Careers in Counseling

Careers in Counseling

The counseling profession consists of various specializations, each focused on addressing the needs of specific populations. Counselors in these specializations undergo specific training requirements but share the common goal of fostering the growth and potential of individuals.

Professional counselors work in diverse settings such as colleges, hospitals, clinics, private practices, and schools. The following sections describe some specializations within counseling, while other types such as career and substance abuse counselors are covered in separate chapters. Regardless of specialization, all professional counselors aim to prevent and treat psychological issues and promote healthy human development across all life stages. They help clients navigate life changes, adapt to new environments, and enhance their overall well-being.

In many states, professional counselors with appropriate training are qualified to administer psychological tests as part of their practice. To become a professional counselor, individuals typically need a master’s degree in counseling. This section provides an overview of prominent counseling specializations, including clinical mental health counseling, college admissions counseling, college counseling, rehabilitation counseling, school counseling, and other forms of mental health counseling.

1. Clinical Mental Health Counseling

Mental health counselors emerged in the 1940s and 1950s, but their formal training and employment increased after the passage of the Community Mental Health Act of 1963. This act provided funding for mental health centers, improving access to mental health care services across the United States.

  • Clinical mental health counselors work with individuals, groups, and families in various settings such as community organizations, hospitals, treatment centers, and private practices.
  • Mental health counselors are trained in assessment, diagnosis, treatment planning, psychotherapy, substance abuse intervention, crisis counseling, and brief therapy.
  • Licensure as a mental health counselor requires a master’s degree in a counseling field, passing a state examination, and completing at least two years of supervised work experience.
  • Many mental health counselors pursue the NCC credential and the CCMHC specialty credential from NBCC to advance their careers, become eligible providers for certain insurance companies, or enhance their professional standing.
  • AMHCA is the division of ACA that serves as the professional association for mental health counselors.

2. College Admissions Counseling

College admissions counseling assists students in navigating the college admissions process to choose and gain entry into suitable postsecondary educational institutions.

  • Counselors in this field work in various settings, including colleges, universities, high schools, and as independent educational consultants.
  • The primary focus of college admissions counseling is at the secondary level, particularly during students’ junior and senior years. Some schools integrate college counseling programs into middle school curricula as well.
  • Counselors provide academic advising, help students select relevant high school courses, administer interest assessments, and guide students in exploring career options. They also offer individual and group support for college applications, standardized testing, and financial aid.
  • The National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC) is the professional association for this specialization and is separate from ACA.

3. College Counseling

College counseling at the postsecondary level differs significantly from college admissions counseling at the secondary level. College counselors on college campuses provide support to students dealing with mental health and educational challenges that impact their personal, social, and academic well-being.

  • These college counselors, often professionals with doctoral degrees or counseling interns, offer individual and group counseling, connect students to community resources, and serve as liaisons.
  • Students can seek assistance from college counselors for a range of issues such as homesickness, relationships, academic struggles, stress, eating disorders, and mental illnesses.
  • College counselors receive training in crisis counseling, diagnosis, and treatment planning due to the diverse concerns they address.
  • The American College Counseling Association (ACCA), a division of ACA, is the professional association for college counselors in higher education.

4. Rehabilitation Counseling

Certified Rehabilitation Counselors (CRCs) provide support to individuals with disabilities, helping them navigate personal and vocational challenges resulting from their impairments.

  • CRCs work in various settings, including vocational rehabilitation agencies, hospitals, community centers, schools, and employee assistance programs.
  • After conducting a thorough assessment and gathering information on the client’s condition and job skills, CRCs assist clients in enhancing their quality of life, managing disabilities, finding suitable employment, and gaining independence. They may also connect clients with community resources and training opportunities.
  • The ultimate goal of CRCs is to facilitate individuals with disabilities in returning to work or pursuing alternative vocational paths.
  • Becoming a CRC involves obtaining certification from the CRCC, although certification is voluntary. Some employers may require rehabilitation counselors to be certified.

4.1. The Commission on Rehabilitation Counselor Certification

CRCC is a nonprofit organization established in 1974 to certify rehabilitation counselors who meet specific professional standards, education, and work experience requirements.

  • CRCC certifies rehabilitation counselors who adopt a holistic approach, considering clients’ environment and background, valuing human dignity, and adhering to professional ethics.
  • Applicants must submit an application and pass CRCC’s examination to obtain certification. Certification must be renewed every five years through exam retaking or continuing education accumulation.

5. School Counseling

Professional school counselors in elementary, middle, and high schools support students’ personal-social, career, and academic needs. Their role has evolved from vocational guidance to addressing various student issues. According to ASCA, school counselors are educators with counseling training focused on enhancing student achievement and success.

  • ASCA emphasizes that school counselors should meet the needs of every student, not just those seeking help or referred by others. They achieve this through individual counseling, student planning, group counseling, guidance lessons, and consultation. ASCA also promotes accountability, collaboration, advocacy, and leadership to ensure equal access to quality education for all students.
  • ASCA provides guidelines in the ASCA National Model to help reshape school counseling programs, making them comprehensive, accountable, and developmental in line with ASCA’s standards.

6. Other Types of Mental Health Counseling

Mental health practitioners are trained to treat individuals with mental health issues and illnesses. This category includes various professionals such as psychologists, psychiatrists, psychoanalysts, social workers, psychiatric nurses, and marriage and family therapists. While they all address similar concerns, they have different treatment approaches based on their education and training.

  • Psychologists

Psychologists diagnose and treat mental disorders using interviews and testing in various settings. Specializations include clinical, counseling, and school psychology. Most states require a doctoral degree for licensure.

  • Psychiatrists

Psychiatrists are medical doctors who treat clients with severe psychological disorders. They provide psychotherapy, prescribe medications, and conduct physical examinations and lab tests. To become a psychiatrist, individuals must earn a medical degree, complete a residency program, and pass licensure exams.

  • Psychoanalysts

Psychoanalysts use psychoanalysis, developed by Sigmund Freud, to help clients resolve psychological issues through long-term exploration of unconscious conflicts. They typically have a terminal degree in the mental health field, undergo training at a psychoanalysis institute, and engage in personal psychoanalysis. Psychoanalysts often work in private practice.

  • Social Workers

Social Workers are dedicated to pursuing social reform, justice, and affecting policy. They provide therapeutic treatments, connect clients with community resources, advocate for societal change, develop programs, conduct research, and teach. A minimum of a bachelor’s degree in social work is required for social work professionals.

  • Psychiatric Nurses

Psychiatric Nurses specialize in counseling services for patients with severe psychological disorders. They develop nursing care programs, and in some states, can prescribe medication. Psychiatric nursing can be pursued at the bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral levels within the nursing profession.

  • Marriage and Family Therapists

Marriage and Family Therapists work from a systems theory perspective, assisting individuals, couples, and families in developing healthier patterns of interaction. A minimum of a master’s degree in marriage and family therapy is required to become a marriage and family therapist.

7. Counselor Supervision Models

Counselor supervisors are experienced professionals who provide training and guidance to new counselors, helping them develop and enhance their clinical skills. They have their own clients and also oversee the clients of their supervisees. To become a counselor supervisor, professional counselors should undergo training to acquire the necessary skills for effectively supporting and guiding their supervisees. The supervision process can be facilitated using different models, including:

  • Theory-based models

These models extend counseling theories into the supervisory relationship. For example, a cognitive-behavioral approach focuses on teaching new skills, encouraging practice, and addressing areas of improvement. A client-centered approach creates a warm and trusting environment for counselor-trainees to practice and refine their counseling skills.

  • Developmental supervision approaches

These approaches recognize the progression of counselor trainees through stages of growth, competence, and independence. Supervisors adapt their supervisory style to meet the trainee’s needs at each stage.

  • Specific supervision models

Some models are specifically designed for supervision. For instance, the discrimination model involves the supervisor assessing the supervisee’s intervention, conceptualization, and personalization skills. The supervisor then takes on the role of a teacher, counselor, or consultant as needed to address the supervisee’s needs.