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Sep 14, 2018

Considering a Graduate Program in Counseling

Perhaps you are a new counseling student, or are supporting new students as they navigate their counseling career options.  Either way, there are many steps and considerations to keep in mind.  Lisa McKenna, PhD, LPC-S, Assistant Dean of Capella University’s School of Counseling and Human Services, provides some insight into things that new and prospective students should know when considering a counseling program.

Q. What type of degree and/or educational background is suitable for a counseling career?

A. For individuals interested in pursuing a master’s degree in counseling, an undergraduate bachelor’s degree is a requirement.  While many applicants hold degrees in social sciences such as psychology or social work, many are career changers and enter the master’s counseling programs from very different degree fields.  Institutions will have varying requirements, which may include providing goal statements, letters of recommendation, standardized test results, or even an interview process.  You will want to carefully review the admission requirements for the institution(s) you are considering.  It is also important to know your state’s requirements for licensure/credentialing, and ensure your chosen counseling program will prepare you for applying to your state’s professional counseling board.

Q. What is the time commitment needed for a counseling education?

A. The length of schooling varies according to the type of counseling you are studying, course load, transfer credits, and other variables. For example, many school counseling master’s programs require 48 semester hours or 72 quarter credits, while marriage and family counseling/therapy and mental health counseling programs require a minimum of 60 semester hours or 90 quarter credits. 

Q. Should I be looking at schools with particular professional accreditations? What do they mean, and why are they important?

A. Professional accreditation is the external recognition of a program’s commitment to excellence. Earning accreditation involves a rigorous process where programs self-assess their alignment to professional standards, which is then verified by external reviewers. The bottom line is that programs that are accredited have proven that they’re offering a high-quality program that has been independently verified as such. It’s a sign that these programs are offering current, rigorous education that prepares students for counseling careers.

The Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP) accredits both masters and doctoral degree programs in counseling.

Q. What opportunities are there to network with others in the field?

A. Being a student member of a professional counseling association is a great step to take! Networking with other counseling students and professionals enables you to become better informed about the counseling field/specializations, stay abreast of developments and trends in the field, and explore career opportunities.

Each association has its own benefits to members, so it’s a good idea to explore what they offer and to take advantage of the resources available. Professional associations include the American Counseling Association (ACA), the Association for Counselor Education and Supervision (ACES), numerous divisions that provide the opportunity to network within a specialty area or regional division, and state-specific professional counseling associations.  These associations provide ongoing educational events that help members stay current in their field of practice, as well as networking and professional development opportunities.

Q. Tell me more about required internships or practicums.

A. Fieldwork is a required component of professional counseling programs and is a wonderful opportunity to apply counseling theory and further develop counseling skills while under the close supervision of skilled counseling faculty and site supervisors. Fieldwork requirements may vary by program, so it is important to review your school’s requirements.  Per CACREP-accredited programs, the fieldwork experience involves a quarter of practicum where the student completes 100 supervised clock hours, followed by a minimum of two quarters of internship where they complete an additional 600 supervised clock hours.  Students in fieldwork will have a faculty instructor/supervisor while they complete their requirements working at  a site in their communities under the supervision of their individual clinical supervisor assigned at their respective sites. Site and faculty supervisors communicate regularly to ensure each student is receiving the support and guidance needed to foster a successful experience.

Q. How do I find a fieldwork site?

A. Early preparation is key to finding and securing a fieldwork placement. Becoming a student member of state professional counseling associations is an excellent strategy to begin networking and gaining awareness of regional opportunities. It’s also important to explore your community and visit potential sites (community counseling centers, private practice offices, schools, hospitals, churches, correctional facilities, etc.). University counseling degree programs often have faculty advisors to help with this, along with other resources.  You also want to ensure that your application materials, such as a cover letter and CV,  are polished and professional.  It is also a great strategy to review and practice skills for successful interviewing!

Q. When can I get licensed?

A. Each state has unique licensure requirements, so it’s important to connect directly with your state licensing board to learn what you will need to do to satisfy licensure requirements. Following graduation from a professional counseling program, you accrue supervised counseling hours under the supervision of a site supervisor in your community. How many hours can depend on the state requirements, and you can find more information here. States also require completion of a counseling exam, such as the National Counselor Examination (NCE), the National Clinical Mental Health Counseling Examination (NCMHCE), or the Association of Marital & Family Therapy Regulatory Boards. (AMFTRB).

Contributing Author
lisamckenna

Lisa McKenna, PhD, LPC-S, serves as Assistant Dean for Capella University’s School of Counseling and Human Services.  She is a licensed professional counselor and board-approved clinical supervisor in the state of Texas.  She is a trained hypnotherapist and has worked as a counselor in community group practices, private practice, and university counseling settings.  Dr. McKenna is dedicated to offering high quality and accessible counselor education that benefit the counseling field, new professionals, and the communities that they serve. 
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Graduate Student and New Professional Blog
We are all taking 12-15 credit hours per semester, participating in research opportunities, managing work schedules, maintaining a social/family life, or we just transitioned into our New Professional role and have no idea what we are doing! ACA’s Graduate Student and New Professional Blog offers real life vignettes of life, academics, and how to keep yourself afloat despite your crazy schedule. Any suggestions for what you would like to hear more about, please email the Graduate Student Committee at: ACAGradStudentCommittee@gmail.com

Columns can be reprinted in full or in part with attribution to the American Counseling Association’s Graduate Student and New Professional Blog.

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