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How do I Become a Counselor?

By Donna Reynolds
Updated May 16, 2024
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The human services field offers numerous career opportunities ranging from entry level jobs to positions in upper management. While a career in human services certainly offers its challenges, it can be a great fit for an individual with strong people skills, the ability to empathize, and a commitment to helping others. For most people, the first step towards a career in human services is to become a counselor.

By definition, a counselor is someone who gives advice or counseling. Counselors work in a wide range of settings in both the private and public sector, and deal with people of all ages from every economic level. A counselor's basic responsibility is to listen to the client, make suggestions as to how the individual can improve his or her situation, and help the client achieve these goals.

Counselors are employed in virtually every segment of society, including hospitals, drug and alcohol treatment centers, schools, industry, credit repayment agencies, camps, churches, job placement and unemployment offices, nursing homes, and adult living centers. There are also counseling positions in state, city, and local agencies. And, although budget cuts have resulted in layoffs in this field, experienced counselors still have an edge in a tight job market.

There are many paths one can take to become a counselor. While most positions require some education or training in the field, this is not a steadfast rule. Many smaller, not-for-profit agencies will hire people without a degree to work in support roles or part-time as a fill-in for regular staff. Residential treatment centers and halfway houses must be staffed 24-hours a day, and often, there are overnight shifts available that are filled by individuals who are trained on the job.

If you are unable to find a paid position, consider volunteering. There are many opportunities to become a counselor as a volunteer, especially for not-for-profit and religious groups, and often, volunteers are given first consideration when paid positions become available. Volunteering also adds experience to your resume and even high school students can begin laying the groundwork necessary to become a counselor by offering their services to agencies in need of assistance.

If you want to become a counselor, look for opportunities in agencies that will train on the job. At the same time, research human services degree programs offered by local colleges and universities. Most community colleges offer Associate's degrees in human services and those credits can usually be used to continue on to a Bachelor's degree. Accredited colleges also offer human services degree programs online; a great solution for someone who is working and can't attend more traditional classes.

Students working towards a degree in human services study a broad range of subjects, including sociology, psychology, counseling methods, speech, cultural awareness, alcohol and drug dependency, loss and grief, case management, and crisis intervention. In addition, students are required to complete an internship at an approved human services agency.

If you have decided to become a counselor, be prepared to start out at a fairly low salary. People without training and/or experience can expect to start out at minimum wage. Even having a Associate's degree does ensure an impressive salary. In order to earn a competitive salary as a counselor, a person needs at least a Bachelor's degree, and preferably a Master's.

For most people, the decision to become a counselor is based on their desire to help people rather than the potential for a lucrative career. The reward of helping a troubled individual reach his or her full potential is often more gratifying than material gain.

SmartCapitalMind is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Discussion Comments
By anon284146 — On Aug 08, 2012

My name is Lena. I am really wanting to pursue a job in the counseling field. I am wanting to be a family counselor.

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