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How To Pursue a Career In Counseling?

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The need for good counselors has grown over the last decade. However, the waitlists for these professionals are also increasing as demand outstrips the number available. If you’re considering a career in this area, it’s a gratifying and satisfying job knowing you’re assisting someone with their struggles. 

There are several qualities that make a good counselor. You also need a solid educational background to support your license to work in this capacity. Another important factor in doing this job also affects your mental health and how you cope with situations as they arise. 

So, what do you need to pursue a career in counseling? Below, we take a look at what qualifications are required, what qualities are preferable, and why they could be right for you. 

What does a counselor do? 

There are different types of counseling career paths available. This role comes under a trained health care provider role, and as an overview – counselors provide emotional support to people in a wide range of circumstances. This is often done in a one-to-one capacity. However, group sessions and family counseling is also a common feature. 

Counselors provide support for a range of different issues. For example, grief or coming to terms with a chronic illness. These individuals also work with adults and children depending on their specialism. Sometimes counselors are mistaken for psychiatrists. However, this area of mental health care differs from emotional support.  

In this profession, counselors don’t advise patients during sessions. Instead, they listen and help individuals take a path that assists in coping mechanisms to manage everyday situations and triggers. 

What qualities do you need to be a counselor? 

There are many qualities required for this type of vocation. Typically, an individual needs a compassionate and caring nature. However, there are a host of other attributes needed to be successful in this career. These include:


A counselor has to remain objective when providing support to a patient. This means you are able to stay unbiased and not get emotional about what you’re hearing. Being objective also allows you to see from someone else’s point of view. Plus, it gives you scope to see the reality of a situation rather than an overview. In short, this attribute helps you remove emotion from the equation to allow your mind to think rationally about the situation. 

Calm mindset

It’s natural to feel a range of emotions when dealing with a patient. However, as you’re there to be objective, these need to remain under control at all times. Achieving a sense of calm is an important quality. But, it’s more than that. You need to help the patient feel calm in the setting to allow them to open up. This trait is something that comes naturally to some but not to others. However, you will learn different ways to control personal emotions during the study and real-world training. 


Often looking at your own story and background allows you to understand how it can affect your work with others. It’s important to understand your own thought and feelings as no one is immune to trauma and struggles at any stage of life. By examining your own story, you can objectively use this to assist others in coping mechanisms and healing.


One of the key attributes a counselor should have is patience and lots of it. Some patients take time to open up, and others sometimes never do, even after months or years of treatment. However, it’s not your position to rush people to an end result as everyone takes their own path. Instead, approaching your work with patience and calmness ensures an individual feels at ease during sessions. 

Qualifications you need to become a counselor

To pursue a career in counseling, you need a good education that includes gaining higher-level qualifications. 

Gain a bachelor’s degree 

A bachelor’s degree gives you a good standard of education to move into a counseling career. However, this stage typically takes three to four years, and it’s best to opt for a minor in psychology to help you move on to further education. 

Take a master’s degree in counseling 

Once you’ve achieved your bachelor’s degree, it then onto a master’s education in counseling. To practice as a counselor in most states, you need a master’s degree in the specialism. There are several routes you can take, including class-based or online study. This level can take from one to four years, depending on whether you learn part-time or full-time. When you enter this level, choosing your specialism will guide you on your chosen career path. Again, there are several types of counseling jobs, so this will help you decide on the best route. 

Also Read: 5 Reasons to Work on Your Rocky Relationship in Individual Counseling

Do training or an internship in counseling

Before you can apply for a license to practice, individuals must complete a number of hours of training in real-world scenarios. This is supervised work and is typically completed during your master’s education. There is usually one of two ways to get this experience – by practicum hours or by internship hours, or a mix of both. 

Practicum training involves working alongside certified professionals. You’ll sit in during sessions and sometimes take your own, supervised and independently. This type of training gives you a chance to get into the thick of it. So, you’ll also attend meetings and training and contribute to reports as well as write notes and review recordings. You’ll need to show around 300 to 500 hours of practicum training for your license. 

An internship in counseling follows a similar style of learning in a practical setting to the practicum training. However, this route typically requires around 600 hours to go towards your license. 

Gaining a license or certification in counseling 

For most states, you will need to gain a license to practice. This typically involves taking an exam and also proving your past qualifications and supervised experience. Different states have different requirements. So, it’s essential to research what is required for the location you want to practice in. 

Also Read: Does Your Family Need Family Counseling Services? 6 Signs the Answer Is Yes(

Find a job in counseling 

After all that hard work, it’s now time to find a job. There are many career opportunities available. The Bureau of Labor Statistics figures predict the market will grow by 23% between 2020 and 2030. This is a lot faster than the average for other jobs. This data is a positive outlook for the counseling sector, as it showcases the need for excellent and qualified professionals as we enter the next decade. 

Choosing a specialism can help you decide which area is best for you. However, when starting out, getting as much experience in different capacities can assist in specializing later in your career. Some typical jobs in the sector include:

  • Mental health counselor
  • Military counselor
  • Rehabilitation counselor
  • College or school counselor
  • Child counselor
  • Plus many others

Professional development 

The job of a counselor also involves continuous learning. Every professional should strive to keep on top of new developments and ways of counseling throughout their career. This not only helps you do your job better but also assists patients in their treatment. Some states also require counselors to gain extra credits and top up their research to stay licensed. 

There is also the option of further study if you want to specialize further or delve into further research. These qualifications include a Ph.D. and involve a number of hours of study to gain a higher qualification. 

How long does it take to become a counselor?

Becoming a counselor is not a quick process, but it is thoroughly rewarding once you’re qualified. The method of gaining your qualifications can take between five to eight years, depending on whether you study full or part-time. There’s also the training requirement, which involves around 500-1000 hours in total. 

Reasons to become a counselor

There are many reasons to become a counselor, and in general, you have to establish this before entering the career. The most obvious reason is that you want to help people. But it goes further than that. It’s often a feeling that your skills and life experiences can help better the lives of others. You have to genuinely want to do it. 

Another reason is that you want to learn and research more about mental health and how counseling can assist in supporting better wellbeing. Studying the mind and different lifestyle systems is an interesting subject matter, and it can help progress the sector and help you become a better counselor. 

There are many reasons to become a counselor. However, you also need a range of attributes, qualities, and skills to be successful in this career. Counseling isn’t about providing that magic answer to fix someone – it’s allowing others to work on their own solutions to cope with life situations. This career is a rewarding option for anyone looking to facilitate change and work in a positive space. There are also many experts and certified professionals that you can learn from. 

Study, hard work, and continued professional development are key factors in moving into this career. So, if you’re considering it, check out the number of options open to you.  

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