How to Become a Professional Counselor

Becoming a Professional Counselor Video

Hey, guys! Welcome to this Mometrix video on becoming a professional counselor.

If you are watching this video, odds are you are considering becoming a counselor, or maybe you have already taken steps towards becoming a counselor. Either way, that’s really exciting! I’m sure you have lots of questions as to what all becoming a counselor entails. Well, I am not going to be able to discuss every little detail, but I will cover the basic things you need to know as you consider this career path. I will discuss the credentialing process, basic competencies a person should possess, and the licensure and professional certification requirements.

The credentialing process depends on the counselor’s work setting and specialty. Generally, credentialing begins with the student obtaining a Master’s degree of 48-60 semester hours in Psychology or Education. Most universities observe accreditation standards in each academic department. Not all private schools, colleges, and universities that offer counseling courses are accredited. You will probably not be able to obtain an internship to complete your practicum, or obtain a license if you did not attend an accredited school. Internship positions are usually found in hospitals, community mental health centers, clinics, and schools. So most of them require accreditation. The stakeholders involved in accreditation are the pre-service programs, professional preparation programs, local agencies, state agencies, and federal agencies.

Some states still accept a bachelor’s degree with additional post-graduate courses in counseling, or for substance abuse and behavior counselors in certain settings, a high school diploma, and certification.

There are eight core areas of study:

  1. Human growth and development
  2. Relationships
  3. Assessment
  4. Social and cultural diversity
  5. Career development
  6. Group work
  7. Program evaluation and research
  8. Professional identity


Student counselors are required to complete a supervised clinical experience, usually 3,000 hours or 2 years, and obtain two letters of professional endorsement. Licensure differs state by state. The candidate must pass a state exam. Most licenses require annual continuing education credits for maintenance. The counselor agrees to follow certain standards and ethical codes. Some jobs require additional credentials, for example, a school counselor must have both a teaching certificate AND a counseling certificate, AND teaching experience.

The professional practice standards for counselors require significant command of mental health care theory and its application. Graduate students must be prepared to accept entry level positions to become proficient and competent in all skills. A standard set of criteria is used to assess whether or not the graduate student has reached the level of professional proficiency.

The criteria include:

  • Meeting accreditation requirements
  • Following ethical practice standards* for the public good
  • Achieving competencies required in entry level positions
  • Satisfactory completion of all academic classes
  • Satisfactory completion of a supervised clinical experience (usually 3,000 hours)
  • Meeting all certification provisions (e.g., two professional endorsement letters)


Professional counselors should possess the following competencies:

  • Extensive knowledge of counseling theories, techniques, and models, especially those specific to career counseling
  • Skill in working with both individuals and groups
  • The ability to use assessment techniques for both individuals and groups
  • Knowledge of resources and trends, especially those relevant to the locality
  • Management and leadership skills
  • Ability to coach
  • Respect for and willingness to work with persons from various ethnic, religious, sexual, and socioeconomic backgrounds
  • Supervisory skills
  • An understanding of ethics and legal issues, and a desire to operate within those frameworks
  • Research and evaluation skills
  • The ability to use current technology


Licensure and professional certification requirements

Counselors receive state authorization to work as mental health practitioners either through licensure or professional certification. Licensure is the law in most of the country. Some states do not issue licenses; instead, they recognize professional certification as the practice credential, meaning the candidate obtained the National Certified Counselor designation through the National Board for Certified Counselors, Inc. National certification is voluntary. It is distinct from a state license and requires a separate exam and 100 hours of continuing education every 5 years. The Commission on Rehabilitation Counselor Certification is required for rehab counselors and includes an exam every 5 years or 100 hours of education, an internship, and work experience in rehab if the counselor graduated with another specialization.

State licensing boards set internship hours, supervisor qualifications, the amount of direct patient contact, and monitor ethics. For example, Arkansas requires a 2,000-hour internship with at least 500 hours of direct patient contact, whereas Idaho requires a 1,000-hour internship and has no definition of direct contact. Each state posts its minimum education and work experience standards for statutory certification, and every counselor in the state must meet them.

Licensure laws give the public a sense of protection that their therapists are qualified professionals who have met the requirements of the state to hold those positions. All states mandate a written assessment and some even have oral assessments in place. The professional who gains a license is a Licensed Professional Counselor, Licensed Clinical Mental Health Counselor, or Certified Professional Counselor.

I hope this was helpful, and we wish you the best as you explore the idea of possibly becoming a counselor. For further help check out our other counseling videos here.

See you next time!


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by Mometrix Test Preparation | This Page Last Updated: July 3, 2023