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Professional Counselor Career Info and Education Requirements

Learn about the education and preparation needed to become a professional counselor. Get a quick view of the requirements as well as details about training, job duties and licensure to find out if this is the career for you.

Professional counselors provide counseling and therapy to patients with mental health issues and disorders. Their work involves diagnosis and non-medical forms of treatment in conjunction with other professionals in the field. Professional counselors must have a master's degree and a state license.

Essential Information

A professional counselor is a mental health provider who has typically earned a master's degree and obtained state licensure in order to provide counseling and psychotherapy (as well as other forms of therapy) to clients seeking relief from a variety of mental health issues including mood disorders, substance abuse, trauma and abuse and interpersonal strife. They do not have medical degrees or medical licenses and therefore cannot prescribe medications, but they work together with other medical professionals to make and receive healthcare recommendations for patients.

Required Education Master's degree in professional counseling or counselor education required for most positions
Licensure & Certification Standardized exam required for initial limited license
Internship or other supervised practice required to obtain full licensure
Projected Job Growth (2014-2024)* 19% for mental health counselors and family and marriage therapists; 22% for substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors
Average Salary (2015)* $43,190 for mental health counselors; $39,980 for substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Professional Counselor Career and Salary Info

Professional counselors provide psychotherapy to help clients cope with social, emotional and behavioral problems. They may provide cognitive-behavioral therapy, psychodynamic therapy, interpersonal therapy, client-centered therapy or any combination thereof.

Professional counselors diagnose and treat psychological disorders, including substance abuse, depression and anxiety disorders. They help victims of domestic violence and sexual abuse cope with the resulting trauma. Professional counselors also assist clients who are experiencing interpersonal or relational issues, such as marital problems and divorce. In addition, they help clients deal with life-changing events, such as the death of a loved one or serious illness and disability. Professional counselors encourage clients to express their feelings and talk about their problems, and they help clients develop the skills to deal with problems in a constructive manner.

Many professional counselors work as private practitioners, seeing patients in a private office. Others are employed by mental health centers, substance abuse clinics, hospitals and long-term care facilities. In these settings, professional counselors may provide individualized or group therapy.

Job outlook and salary for professional counselors varies dependent on specific area of practice, For example, according to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (the BLS), job growth was expected to increase by 19% from 2014 to 2024 for mental health counselors and marriage and family therapists. Median annual salary in 2015, according to the BLS, was $43,190 for mental health counselors, $39,980 for substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors and $45,530 for all other counselors.

Educational Requirements

In order to practice in the United States, all professional counselors must be licensed in the state in which they practice. Licensure requirements vary by state; however, all states require licensees to complete a master's program that has been accredited by the Council for the Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP).

Master's programs in professional counseling or counselor education typically include coursework in psychopathology, appraisal and assessment, diagnosis, theories of counseling, group counseling and professional ethics. In addition to coursework, students must also complete a supervised practicum. The exact number of required practicum hours varies by state, but accredited graduate programs are generally in compliance with their particular state's licensure requirements.

Post-Graduate Licensure Requirements

After completion of a master's program, students must pass a standardized licensing exam. Most states require either the National Counselor Exam or the National Clinical Mental Health Counseling Exam, and some states may require additional state-specific exams. Following successful completion of the licensing exam, students may obtain a temporary Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC) license or an LPC intern license. This license allows interns to work under the supervision of a licensed professional counselor. Interns must complete a fixed number of supervised practice hours (usually 1,500 to 3,000 hours, depending on the state) in a specific amount of time (usually 18 to 24 months) in order to obtain an LPC license.

Professional counselors work with other medical professionals to provide care for patients with mental illnesses or disorders. They tend to have a master's degree in professional counseling or counseling education. They must also pass a standardized licensing exam and any extra exams required by the state in which they wish to practice.


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