So You Want To Be a Counselor: What you need to know

fyiI know many of you have visualized yourselves in the role of a counselor. You’ve imagined what it would be like to be in this role of helper. You might have even thought about what your life in general will be like once you’ve earned your master’s degree and taken the state exam. One thing I often hear from students after they’ve completed their intro to counseling class is ” I didn’t know that!” This article will cover some of the things that are important to know but that you usually wouldn’t find out until it is too late.

1.) It actually takes 4-10 years to become a fully-licensed counselor. Master level counseling programs are moving towards becoming 60 hour programs. A full-time student could finish a graduate program in counseling in as little as two years, if they also go over the summer. A part-time student, on the other hand, may take as many as four or five years to complete the program.  Some individuals don’t realize that once you’ve completed your master’s degree and taken the National Counselor Exam, you’re still considered an intern and are required to train under a licensed supervisor for another 2-5 years.  Students looking to pursue a degree in counseling need to realize that graduate level counseling programs are different than most other graduate level programs. The amount of training required to become a licensed counselor goes well beyond what is listed in the college catalog.

2.) The cost of training is a lot more than you think it is. In addition to the cost of your graduate program, you’ll incur costs for association fees, supervision fees, insurance fees, exam fees, and licensing fees. By the time you become fully-licensed you could have spent a total ranging anywhere from $ 25,000 to $ 50,000.  The cost that most often catches students off guard is the $50-100 weekly supervision fee they are charged by licensed professional counselor supervisors. Students usually aren’t aware of the necessity to have a paid position after graduation so that they can afford to pay the supervision fees for their required 2-5 years of interning after school.

3.) Most employers want you to be fully-licensed. While getting a paying job is extremely important after graduation, students need to realize they probably won’t be qualified for many of the jobs they see advertised. If you take a look at the positions most employers are advertising, you’ll notice that they all have one common theme-LPC, NCC, LMFT, etc. preferred or required. Despite the great report by the Bureau of Labor Statistics that counseling is expected to grow, there just aren’t many counseling jobs opening in Texas. This means that you are competing with licensed counselors  for these jobs; unless you have something really great to offer as a new grad, you likely will not be chosen over a licensed professional. You may consider leaving Texas to move to a state where counseling is more in demand. Other options are to start off at a very low paying agency, take a part-time position as a counselor, or take a position that involves counseling but is given a different  title (usually at a lower wage), such as case worker.

The bottom line is that becoming a counselor requires a big investment and sacrifice of both time and money, and one should not expect to see a return on their investment right away. However, given time, you’ll become fully licensed, find a position that you love and earn a decent wage without having to shell out money to pay for supervision.


About Tunisha Potter, Student Counselor Intern

Hello! I am Tunisha. I recently graduated with a master’s in counseling and guidance with a specialization in mental health/community counseling. I am currently in the process of becoming a Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC) in the state of Texas.

3 comments on “So You Want To Be a Counselor: What you need to know

  1. I am interested in being a substance abuse counselor. I have a Master’s in Education but I am looking to change careers. Please advise

    • Hello Johnny,

      Thanks for your message. I think is great that you are interested in becoming a substance abuse counselor, especially having a master’s in education since a lot of what we do as counselors is educate our clients so that they can make better decisions, at the same time that we provide guidance to promote change in maladaptive behaviors. There are different requirements depending on where you live within the US. Some states provide certification only, other states provide licensure only, and some states provide both. You need to find out what your state requires you to do. The International Credentialing and Reciprocity Consortium (IC&RC) specifies the criteria to become an Alcohol and Drug Counselor with international certification. To learn more about this criteria, visit our page https://txstudentcounselor.wordpress.com/about-lcdc-counselor-tx/

      I recommend this video because it provides step-by-step instructions to find out how to become a substance abuse counselor in the US. Check it out and feel free to contact me for more information. Have a great day!

    • I totally agree with the previous comment about going to the ICRC page. You will definitely want to check out the requirements in your state. You will also want to compare the different credentials in your state and what they will allow you to do (or what you can’t do). In Missouri, where I live, there are over a dozen different credentials. You will also want to have training in mental health issues in addition to substance abuse. Being able to work with clients with co-occurring mental health and substance use disorders is a very valuable skill. If you are working in substance abuse counseling, you will likely need to be supervised in order to earn a credential. You will also want to be careful about who supervises you. In Missouri, you have to attend a 3 day training and be approved to supervise for the substance abuse credentials. You want to be sure you have someone supervising you that meets this requirement. Good luck and welcome to the field!

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