Should I Become a Juvenile Counselor?
Juvenile counselors work with children and adolescents in mental healthcare facilities, schools, and private practices. In private practice, counselors have the opportunity to select their own clients and set their own hours. Other counselors work in teams or for facilities and have less autonomy. The job may require meeting clients on nights and weekends or in emergency situations. Juvenile counselors are often required to have several years of education and training.
All mental health counselors earn a median annual salary of $41,880 as of May 2015, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
|Degree Level||Bachelor's degree for some entry-level work, master's degree for independent counseling positions and private practice|
|Degree Field||Counseling, social work, psychology|
|Licensure and Certification||State licensure is required in every state to work independently or in private practice|
|Experience||Two years or 3,000 hours of direct clinical practice is required before applying for licensure|
|Key Skills||Good listening and communication skills, ability to develop relationships with many different types of people|
|Salary||$41,880 (Annual median salary for mental health counselors)|
Sources: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (May 2014), ONET OnLine
Complete a Bachelor's Degree Program
A bachelor's degree in a liberal arts field is a typical requirement for admission to a master's degree program. Students can major in a related field, such as psychology or education, or in an unrelated field. If majoring in an unrelated field, students should be sure to take courses in psychology, such as introduction to psychology, abnormal psychology, and personality psychology.
Gaining volunteer or professional experience in a counseling-related setting can be useful as well. Master's programs look for commitment to the counseling profession, and volunteering or working as an assistant in a mental healthcare setting demonstrates this commitment. Undergraduate programs may also offer structured internships for credit that allow students to complete appropriate work experiences.
Complete a Master's Degree Program
While there are some positions in juvenile counseling available for individuals with only an undergraduate degree, a master's degree program is a necessary step for students who want to practice independently and use a title such as Licensed Mental Health Counselor.
There are two options for master's programs: social work or counseling. Social work programs tend to have a social systems approach and may or may not include a research component. Typical coursework in this program covers topics such as human behavior in the social environment, social justice, data analysis, clinical practice with groups, and clinical practice with families. Field experience is often integrated into the curriculum. The Council on Social Work Education accredits social work programs.
Counseling programs focus more on individual therapy and psychological testing. Coursework topics could include counseling theories, abnormal psychology, human growth and development, psychopharmacology, research methods, and evaluation of practice. Counseling programs are accredited by the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs.
Obtain Work Experience
To earn state licensure, prospective counselors must complete a required number of hours of work experience after graduating from their master's program. This applies to graduates of both counseling and social work programs. Work experience usually requires approximately 3,000 hours completed over a 2-year period.
Make sure to research state licensing requirements early on during your work experience. State requirements vary, and it's important that students tailor their work experience so that it meets the requirements of the state in which they intend to work. Finding out about these requirements early makes it more likely that all requirements will be met in a timely fashion.
Pass State or Professional Examinations
Passing the Association of Social Work Boards Clinical Examination or the National Clinical Mental Health Counseling Examination is an important step on the path to becoming a licensed juvenile counselor. Study guides are available from the exam boards.
Obtain State Licensure
The titles granted by licensure vary. The most common ones for graduates of counseling programs are Licensed Mental Health Counselor or Licensed Professional Counselor. The title of Licensed Clinical Social Worker is the most common for graduates of social work programs. Licensure applications usually require a student's transcript from academic institutions, evidence of completion of supervised clinical work experience, and a passing score on one of the national licensure examinations.
In summary, becoming a juvenile counselor involves completing a bachelor's and master's degree program in counseling or social work, gaining entry-level work experience, passing state and/or professional examinations, and being awarded state licensure and an official title.