Since I became a licensed school counselor in 2009, I believe I am qualified enough to tell you some tidbits about becoming a school counselor or a professional counselor. Here are some important facts you need to know as a counselor.
First, let’s discuss the definition of a counselor. A counselor is a person who graduated from a master’s degree counseling program. It does not mean that these counselors are licensed as a counselor because there are different certifications after obtaining a master’s degree. However, professionals would like to think that the word counselor is designated for people who have a master’s in counseling. There are many counseling programs, such as community, rehabilitation, school counseling, mental health, and professional counseling. You can find a list of different counseling programs available below.
A “credit counselor” or “financial counselor” is NOT a person who graduated from a proper counseling organization that focuses on the social sciences, counseling, or psychology. Companies who call their employees credit counselors or financial counselors are just using the term in the sense meaning you can be counseled about your situation. I personally think the word counselor is overused for positions that are not technically counselors, but what do I know?
ASCA- The American School Counselor Association is THE association for school counselors. Guidance counselor is the old fashion name for a school counselor. A professional school counselor is the more modern and current title for guidance counselors. This organization has the school counseling profession in its best interest. Their website has a wealth of information. If you decide to become a school counselor, it is important for you to become a member (ack, I need to renew my membership!). ASCA is NOT the licensing body of school counselors, that would be CACREP, which you will read about below.
A marriage counselor is a professional counselor who chose to concentrate in marriage and family counseling. You will not get a degree in “marriage counseling”. A marriage and family therapist is different from a marriage counselor. It all boils down to the organization and counseling theory. The American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy (AAMFT) is the organization for accreditation of marriage and family therapists, whereas CACREP (Council for Accreditation for Counseling and Related Educational Programs) is the licensing board for counselors. There are different universities or programs for each accreditation. Sound confusing? Welcome to this world of becoming a counselor…eh…or I mean marriage and family therapist.
A career counselor can be one of two things. Many counselors who graduate from a program accredited by CACREP chooses to concentrate in career counseling, meaning they took a few classes in their master’s program about career counseling.
A substance abuse counselor with a master’s degree generally graduates from a program accredited by CACREP.
There are more concentrations you can focus your time on in graduate school and after you graduate. There is a wealth of information on CACREP’s website, so I suggest you research there. I HIGHLY recommend you graduate from a program that is accredited by an organization, whether it be CACREP or AAMFT.
The low down about becoming a counselor:
Counselor jobs can be difficult to come by. I graduated in 2009 as a licensed school counselor, and I have been unable to land an interview. However, there are many of my friends who did and actually got jobs. However, are school counselors becoming extinct? Gosh, I hope not. Unfortunately, that is the case in a few areas.
There are several jobs out there for non school counselors. I’ve applied to a few with no luck; however, if I looked harder I probably could land a counseling position somewhere.
The pay of a professional counselor is low to start with. If you want to make a lot of money as a counselor, you need to be fully licensed. Guess what? Graduating from a counseling program does not automatically make you licensed. You have to pass exams and be an associate counselor for a few years under the supervision of another counselor. It will take a few years before you become a fully licensed professional counselor. I can not give you exact details because EACH state is different. You need to contact the licensing board to understand the requirements. Usually the counseling program you are in interested in can direct you to that information.
So what is the counselor salary? I can tell you from personal experience that a non licensed counselor and even a licensed counselor can start in the $25,000-$30,000ish range. I was looking at child case worker positions through my state’s government website, and the starting salary was like $28,000. A far cry from my beginning salary as a school counselor for $43,000 (which I can’t even get a job in). So be prepared to not be paid very high. It can take years to build up to $50,000 a year.