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Which type of counseling degree is right for you?

February 11, 2021

When you’re ready to pursue your counseling career, there’s plenty to ask yourself as you start your journey. Who do you want to help most? What do you hope to accomplish? How will you impact the communities you work with?

These are critical questions as you decide on the counseling degree that’s right for you. First, if you want to be a counselor, you will need to earn your master’s because it’s considered an entry-level degree in this field. For those who want to go on to teach, conduct research or hold a high level role, you may also need to pursue a doctoral degree.

Becoming a counselor isn’t quite as simple as earning your master’s in counseling degree and starting your career. It’s about finding a program that prepares you for licensure, which means meeting your state or region’s education requirements, and prepares you with the understanding, skills and knowledge you need to meet the needs of those you hope to serve.

As you determine the right degree program for you, it’s important to understand what types of working environments are available.

Where do you most want to make an impact?

These types of counselors fill a number of different roles across many hospital departments. They can work with patients in long-term care, diagnose mental health issues and help patients and their families find the resources they need after leaving the hospital.

Family and marriage services
Counselors work with individuals, couples and families at critical points in their relationships. Those in this role engage with clients in all stages of life and through various situations, including adoption, grief, and child or adolescent behavioral issues.

Youth outreach
Youth counselors work with children and young adults as they move through challenging circumstances in their lives, including substance abuse, family conflicts and additional crisis intervention. An important part of this role is community outreach and building connections with available outside resources.

Addiction and substance abuse services
Addiction counselors work with those struggling with addiction, offering recovery support and treatment for corresponding mental health issues. This role can be in both in-patient treatment and outpatient treatment services and often means working alongside a team of medical professionals.

Education and school counseling
Practicing in elementary, middle and high schools as well as colleges, these counselors support students to achieve academic excellence, including leading schools in developing a comprehensive school counseling program and working as a team for students with individualized education plans, career and social-emotional concerns. These counselors also work with parents on being able to better support their children and their needs.

VA hospitals and clinics
These counselors work with veterans, their spouses and families in a variety of settings. They focus on meeting the unique needs of this community, especially concerning mental and behavioral health issues, such as post-traumatic stress disorder, substance abuse and depression.

Elder care facilities
Counselors are needed to help the elderly navigate the mental and physical challenges of aging. These counselors can work in hospitals, short- and long-term care clinics, and various assisted living facilities.

Prisons, juvenile detention centers and correctional facilities
By providing group and individual support to those who are incarcerated, these counselors help their clients meet personal goals, address mental health concerns and provide additional support and resources.

Group homes
These counselors provide support for those living in group settings. They work with clients facing a variety of issues, including those struggling with substance abuse, clients who require transitional housing after leaving rehabilitation centers or correctional facilities, as well as those leaving abusive situations or experiencing homelessness.

Outpatient care
These counselors provide group and individual treatment to those struggling with mental and behavioral health issues. Unlike those in hospitals and other in-patient facilities, they help people live their lives and navigate day-to-day challenges.

Rehabilitation services
Rehabilitation counselors work with those with disabilities, whether it’s physical or mental health related. These counselors help them meet personal goals and lead fulfilling lives. Many of these professionals specialize in working with individuals with a specific disability.

Nonprofit agencies
In nonprofits, counselors make a significant impact in communities and work on the issues that may not be well addressed by federal agencies. While they work in many of the locations listed above and with many of the same populations, they also have the opportunity to build strong relationships with those they serve and with colleagues who are united by a single cause.

Choose how you’ll make an impact.

It’s important to make sure you are earning the right degree for your career. You can choose a degree that emphasizes a certain field, such as child and adolescent counseling, and allows you to home in on the specific issues your clients face.

However, it’s also critical for you to have the foundational skills and experience to meet the needs of every client you work with. As you start researching, be sure to pursue a degree that will set your career up for success as a counselor, both in terms of earning your licensure and making a difference in the lives of your clients. Our online master’s in clinical mental health counseling and the optional child and adolescent counseling specialization offers the same coursework as our CACREP-accredited on-campus program.

Through our online program, you’ll gain the key skills and experience to become a counselor who is capable of working with diverse individuals and advocating for the larger issues that impact their communities.