What Qualifications Should You Look For When Choosing a Counselor?
written by Amy Forester
A counselor can help you process complex emotions and manage challenging life circumstances by giving you a listening ear and healthy coping strategies. Counselors can help with a variety of issues including bereavement, anger management, substance addiction, depression, anxiety, marital problems, and behavioral issues in children and teenagers. The right counselor can transform your relationship with yourself and others and help you to dramatically improve your emotional wellbeing.
When choosing a counselor, it’s important to look at their experience and their specialties to decide if they’re the right fit for you. You should also look into their qualifications to check that they have the appropriate skills to help you and that they’re legally permitted to provide counseling services.
Here are three qualifications you should look for when searching for a counselor.
1. Master’s degree – Most states require counselors to have a master’s degree in a field related to counseling, with the most popular option being psychology. Psychology is the study of human behavior and the emotions that drive it, and it’s incredibly valuable for counselors to have an academic understanding of why people think, act and react the way they do. Other common master’s degrees for counselors include social work, education, and mental health counseling. While psychology is a favored all-rounder, it’s important to consider a prospective counselor’s specialty and how their degree fits into it. For example, it makes sense for a school counselor to have a master’s in education.
2. Professional counselor licensure- All counselors must have a professional counselor license to demonstrate that they have met the minimum requirements for practicing as a counselor. Licenses are obtained from state boards and these requirements for licensing vary from state to state, covering both formal education and practical work experience. All states require counselors to pass the National Counselor Examination (NCE) or the National Clinical Mental Health Counselor Examination (NCMHCE) to achieve their license. It’s essential that counselors complete a minimum number of supervised experience hours to achieve their license, and this is typically between 2,000 and 3,000 hours. Some states have two levels of licensure, one for recent graduates still accumulating their supervision hours (known as associate counselors), and one for counselors who have completed their supervision hours and can practice independently (known as professional counselors). If you choose to see an associate counselor, you can rest assured that they will have the professional support of a more experienced counselor who will monitor their caseload and provide ongoing training.
3. Continuing education credits – In order for counselors to maintain their licensure, most states require them to earn continuing education credits on an annual or biennial basis. Some states stipulate that continuing education takes place on specific topics, with ethics being a common compulsory topic. Counselors may not necessarily attain formal qualifications when studying for their continuing education credits, but they might list their specialties which gives you an idea of where they have focused their continuing education.
Choose your counselor with care
Choosing the right counselor is key to getting the most out of counseling. Be sure to check that a prospective counselor has the appropriate qualifications and relevant experience before you begin seeing them.