April is counseling awareness month. Professional counselors have specific training requirements and titles that vary by state. Read below for more information about the counseling profession.
What is Counseling?
Counseling provides a safe space to discuss personal concerns and problems. Counselors take a holistic approach to personal wellness and the relationship between counselor and client is not hierarchical but rather collaborative. Successful counseling empowers the client and gives the client the skills to problem solve in the future. There are many people who call themselves counselors, there are also psychologists and social workers. Many of these professionals refer to themselves as therapists. Licensure to become a mental health counselor varies by state and so do the names of the licenses. Sometimes you will see LPC (Licensed Professional Counselor), LAC (Licensed Associate Counselor), LMHC (Licensed Mental Health Counselor). Social workers and psychologists have different credentialing requirements.
Training to Become a Licensed Counselor
Every state has their own criteria for becoming a licensed counselor. Different counseling fields also have different education requirements. Professional counselors are required to have a minimum of a masters degree which includes coursework and internship experience. In order to be a LICENSED mental health counselor working with clients in clinics, hospitals, and private practice the practical training (i.e. internships) would have taken place under the supervision of a licensed mental health professional and you would have to pass a licensure exam. Alcohol and drug counselors and marriage and family counselors have even more specific training. The point is, in our profession we are well trained. You can go here to learn about the titles of licensed counselors in your state. In NJ, there are Licensed Associate Counselors (LAC) and Licensed Professional Counselors (LPC). If your counselor has an LAC, that means they have competed the educational requirements, and passed the exam, but they require 3000-4500 hours of supervised experience before they can practice on their own.
There are counselors out there who are not licensed; check credentials.
Types of Counseling
Career Counselors– So often you hear stories about college graduates unable to find work and people losing their jobs. Career Counselors can be found on college campuses, in employment offices and government agencies. Career counselors help people seeking employment discover where in the world of work they will excel. They do this by administering assessments, talking with people about goals and interests, in some cases (i.e. colleges) reviewing resumes/cover letters and practicing interview skills. During a time when jobs are hard to come by, trained counselors can also provide those seeking employment with continued encouragement, help them set goals and provide them with the skills to advocate for themselves in the future. Individuals with a counseling background will often be focused on the decision making, relationships building, and purpose behind your career, rather than just helping you find a job. It is important to note that anyone can call themselves a career counselor or career coach. So if you are looking for a real counselor to work with you on career related issues, make sure to check credentials (LAC, LPC, LMHC, etc). There are also certificates and training programs that career counselors can complete (they are not required to become a career counselor). The National Career Development Association (NCDA) offers many options.
School Counselors- The field of school counseling has evolved greatly. Years ago people thought of guidance counselors as the people who helped kids make their schedules at school. Now, School Counselors are in grades K-12, not just in high school, helping students with family issues, academic issues, addiction issues…the list goes on. When there are incidents of tragedy, violence, and abuse in schools, counselors are there to assist students and their families. School counselors are there to provide an empathetic ear to the student and sometimes to help the family navigate the tricky roads ahead. Often they will point a family to community resources for long-term assistance, as in school services and resources are often limited. School counselors have masters degrees, but there certificate or license is different than that of a mental health counselors. However, some school counselors also have mental health credentials.
Mental Health/Trauma Counselors- Unfortunately, over the years we as a country have experienced a lot of tragedy and loss. These situations leave people feeling lost and alone. Post-traumatic stress disorder and depression run rampant after people lose their loved ones, homes, and possessions. Professional counselors are trained to work with people in these situations. They are even members of emergency and disaster relief teams including the American Red Cross. Mental health counselors also work with people going through life transitions, struggling with relationship issues, and who just need to talk to talk through their feelings. You don’t need to wait until you are feeling sad or down to seek help from a counselor.
Obviously, these are not the only types of counseling, but this just highlights the importance of counselors and the multitude of ways that they can help. Be sure to check credentials before going to a counselor. Make sure they are appropriately licensed in your state. To find a counselor in your area go here.
Here are some facts about counseling provided by the American Counseling Association
10 THINGS TO KNOW ABOUT COUNSELORS AND COUNSELING
1. Professional counseling is a therapeutic relationship that empowers diverse individuals, families, and groups to accomplish mental health, wellness, education, and career goals.
2. Common specialties within professional counseling include mental health counseling, school counseling, career counseling, addictions counseling, and couples and family counseling.
3. Many counselors are specifically trained to support individuals or groups in the aftermath of natural or man-made disasters.
4. Professional counselors abide by ACA’s Code of Ethics.
5. Professional counselors can diagnose and/or treat mental health disorders.
6. Counselors do not prescribe medications.
7. School counselors must be certified/licensed by a state education department to work in a public school.
8. Counselors working in mental health settings (mental health centers, college counseling centers, hospitals, substance abuse centers, etc.) must be licensed in their state as a professional counselor.
9. Rehabilitation counselors typically must be Certified Rehabilitation Counselors, especially if they work in the traditional setting of a state Office for Vocational Rehabilitation.
10. The differences among counselors, psychologists, and psychiatrists can be summarized by differences in education and focus: Professional counselors have a graduate degree in counseling. A master’s degree is the entry-level requirement. Counselors focus on client wellness, as opposed to psychopathology. Psychologists have a graduate degree in psychology, and licensed psychologists typically have a degree in clinical, counseling, or school psychology. Of all the mental health professions, psychologists are the best trained in conducting research. Psychiatrists are medical doctors who have usually completed a residency in psychiatry. Their niche is prescribing psychotropic drugs.