How to Become a Counselor: A Professional Guide

Are you a good listener with an urge to help people get their life back on track? Do you have a knack for psychology and understanding the intricate mechanisms of the human mind? If you answered yes, you might want to become a counselor.

Counselors are pillars during pivotal moments of people’s lives. These moments include recovering from an addiction, going through marital turmoil, or growing up. Learn how to become a counselor and make an impact in their lives.

Psychologist vs. Counselor vs. Psychiatrist

There is a global rise in demand for mental health treatments. This may be because individuals are more open to exploring and admitting mental health issues.

Recognizing mental health as a physical illness allows more depth in understanding treatments. Psychologists, counselors, and psychiatrists have many overlaps in profession and responsibilities.

The main differences are educational attainment. Psychologists undergo doctorate programs and gain certification as therapists. A counselor needs a master’s degree to practice.

Finally, psychiatrists finish medical school. Psychiatrists are the only ones authorized to prescribe medication.

Counseling offers clients the chance to identify the factors in their life that contribute to their struggles. As a counselor, you help them deal with psychological, interpersonal, and intrapersonal issues.

Know What Speciality You Want to Get Into

Figuring out how to become a counselor is a lot like working backward. Select your desired pathway from the many types of counseling.

General Counseling

General counseling offers clients a wide variety of services without specific clientele. Be prepared to deal with work-related issues, day-to-day struggles, or even more extreme levels of struggle.

Due to its nonspecific nature, you’ll meet all kinds of people ranging from ex-convicts to troubled youth. Think of it like how a general practitioner screens patients then refer them to specialists.

School Counseling

Students are under a lot of pressure. You have academics, peers, parental, social forces prodding at them from all sides. Choose this field if you want to be the comforting figure you needed when you were younger.

Marriage and Family Counseling

Restore harmony in a dysfunctional couple or family unit. This can range from a failing marriage, a mixed family, or even a healthy couple looking to start a family.

Rehabilitation Counseling

Rehabilitation and reintegration into society come as a struggle. Many demographics like ex-convicts and ex-soldiers need some help getting back on their feet.

People recovering from disabilities can feel robbed of bodily control. Help them regain that control by nurturing their mental health.

Substance Abuse Counseling

You might be familiar with alcoholics anonymous meetings. People struggling with substance abuse need a sense of community and belonging. These groups can both be one-on-one or in groups. Groups let them know they aren’t alone.

Educational Background

The road to becoming a counselor has a ladder of educational attainment. Here are some requirements for becoming a counselor.

Bachelor’s Degree

First, get yourself a bachelor’s degree. While counselors can come from any bachelor’s degree, you give yourself an edge with a degree in psychology. Choosing psychology gives you a more solid platform for your master’s program.

Master’s Degree

Enter an accredited master’s program for your counseling degree. Enroll in a Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs. Gain qualifications under the tutelage of counseling professionals and meet your clients’ needs.

This degree takes two years to complete. It expands your knowledge of psychology, counseling techniques, statistics, and research.

Supervised Clinical Experience

With the guidance of accredited counselors, your schooling follows on-the-job training. Use this experience to iron out the last kinks of your techniques before handling clients on your own. This period of your education entails at least 600 hours of supervised fieldwork.

Counselor Licensing

You’ve got the experience and education. It’s time to put it to the test– a literal test. Pass the licensure test so you can legally practice.

Get in touch with a licensing body like the National Board for Certified Counselors. They administer a comprehensive exam to test your abilities.

Developing Soft Skills

Soft skills are the primary reason someone chooses a counselor over a psychologist or psychiatrist. Learning them is a lifelong process that you polish with practice. Psychologists and psychiatrists tend to pinpoint symptoms and focus on measurable outcomes.

Sometimes, people don’t want to feel like a number or a list of symptoms when facing their problems. As a counselor, your focus lies in the overall wellbeing of your client. Soft skills include:


As a counselor, listening is your top skill. Your client’s vulnerability is a precious thing that needs listening to. Where most people only hear words, you have to dig deeper as your client bears his vulnerabilities to you.


By listening, you learn to read between the lines and respectfully probe. You and your client work together to reach a solution using the right questions.


Being a counselor is a lot like being a friend. However, as a professional, you have to draw boundaries. Personal and professional aspects tend to overlap in these settings. Set your limits early on to ensure that you and your client are on the same page.


Even in group sessions, those members are individuals with their own ecosystem of struggles. What works for one client might not work for the other. So, it’s vital that you are able to tailor approaches and treatments for each client, treating them like unique cases.


Counseling gets intense. You deal with emotional turmoil, grief, and pivotal moments. Practice diffusing the tension with a bit of humor.

They don’t say “laughter is the best medicine” for no reason. With laughter used in combination with counseling, you foster a more relaxed and trusting environment.


No counselor is perfect. Engage in daily self-reflection on what you can do to serve your clients better. It is a humbling and learning experience.

Launching Your Career

Search for job openings in your desired field. Most employments start with chancing with friends or colleagues if they have any helpful networks.

For substance abuse counseling, contact churches if they hold any meetings you can preside. Inquire at schools to see if their slots are open.

If you want to take things into your own hands, start a private practice! With so many vulnerable people in professional demographics, establishments could use your help.

What to Do to Become a Counselor

Now you know how to become a counselor. Attain your hard skills from robust educational attainment and accreditation. Your soft skills are lifelong lessons you foster as you grow and in practice.

Check out our other blog posts to learn more about the myriad of counseling careers.

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