Graduate program options in community counseling include master's degrees, which prepare students to work as counselors, and doctoral degrees, which prepare graduates for research and teaching careers. Program options at the master's degree level provide students with the basic tools to help clients address emotional, substance abuse and mental health issues. Doctoral candidates learn about counseling methodology within an individual or community setting.
In a community counseling master's degree program, you need to have a bachelor's degree in a related area. The curriculum in a program is often designed based on state licensing requirements. You will be prepared to work as a community counselor upon graduation and obtain proper licensing.
In a community counseling doctoral degree program, you will have the opportunity to specialize in an area of counseling that interests you, such as substance abuse or rehabilitation. Ph.D. programs require a master's degree in the field. In-depth clinical research and hands-on training are part of both programs.
Master's Degree in Community Counseling
Students who complete a master's degree program acquire the basic skills to help clients resolve mental health, substance abuse and emotional problems in a community-based or individual setting. Community counseling graduate programs focus more on group therapy specific to outpatient treatment and rehabilitation. Students also learn to help clients develop healthy and therapeutic relationships.
Most programs accept students with a Bachelor of Science degree in social work, psychology or a related field. Master's degree program candidates expand the knowledge acquired in undergraduate study to promote wellness and help clients address the underlying causes of stress and other mental health conditions. Some programs focus more on human services or career development. After completing foundational requirements, students can apply their community counseling skills under the supervision of a licensed mental health professional. Many programs are structured around state licensing requirements.
Basic coursework in a community counseling program explores written and verbal communications, research techniques and societal issues. Community counseling majors also complete an in-depth study of:
- Multicultural issues in substance abuse
- Counseling assessments
- Marriage and family therapy
- Common mental health issues
- Community rehabilitation sessions
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Doctoral Degree in Community Counseling
After they earn a master's degree, community counseling majors can pursue concentrations in clinical psychology, substance abuse or rehabilitation as doctoral candidates. Programs with accreditation from the American Psychological Association are usually tailored to state licensing, teaching and other industry requirements. Doctoral programs focus more on a scientific approach to community counseling, and students learn to assess which counseling techniques are appropriate to certain behavioral conditions and group dynamics.
However, some programs allow students to choose between concentrations emphasizing research or clinical practice. Research-oriented programs may allow community counseling majors to focus on new or experimental techniques in clinical practices. Those focused on community practice emphasize professional ethics and best practices in the counseling industry.
Many programs partner students with faculty members for clinical research, and counseling sessions are usually videotaped for later review and analysis. Students usually begin clinical work within the first year of doctoral study. Research based on this experience explores the biological, societal and human development factors of mental health.
Math requirements in a community counseling program include those in quantitative data analysis and statistics. Science-based courses focus more on physiological causes of behavioral change. Otherwise, community counseling majors can expect to complete coursework in:
- Clinical treatment evaluation
- Cognitive processes
- Psychotherapy methods
- Community-based testing
- Psychological examinations
- Behavioral technology
Popular Career Options
Many Ph.D. candidates already have experience as community and other counselors; however, some decide to earn a doctorate before they begin their careers. Research and scientific experience in a community counseling program can be combined with a clinical knowledge base by:
- College instructors
- Community counselors
- Rehabilitation specialists
- Psychology researchers
Employment Outlook and Salary Info
While positions in this field often have different requirements, most community counselors hold a master's degree and are licensed to practice by the state. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) expects demand for mental health counselors to increase by 20% between 2014 and 2024 (www.bls.gov). This was faster growth than the average for all occupations. The BLS also expects demand for rehabilitation counselors to increase by 9% during the 2014-2024 decade.
BLS research indicates that median wages for mental health counselors were $41,880 as of May 2015. Also in 2015, rehabilitation counselors and substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors could expect median earnings of $34,390 and $39,980, respectively.
Students with a bachelor's degree wishing to help clients address mental health issues may consider a graduate degree in community counselling to become a mental health, rehabilitation, or substance abuse counselor.