Community counseling programs are not typically offered at the associate's degree level; those interested in this field can have better luck finding online graduate programs. However, students who are looking for associate-level studies in a related subject may get an online associate's degree in psychology, the discipline that provides the academic foundation for community counseling. These programs provide a basic introduction to the field, as well as a general education, and graduates may go on to earn a bachelor's degree and ultimately enroll in a master's degree program in community counseling.
Degree programs in community counseling are primarily reserved for the graduate level because a master's degree is required to work as a licensed counselor. Coursework in these programs may be offered entirely online or in a blended format that includes on-campus requirements. In addition, students may need to complete a practicum or internship prior to graduation.
Prospective students considering applying to a master's degree program in community counseling must have a bachelor's degree. Graduate test scores, letters of recommendations and a personal statement of goals are also common admissions criteria.
Typical coursework for a community counseling master's degree may include some of the following courses:
- Theories of Counseling
- Mental Health Assessment
- Treatment Planning
- Ethics and Standards of Practice
- Educational Research
- Psychopathology and Diagnosis
- Theories and Procedures in Group Counseling
Some master's programs offer all coursework online but require an internship and/or practicum at an approved setting. Other schools have hybrid community counseling programs, which means that students can complete a portion of their studies online and a selection of classes on campus.
Online coursework is typically managed in a virtual classroom operated by the school; it contains lectures, assignments and communication tools such as message boards or chat rooms.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) notes that the number of employed mental health counselors is expected to grow 20% from 2014 to 2024, which is notably faster than average. Job growth during this period may be due to a general increase in people requesting mental health assistance, as well as overall population growth. As of May 2015, the median annual salary for mental health counselors was $41,880, reports the BLS.
During this time, states that employed the highest number of these professionals included California, Virginia and Pennsylvania. Alaska offered the highest average wage to mental health counselors in 2015, at $60,190 per year.
Mental health counselors must complete an accredited master's program, 2,000-4,000 hours of clinical experience and a state-approved exam in order to practice. Common duties for these professionals include diagnosing mental disorders, planning treatments and developing strategies with clients. Licensed counselors are prepared to work in a variety of settings, including community agencies, hospitals, private practices, clinics and mental health facilities.
For students interested in pursuing a career in community counseling, an online master's degree program fulfills the educational component needed for state licensure. Students who have no previous postsecondary school experience can get started on this career path by enrolling in an online associate's degree program in psychology instead.