Certification vs. Licensing

There are many different certification and licensing requirements for those professionals who practice counseling. Counseling is a broad term that can apply to any number of careers. An individual can become a mental health counselor, a school or vocational/career counselor, a marriage and family counselor, a rehabilitation counselor, a substance abuse or behavioral disorder counselor, a financial counselor, or any other type of counselor. Because counseling involves assisting those with mental or emotional health concerns, aiding in conflict resolution, and supporting human growth and development, individual counselors may expand their careers and enter the fields of teaching, social work, nursing, occupational therapy, or the clergy.

  • Professional counselors study and work long and hard to be able to practice their specialty not only effectively but also legally. Prior to obtaining a professional counselor certification or license to practice, counselors obtain their four-year bachelor’s degree and usually their master’s and/or Doctoral degree after an additional two to four years of work and study. A graduate studies program allows the student to take coursework within the counseling specialization he wishes to pursue. A counseling degree prepares the student for the various types of situations he will encounter in the course of his career since students work in supervised clinical settings. These studies should be completed at an accredited college or university. In some cases, once the student has successfully met all the graduate studies program requirements, they may be conferred their counseling certification. Note, however, that some states have their own certification requirements that the prospective counselor must meet. For example, all states mandate that school counselors obtain state-level certification.
  • Separate from counseling certification, however, is state licensure that allows the individual to practice in that state as a professional counselor. Having counselor certification alone does not authorize the individual to practice. In order to practice counseling in a particular state, the individual must obtain a license from the state where he wishes to practice. The state, as a governing authority, sanctions the licensure, which exists to protect the health, safety, and welfare of the residents of a particular state. Counselors must meet the qualifications set by their state in order to receive licensure.
    Individuals who do not meet state licensure or credentialing standards and requirements are restricted and prohibited from practicing their counseling profession in that particular state. Counselors who provide unauthorized counseling services subject themselves to legal sanctions that range from fines to loss of license or imprisonment.
Certification vs. Licensing

Counselors may obtain additional certifications on a voluntary basis from a number of independent professional certification associations and organizations. These certifications recognize that an individual has met minimum educational and supervised clinical work requirements relating to a specialized area within the counselor’s profession. While these certifications are not mandatory, many counselors obtain these specialized certifications to enhance and improve their credentials, as well as to expand their career options and opportunities. These voluntary certifications are not a credential to practice, but rather a professional qualification to make the public and other professionals aware of the individual’s level of education and competence.

To maintain their certification, counselors must re-certify every two to three years. This requirement varies depending on the profession and individual state requirements. Counselors must complete continuing education courses and submit an application for recertification. The application will contain information regarding all the professional development the counselor has completed in the interim. Recertification is necessary to maintain professional standards, ensuring the counselor is up-to-date on changes to the profession and legislative matters that impact it.

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