Do you want to help others? Counselors help children, adolescents and adults to cope with and overcome difficulties in various areas of life. The generic title of counselor may be used to describe professionals ranging from clinical psychologists to substance abuse counselors.

Careers in counseling call for varying levels of educational attainment based on factors such as the type of clients served and the severity of any mental health issues to be treated. In many cases, a bachelor’s degree in a field such as Applied Psychology can provide the foundation of knowledge necessary for this profession.

If you’re considering pursuing a career helping others, these six steps may help you determine the best path.

Step 1: Select an Interest

Do you want to work with children? Becoming a school counselor or child psychologist could be your path. What about working in a medical setting? Substance abuse counselor in a residential treatment center could be your calling. Other specialized areas of interest include:

  • Career counseling
  • Child abuse counseling
  • Geriatric counseling
  • Veterans counseling
  • Anger management counseling
  • Eating disorders counseling
  • Grief counseling
  • Addiction counseling
  • Crisis intervention counseling
  • Art or music therapy
  • College counseling

Step 2: Earn a Bachelor’s Degree

Selecting an academic concentration for your undergraduate degree that relates to your area of interest can better prepare you for career advancement. For example, individuals seeking to become child therapists can consider a BA in Applied Psychology with a concentration in Child Advocacy.

Similarly, specializing in Clinical Psychology, Forensic Psychology, Organizational Psychology or other fields can sharpen your career focus.

While earning your bachelor’s degree, working in a clinical setting can be an excellent way to gain experience and enhance your résumé. In addition, developing strong relationships with professors and participating in research, internships and extracurricular activities are valuable for graduate school admissions.

Step 3: Consider a Graduate-Level Degree

Although some counseling positions are open to candidates with a bachelor’s degree, such as youth counselor, an advanced degree is typically required for careers that also require licensure or certification, such as therapist. Graduate-level degree options include:

  • Master’s in Psychology
  • Master’s in Counseling
  • Master’s in Social Work
  • PhD or PsyD in Psychology

Master’s degree programs usually last two to three years, and consist of coursework, an internship and a licensing exam. Professionals pursuing a doctoral degree can expect their education to extend for additional years to include research, a clinical practicum and a dissertation.

Step 4: Get Your License

In addition to having a graduate degree, psychologists and other clinical professionals in most states are required to be licensed in order to work in hospitals, mental health facilities or private practices.

Within the Master’s in Counseling discipline, for example, practitioners can attain a variety of licenses, such as Licensed Mental Health Counselor (LMHC) and Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC).

Licensure requirements vary by state and specialty area, but generally call for professionals to complete a specified number of hours of supervised clinical experience and pass an exam.

Step 5: Expand Your Network

Joining professional groups such as the American Psychological Association of Graduate Students (APAGS) and honor societies such as Psi Chi can help students strengthen their knowledge and build relationships.

Referrals can play a big role in counseling professions. So, it’s important to develop an extensive network of contacts and colleagues who can support your professional development and, ultimately, improve the quality of your services to your clients.

Step 6: Stay Updated

From the growing role of mobile apps in mental health treatment to the changing nature of the stresses and challenges facing Millennials and other younger generations, the field of counseling is constantly evolving. Students and practitioners alike must keep pace with these changes, including through additional coursework and certifications, and license renewals.

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