information from their site.
The Keystone Bachelor Studies website recognizes Georgian College in Canada as a top undergraduate program in counseling, and they offer an honors bachelor degree in counseling psychology.
This four-year program also includes an internship and field placement to put your learning into practice.
Find more information on their website.
With any university, you may want to check local and organizational accreditation 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% or more of their curriculum through online or distance technologies (Holmes et al., 2020).
Like in the brick-and-mortar setting, it is also important to check the accreditation of the online school you would like to attend. In 2020, CACREP accredited nearly 40 fully online counselor education programs in the United States (Haddock et al., 2020).
University of Queensland
According to Edurank (n.d.) the University of Queensland was ranked #2 in 2021 for psychology in Australia.
Undergraduate, graduate, and doctorate programs are offered. The Master of Mental Health or Master of Counseling programs could get you where you need to go.
Begin your own research here.
Chicago School of Professional Psychology
The Chicago School of Professional Psychology is a famed school for psychology, regionally accredited by the WASC Senior College and University Commission, and an active member of the National Council of Schools and Programs of Professional Psychology.
This school offers an MA in clinical mental health counseling and an MA 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
The Pepperdine MA in clinical psychology can be obtained online and provides all academic requirements needed to sit for the Licensed Professional Counselor licensure in various states in the United States.
Four of the terms you complete will include clinical training.
Find more out about this online program here.
2 Courses for grief counseling
Grief counseling, which is also called bereavement counseling, is also 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 family therapy.
American International Theism University
Consider a Master of Psychology in grief counseling from American International Theism University of Englewood.
This is an online program accredited by the Accreditation Service for International Schools, Colleges, and Universities.
This university is also a member of the British Quality Foundation and an institutional member of the European Distance and E-Learning Network.
Discover more about this university here.
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 consider their PhD in counseling and 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 choices regarding their education, career, and future. You may work with people who are unemployed, in career transition, or rehabilitation.
Find out if this program is right for you by exploring their website.
Florida State University
Florida State University offers a Master of Science and Education Specialist degree in counselor education, while specializing in career counseling or clinical mental health counseling.
One of only eight 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 Florida State University 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
The University of Southern California offers an online Master of Education degree 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.
A Master of Science in 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, 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 similar? 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.
If you’re 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, check out this signature collection of 17 validated positive psychology tools for practitioners. Use them to help others flourish and thrive.
A Take-Home Message
Good luck 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 qualifications 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.
- American Psychological Association. (2008). Counseling psychology. Retrieved April 6, 2022, from https://www.apa.org/ed/graduate/specialize/counseling
- Carey, J. C., Martin, I., Harrington, K., & Trevisan, M. S. (2018). Competence in program evaluation and research assessed by state school counselor licensure examinations. Professional School Counseling, 22(1), 2156759X18793839.
- Cherry, K. (2020). Counseling psychology career and training. Verywell Mind. Retrieved March 28, 2022, from https://www.verywellmind.com/what-is-counseling-psychology-2795648
- Edurank. (n.d.). 39 best universities for psychology in Australia. Retrieved April 4, 2022, from https://edurank.org/psychology/au/
- Fitriana, H. (2019). Peran keterampilan conselor (Counselor Skill) sebagai problem solving pada permasalahan remaja (Studi Literatur). Al-Tazkiah: Jurnal Bimbingan dan Konseling Islam, 8(1), 17–28.
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- Holmes, C., Reid, C., Hawley, C., & Wagner, C. (2020). Social presence in online counselor education. The Journal of Counselor Preparation and Supervision, 13(4).
- Iarussi, M. M., Tyler, J. M., Crawford, S. H., & Crawford, C. V. (2019). Outcomes of incorporating motivational interviewing into basic counselor skills training. The Journal of Counselor Preparation and Supervision, 12(1).
- Jackson, M. A., & Scheel, M. J. (2013). Quality of master’s education: A concern for counseling psychology? The Counseling Psychologist, 41(5), 669–699.
- Lambie, G. W., Mullen, P. R., Swank, J. M., & Blount, A. (2018). The Counseling Competencies Scale: Validation and refinement. Measurement and Evaluation in Counseling and Development, 51(1), 1–15.
- Miville, M. L., Carlozzi, A. F., Gushue, G. V., Schara, S. L., & Ueda, M. (2006). Mental health counselor qualities for a diverse clientele: Linking empathy, universal-diverse orientation, and emotional intelligence. Journal of Mental Health Counseling, 28(2), 151–165.
- 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.
- Setiyowati, A. J., Pali, M., Wiyono, B. B., & Triyono, T. (2019). Structural model of counseling competence. Jurnal Cakrawala Pendidikan, 38(1), 45–62.
- The Recovery Village. (2021, September). How to become an online mental health & substance abuse counselor. Retrieved 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.