Counselors are professionals who help people deal with the various difficulties of life, by helping them come up with solutions to resolve and/or prevent problems, offering support, and when appropriate, recommending helpful resources. To enhance their academic standing and credentials, many counselors obtain certification in their chosen field. These fields include mental health professions, school and career counseling, family and marriage counseling, social work, and more. Counselors usually find their work rewarding since they utilize their expertise to help others overcome difficulties and problems they encounter in their day-to-day lives. Depending on the education and type of certification and licensure one has, counselors can help clients and patients deal with and manage emotional disorders, sexual abuse, concerns about aging, career changes, and adolescent issues among many other situations.
Individuals who aspire to a counseling career must dedicate many years to obtaining the education, skills, and training required to counsel effectively. While high school students may not know at that time in their life what counseling profession they will eventually enter, they can begin to prepare by taking courses that will round out their background and set them up for a counseling major in college. If available, high school students should take biology, sociology, statistics, psychology, and communications. Students should also work or volunteer in programs that promote a healthy, responsible lifestyle. At this stage, it is not too early for a student to research and begin working toward meeting their state’s certification and licensing requirements.
Once in college, depending on their intended profession, aspiring counselors should work on obtaining their four-year bachelor’s degree in psychology, sociology, education, or social work.
In order to learn as much as possible about a specific type of counseling, students should spend time with people who are currently working as counselors. In addition to gaining insights into their chosen profession, students will also be making valuable connections with professionals who may be able to help them in their future job search.
Many counselors obtain master’s and even doctoral degrees in their specific field. Doing so may entail writing a thesis or dissertation and performing a certain number of hours of supervised clinical work. Upon successful completion of these requirements, the student may be granted a graduate degree from their college or university. Some states have additional certification requirements. The prospective counselor needs to thoroughly research his state, and even county certification and licensing requirements, since there may be additional testing and/or work experience that must be successfully completed before the counselor is legally and professionally authorized to practice.
Beyond the mandatory state or county certification and licensures, many counselors continue their education voluntarily to obtain a more specialized certification. These certifications can be obtained from an independent professional certification organization, such as the National Board for Certified Counselors or the National Certified Counselor designation. The Commission on Rehabilitation Counselor Certification grants certifications in specialized areas such as addictions counseling, marriage and family counseling, and school counseling.
Additional field work and examinations will be required to obtain these certifications. In order to maintain theirr certification, counselors must generally take continuing education courses or pass certain examinations at regular intervals. Again, the type of certification, the profession, and the state will all have specific requirements that the counselor will need to complete.
Counseling certification means that the individual has met all of the standards of the organization that confers the credential, and, as a result, has additional documentation of his professional competence and expertise. In other words, by obtaining certification, these professionals demonstrate to both employers and the public that they have met all the standards their counseling profession has set.
When Do You Need Counseling Certification?There are many different types of counselors, each with varying levels of training and education. While some people become counselors with a four-year bachelor’s degree, others go on to obtain their post- graduate master’s or doctorate degree in their area of counseling expertise. Most counselors, regardless of their profession, take other specialized training and courses to obtain their certification as additional testimony to their qualifications and credentials. There are many reasons why counselors opt to obtain a professional certification.
- Consider those types of counselors who do not need to have a college degree in order to practice their profession. For example, individuals with a high school degree or equivalent can, with specific training, become consumer credit, financial, debt, and housing counselors. With a bit more effort, these counselors can complete certification programs that will benefit them in multiple ways. These counselors can join the Association for Financial Counseling and Planning Education and obtain accredited certification that aligns with the Code of Practice and standards of the Consumer Credit Counseling Agencies. If these counselors want to build their credibility with potential and actual clients who may hire them for financial advice, qualify themselves to earn a higher salary, improve their chances for promotion and advancement, they should obtain this certification.
- State laws and regulations set education and licensing requirements for many other types of counselors. School, mental health, rehabilitation, marriage and family, and substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors typically all require at least a master’s degree and a license to practice. In the case of school counselors, they are generally also required to have teaching certification from their state. Many of these counselors voluntarily choose to also obtain certification from the National Board for Certified Counselors (NBCC), which grants the National Certified Counselor (NCC) credential. Separately, the NBCC offers three specialty certifications: the Certified Clinical Mental Health Counselor, the National Certified School Counselor, and the Master Addictions Counselor.
- Many additional benefits accompany certification obtained from the NBCC. The NBCC promotes the counseling profession through its national certification program, the standards of which are set by counselors themselves. Those counselors who have their NBCC credential and also comply with the NBCC’s code of ethics can boast of their alignment with their profession’s best practices. Counselors with NBCC certification assure their clients of quality counseling that comes from extensive training and experience as well as superior performance on the national counselor examination. Counselors holding NBCC certification also receive backing from the NBCC if they are eligible for a salary increase under state or local initiatives.
The NBCC is also instrumental in the process for mental health, marriage, and other counselors to obtain their state licensure. Although each state establishes its own laws and regulations for counselors to be able to practice, the NBCC is the examination administrator in each state’s licensing process. The requirements to obtain a counselor license vary from state to state, however, in addition to having a master’s degree the counselor must also have supervised clinical counseling experience and a passing score on one of the NBCC’s two examinations: the National Counselor Examination for Licensure and Certification (NCE) or the National Clinical Mental Health Counselor Examination (NCMHCE). Many counselors who desire more than academic degrees and state licensing have gone on to obtain prestigious national certifications to add to their credentials.
Individuals interested in becoming school counselors need to understand their respective state’s certification requirements. The NBCC offers a National Certified School Counselor certification while the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards awards eligible counselors with a national board certification. A school counselor who has obtained either of these two certifications will be able to use them toward some state licensing requirements.
Professional certifications are not self-renewing. Depending on the type of certification,
the counselor will need to take specific steps which can include taking a certain number of hours or
credits of continuing education courses and/or passing an examination every few years to maintain their
certification. The counselor will also need to pay the requisite annual fees to whichever association
granted the certification and ensure they have adhered to the association’s code of ethics.
In many cases, obtaining certification is voluntary for a counselor. In all cases, however, those counselors who have obtained one or more professional certifications have enhanced their resume, increased their credibility and standing with clients, expanded their job opportunities by having a wider educational background, and improved their employment and earnings potential.
What Makes a Good Counselor?Simply put, a counselor is someone who gives advice. For the counseling to be effective, however, both the counselor and the individual seeking counsel need to commit to resolving the issue together. A level of trust and comfort must exist between the counselor and the client so that concerns and issues can be discussed openly and freely via two-way communication. The individual seeking counseling will need to feel comfortable with the counselor’s style, personality, and counseling methods. Whether the client is receiving marriage, family, rehabilitative, psychological, or any other type of counseling, a good counselor will help the client reach the necessary comfort level that will help him be able to make the recommended changes in behavior or thinking.
In addition to possessing a license and certification, a good counselor possesses other characteristics that make him effective and successful at helping others. In general, a good counselor is someone who is kind, caring, and compassionate – wanting, willing, and able to help others overcome life’s difficulties or obstacles to personal happiness. A good counselor conveys an understanding of the problem without judging and is patient, highly ethical, and always sensitive to the client’s needs.
At the start of the counseling relationship, the counselor should have full understanding of the client’s needs and expectations so that the counselor can establish a reasonable timeline for working through the issues and meeting the client’s objectives. Together, both counselor and client will determine how the client’s progress will be measured.
Once a counselor has a firm understanding of his client’s issues, the counselor will identify obstacles or problems that prevent the client from making appropriate changes. A good counselor will provide the client with suggestions for behavioral changes that will help him overcome those obstacles. Or, in situations where the client has no control over problematic issues, the counselor will teach the client mechanisms that can be used to better cope with those issues.
In cases where the client has negative thought patterns, a good counselor will identify them and help the client see how these negative thoughts foster negative feelings such as depression or anxiety. The counselor will help the client recognize and identify their personal strengths and work with the client to build upon those strengths so that they develop a more positive attitude and way of thinking.
Often, a client’s problems are with other people in their lives, for example their spouse, significant other, or some other acquaintance. An effective counselor will help the client identify the issue and any of their behaviors that may contribute to the problematic relationship. In their job of helping the client to make positive changes in their lives, a good counselor will teach the client how to communicate with others more effectively. This enhanced communication may enable the client to then have open and honest communication with the person or people in the client’s life who may have been the one(s) that caused the client’s emotional suffering.
If a counselor has done a good job, the client will recognize and understand their own behaviors and ways of thinking that contributed to their problems. Ultimately, the objective of counseling is for the client to achieve personal growth and feel sufficiently empowered to control their own thoughts and behaviors, all of which results in personal happiness and positive relationships with others.
Lastly, a good counselor will be familiar with the research and literature that is relevant to the
issue at hand. Effective counseling requires that the counselor always remain abreast of the latest
therapy and counseling techniques.