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How to Become a Counselor

Would you describe yourself as someone who has an extensive reservoir of empathy? Are you the member of your friend group who always gives out good advice? If you are able to effectively listen to individuals, offer helpful solutions, and assist people in their journeys through life, you can use those skills to become a mental health counselor.

What Is a Counselor?

A counselor is a trained professional who works with individuals to overcome behavioral disorders and achieve a sense of well-being through introspection and acceptable therapeutic practices. Counseling can cover a vast range of different mental health issues.

There are quite a few counseling areas you can specialize in. When you think of counseling, a school guidance counselor or a therapist probably comes to mind. The term itself works as a catchall used to refer to therapists, guidance counselors, and rehabilitation counselors.

What Does a Counselor Do?

A counselor takes their knowledge of human thought processes and works alongside an individual or group to help them work through emotional, mental, or other various traumas. 

Works with People to Improve Mental Health

Counselors are experts at helping people form goals, work on different coping skills, and other different aspects of mental health. Counselors are experts at helping people achieve their greatest potential. They assist clients in forming both long-term and short-term goals.

Mental health counselors help clients with behavioral disorders, anxiety, and depression. A counselor is on the front lines, doing their best to impart coping skills upon patients. These coping skills are great tools for battling past trauma and anxiety disorders.

Help Outline Life Plans, Goals, and Other Skills

Counseling can be a tough job. You could potentially work in juvenile detention centers, jails, hospitals, schools, and private practices. An effective counselor will be able to rise to the challenge of any environment and help their client reach applicable goals. 

Assists People with Multiple Issues

Working with such a wide range of individuals and groups provides unique challenges. All clients are different. Everyone processes and responds to information differently.

Based on their ailment or mental health status, they could be unwilling to cooperate. This is where counseling can become difficult. However, if you are willing to work hard with a client and help them to the best of your abilities, it can be gratifying for both parties.

Skills a Counselor Needs

To be a counselor, you need to know how humans work on every level.

Ability to Listen 

Perhaps the most important and yet possibly overlooked skill is listening. As a mental health counselor, you need to be able to take in a lot of personal information. If you don’t possess good listening skills, you won’t build a good rapport with your client.

You will also need to prepare yourself to engage with clients who don’t want to divulge any information because of discomfort. All of the positive outcomes you and a client can work towards start with being a sympathetic listener.

Knowledge of Behavioral Disorders

This is what you will primarily be studying in school. While you don’t necessarily need to get your bachelor’s degree in a psychology-related field, you need to narrow down your focus when getting your master’s degree.

Self-Reflection and Self-Awareness

Speaking for hours at a time with others about their personal problems doesn’t mean you’re off the hook. Effective counselors know that they need to have a heightened state of self-awareness. By looking inward, a counselor will think critically, conduct oneself professionally in service of someone else, and achieve high academic standards.

Counselor Salaries and Job Outlook

Since there are various different counseling opportunities, they all vary in salary. Let’s break down different types of counselors by salary.

School Guidance Counselors

American school counselors earn a median pay of $57,040 per year. You will need at least a master’s degree to get hired as a career counselor or guidance counselor. Along with a master’s degree, states require a license. 

Rehabilitation Counselors

The median salary for these counselors is around $35,950 per year. A doctorate can modify this income, earning you thousands of dollars more.

The rise in demand for rehabilitation counselors is growing as well. Over the next decade, the Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates 10 percent growth in rehabilitation counselor jobs.

Marriage and Family Therapists

Those helping married couples and families with their issues earn a median salary of $49,610 per year. This is an extremely lucrative career and is only going to grow in demand. Over the next 10 years, the Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates the field will grow by 22 percent.

The good news is that regardless of what path of counseling you choose, the demand for mental health experts is on the rise.The Bureau of Labor Statistics says school counselor jobs will grow by eight percent. The number of guidance counselor jobs numbered at 324,500 in 2018 alone. About 27,200 new positions open each year.

How Long Does it Take to Become a Counselor?

Depending on your degree in counseling, it could take anywhere from six to eight years. This includes earning your bachelor’s degree and joining a master’s program. Some master’s programs require students to complete a year-long internship that will usually include hours of supervised training.

Internships offer valuable, hands-on experience. These could be in office settings, prisons, hospitals, health clinics, and more.

How to Become a Counselor: A Step by Step Guide

Step 1: Start Your Education

If you haven’t earned your bachelor’s degree yet, this could be an excellent opportunity to get a head start on counseling degrees. For your first steps, major in something like psychology, counseling, or related education majors. Your bachelor’s degree will take four years to complete and builds a fantastic foundation for future careers.

Step 2: Get Your Master’s Degree in School Counseling

This is where the education requirements for counseling degrees get more specific. You will need to enter a graduate program.

This is the phase in which your counseling focus comes into view. What community do you want to work with? Are you interested in helping substance abuse victims? Or do you want to see how to become a school counselor?

Some different degrees in counseling you can specialize in at the master’s degree level include:

  • Counseling
  • Professional counseling
  • Rehabilitation counseling
  • Mental health counseling
  • Marriage and family counseling

After your master’s degree, you could even earn your doctorate. While having a doctorate may not be necessary to get hired, it can score you some significant benefits. A doctoral degree opens up the potential for higher positions, increased pay, and prestige. 

Step 3: Get an Accreditation in Counseling

At this point, you will have some impressive educational qualifications. The next step is to explore the Council of Accreditation. This organization has been around for decades and accredits thousands annually. 

Step 4: Start Listening

Now that you’ve accomplished everything to become a counselor, it’s time to start job hunting. Once you have found a job at a school or practice, open your ears and listen. This is where the long studying and internships come into play.

Should You Become a Counselor?

If you find yourself drawn toward improving both yourself and others, definitely consider becoming a counselor. Keep in mind that to become a high-paying counselor, you will need to put aside a moderate amount of time for education to become qualified.

If you don’t shy away from a good education challenge, then becoming a counselor should be a natural fit.


What are the different types of counselors?
While counselors are a general term for those who help others with various mental health problems, the field is varied. 1. Rehabilitation counselors work with the elderly, veterans, or those with disabilities. 2. Mental health counselors will work alongside those with depression, anxiety, and other mental health disorders. 3. School counselors work with school-age children with various issues and career goals.
What is the difference between therapists and counselors?
The primary difference between the two is that counseling is usually shorter. Psychotherapy is usually longer in duration. While mental health counselors can tackle a particular issue, psychotherapy covers nearly everything.
What can I do with degrees in counseling?
You aren’t limited to just becoming a guidance counselor. There are a lot of different jobs in the field of mental health. You could become a college professor, research director, or a rehabilitation counselor.
What qualities make a good counselor?
Counselors need to exhibit a lot of skills. These tend to be both hard and soft skills. 1. Communication skills 2. Listening skills 3. Problem-solving skills 4. Mental health knowledge 5. Knowledge of behavioral disorders
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