Becoming A Licensed Counselor: A Guide

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If you want to help people through some of the toughest experiences in their lives, and give them the best possible chances of thriving, then becoming a licensed counselor may be the ideal job for you. Keep reading to find out more about the process, below. 

The role of a counselor

The work that counselors do is often varied and interesting. It usually entails working with either individuals, couples, groups, or family units, to help them cope better with the challenges life throws at them and equipping them with the skills to do this. 

Counselors or therapists as they are also often known have a different and separate role to psychologists. With the latter being the ones able to prescribe medication. However, counselors can also recommend other types of treatment, and frequently do, as they tend to have a particular area in which they specialize. 

For example, if an individual goes to see a counselor with anxiety issues, and after further exploration, it seems as if they have a specific disorder such as OCD, referral to an OCD specialist is usually the best course of treatment. Similarly, if an individual presents to an eating disorder specialist, and unresolved trauma is found to be playing a part in the continuation of their condition, they will be referred to a professional that specializes in trauma. 

The working life of a counselor

Counselors can choose to work full or part-time depending on their needs, and personal responsibilities. Although hours do not tend to be 9-5 because they must make themselves available at times when their clients need them. This often means working in the evening and on weekends. 

There are many contexts in which a counselor can work, including private practice, a hospital setting as well as other institutions such as schools, prisons, churches, and even private businesses. Indeed, many larger corporations have therapists on hand to provide services to their employees. 

It is worth noting, however, that the experience of the role of a counselor can be quite different depending on the setting in which they work. For example, those working in an inpatient setting such as a mental health ward, or institution are likely to come across more severe and complex cases, something that can be more challenging, and in some cases more rewarding as well. 

Most counselors hold 40-60 minute sessions for their clients. These can be weekly, or monthly depending on the needs and resources available. The main focus of the sessions will be to appraise the current needs and progress of the client, as well as identify the difficulties they are experiencing. Once this has happened, a counselor can work on teaching their client skills to better cope with the challenges their life is presenting. 

Private practice

It is also necessary to highlight that when going into private practice there will be the added burden of finding clients. Not to mention all of the additional admin work that goes along with this. Although, many counselors see this as a reasonable trade-off for the high financial rewards on offer for this type of work. 


There are many areas in which you can specialize as a counselor. Many chose to focus on particular issues such as substance abuse, eating disorders, or trauma. Others choose to focus their work on particular groups of people including children, new mothers, or veterans. 

Don’t worry too much if you aren’t quite sure what you want your socialism to be, though as many people discover their area of prime interest through the process of training and qualifying to be a counselor. 

Skills needed to be a successful counselor

To become a counselor, you will need some pretty specific qualifications that will be discussed in more detail below. However, success in this area will also be based on the skills and qualities that you can develop. 

In particular, being able to actively listen to your clients, and have compassion for their experiences is vital. It used to be that empathy was a greatly sought-after skill for those in the counseling profession, but there is some controversy around this now. The reason being that when a counselor puts themselves in the position of feeling the emotions of the client there can be some disadvantages. These include overwhelming for the professional involved, something that can often lead to burnout. Additionally, by being too emphatic it can be very hard to remain objective enough to offer support that will help the client overcome the situation in which they find themselves. 


Last of all, before becoming a counselor you need to understand the strict ethical code that your work will be governed by. This code means you have to keep records of your sessions with clients private, in line with HIPPA unless that contravenes the regulations governing things like mandatory reporting. 

Becoming A Licensed Counselor

In the US, there is a specific 4 step route to become a qualified and licensed counselor. It includes getting an undergraduate degree, completing the necessary training, doing supervised clinical work, and finally applying and being accepted for your license. Below we will break down each step. 

Choosing your bachelor’s degree

It usually helps if you have a clear idea that you want to go into therapy before beginning your degree. This is because you will need to study a subject relevant to this discipline to continue onto the next steps.  

For example, psychology or sociology are a good choice. 

Sometimes social work will be accepted and some colleges have specific programs like Christian counseling degrees that are designed to provide you with the learning you need to progress onto the next step. Unfortunately, if you do not have a relevant degree you will have to go back and study for a bachelor’s degree in the right subject before you can progress, something that career changers often have to deal with. 

Gaining your masters

Once you have qualified from your degree program you will need to embark on some practical training as a counselor. This usually means working with a more qualified therapist to see how they go about things, while also studying for a master’s degree.

Supervised hours

The next step will be to ensure you have the correct number of supervised hours. For some, this could mean doing anything up to 3500 supervised hours, (over 2 years) of practical work with clients. 

Professional license

Finally, once the requirements above have been completed you will be able to apply for your own license as a professional counselor. 

Do I need a doctorate to become a therapist?

You will have noticed that while the above process describes how you will need a master’s degree to become a counselor or therapist, there is no mention of a Phd or doctorate. Indeed, it is entirely possible to be a counselor without a Phd. Although if you are looking to progress to becoming a psychologist you will require a doctorate. 

Final thoughts

Becoming a counselor can be a worthwhile and rewarding profession both financially and intellectually. However, the process is not fast or simple and requires a great deal of dedication and motion if you are to succeed. 

In particular, be sure to begin your counseling journey off in the right area so you do not have to double back and retake your undergraduate degree again. Also, remember that while your mission is to help others you must also learn to care for yourself, as burnout is a real threat to anyone considering this position. 

Meet the Author | Jenna

Jenna Greenspoon is a mom & stepmom to 4 kids between the ages of 8 and 13. She loves staying up to date on all things kids and makes sure she is on point with the latest childhood trends! She is the owner of Savvy Sassy Moms and manages a team of creative contributors that work hard to keep moms up to date on the latest trends. Jenna loves social media and works on a variety of social media campaigns with brands big and small. Connect with Savvy Sassy Moms on Instagram

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