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How to Become a Successful Counselor

Counselors enjoy a variety of great job perks, including enviable job security and a fantastic career outlook. They also have the chance to earn a decent salary doing a job that has a positive impact on people and society as a whole. Becoming a counselor is hard work, and not everyone has the skills or personality traits to become a successful counselor. To quality, you will need to dedicate several years to your training and complete a masters in counseling before being granted a license to practice. If you’re thinking of choosing a career in counseling, then here are some tips to help you become a successful counselor.

Understand what will be involved 

If you’re thinking of becoming a counselor, then you must know the expectations of the field and have a clear understanding of what will be involved. The day to day responsibilities will differ depending on the sector that you choose to specialize in. However, all counselors are required to interact with clients, and you must have strong communication skills and an empathetic attitude. There are plenty of advantages to becoming a counselor, such as high job satisfaction and the chance to help others and make a positive difference through your work. However, you must have a realistic understanding of the role and be aware that the job has its disadvantages. Here are some of the cons of working as a counselor:

  • Long training period – Becoming a counselor is not quick, and you will need to invest time and resources to get the qualifications required. Generally, counselors must complete a four-year bachelor’s degree, followed by a masters in counseling. A masters in counseling usually takes one year of full-time study. On top of a formal qualification, counselors must also complete a certain number of placement hours during their masters in counseling to meet the criteria for licensure. Earning the qualifications to become a counselor requires significant investment, so you must be committed to your career and prepared to put in the time and work.
  • Emotionally-draining – Helping others and offering support is rewarding, but it can also be emotionally draining. Most counselors have to face stressful or upsetting situations. For example, a family counselor may have to assess families and children when there have been allegations of abuse.
  • Demanding clients – A counselor’s role is to support people and help them overcome various challenges. However, some people may resist this help and be uncooperative. Counselors might have to deal with difficult or abusive clients, especially when they are working in sectors like family counseling or substance abuse.


As mentioned, there are loads of great benefits to becoming a counselor, although you should acknowledge that there are potential drawbacks as well. Keep these in mind when deciding if a career in counseling is right for you. You can research counseling careers by visiting websites like learnhowtobecome.org and thebalancecareers.com.

Choose the right specialism

Counselors can choose various specialisms when they are studying for a masters in counseling. According to the Council for Accreditation of Counseling & Related Educational Programs (CACREP), some of the main counseling specializations include addiction counseling, mental health counseling, marriage counseling, family counseling, and school counseling. These sectors offer various roles, responsibilities, and working conditions. The counseling specialization you choose will also have an effect on your earning potential. For example, school counselors earn just over $57,000 per year, while rehabilitation counselors earn around $35,000 according to the Burea of Labor Statistics (BLS).


It is best to have an idea of what sector you want to specialize in before you start your masters in counseling. That way, you can choose modules that will teach you the skills and knowledge needed to excel in your chosen field. One of the best ways to decide which sector you want to specialize in is by completing work experience in various clinical settings. Doing this will give you an insight into the different counseling sectors and help you decide which area will provide you with the highest job satisfaction. Most masters in counseling programs require you to complete a certain number of placement hours. Try to choose placements in the sectors that you are most interested in. For example, if you are hoping to become a school counselor, then apply for placements in elementary schools, high schools, and colleges while studying for your masters in counseling. It will help you decide whether becoming a school counselor is the best option and help you choose which area of school counseling you want to go into.

Start building your experience

As mentioned, you will be required to complete counseling placements while studying for a masters in counseling. However, it is advisable to start building your experience as early as possible. Placements offer countless benefits, and gaining relevant work experience will help you achieve your future career goals. Most importantly, work placements will give you a real-world look into the counseling profession and reassure you that a career in counseling is right for you. Having lots of work experience will also demonstrate your passion for the industry and give you a competitive edge over your peers. It will help you secure a place on a top counseling program and will also make your resume more attractive to potential employers.


On top of these benefits, placements are also an excellent way to build relationships with people in the counseling sector and expand your professional network. You can utilize these connections when you start searching for jobs after completing your masters in counseling. You can search for counseling placement and internships on job boards or contact organizations directly. Your college tutor or student career advisor may also be able to give you advice on how to get relevant work experience.

Pick the best counseling course

Earning a counseling qualification is a huge undertaking, so you must pick the best course. Typically, counselors must complete a bachelor’s in counseling and then enroll in a masters in counseling. You can choose to study a different relevant topic, although this may mean that you have to complete additional assessments before you can apply for a counseling license. Take the time to explore different courses and find a program that will suit your lifestyle. Many students choose to enroll in a traditional classroom course on campus, although you also have the option to earn your counseling qualification via distance learning. Classroom and distance learning have various pros and cons, which we will discuss in more detail below.

Pros of classroom learning

  • Regular face-to-face interaction with your teaches and other students
  • Less risk of broadband or network issues that would disrupt learning
  • More opportunities to socialize and make friends
  • Immediate support with learning tasks

Cons of classroom learning 

  • You have to work at your teacher’s pace and keep up with other students
  • The tuition fees for classroom courses are usually more expensive. You will also need to factor travel and commuting costs into your budget
  • You will have less flexibility when it comes to your study schedule and must be available to attend classes at set times

Pros of distance learning 

  • Learn from anywhere at any time and fit study around your commitments. Online courses like a masters in counseling can be an excellent option for students in employment or with families to care for.
  • Work at your own pace and don’t have to worry about missing classes
  • Interact with students from all around the world using online communication platforms
  • Online courses are generally cheaper than classroom courses. For instance, completing your masters in counseling online could save you hundreds or thousands of dollars.

Cons of distance learning

  • You will need to be extremely self-motivated to stay on track when you are studying from home. Effective distance learning requires good organization and lots of determination.
  • There will not be any face-to-face interaction and you will likely find it more difficult to make friends with your peers
  • There may be delays getting support from tutors or answers to queries

Check the requirements for licensure

Once you have completed a masters in counseling, you should be in a position to apply for a counseling license. All graduates must be awarded a license before they can practice counseling in a professional setting. Each state sets its own standards for licensure, so it’s best to check what is required while you are studying for a masters in counseling. According to information on counselor-license.com, the majority of licensure boards request the following: “a masters in counseling from an accredited college, a set amount of internship hours within a clinical setting, and a passing score on the National Counselor Examination (NCE).” The NCE is a 200-question exam paper that is designed to test the skills, abilities, and experience that you have gained while studying for your masters in counseling. You can apply to sit the exam twice a year, in April and October. If you fail the exam, then you will have the opportunity to resit it two more times. If you do not achieve a passing score on your third attempt, then you will have to resubmit your application and pay another application fee. You can find useful study guides and NCE practice questions by referring to the NCE website.

Write a top-quality resume 

Counselors are fortunate as there is currently a high demand for qualified counseling professionals, particularly those with a masters in counseling or a Ph.D. in counseling. This means that newly qualified counselors often find it easy to find employment once they have completed their masters in counseling and gained licensure. That said, there is still competition for the top positions, and counseling students should try to gain a competitive edge in the job market. Take the time to write a quality resume that will attract potential employers and help you secure your dream role. Your resume should be detailed yet concise and include all important information, such as your qualifications, experience, and top achievements. You should also try to demonstrate your passion for the industry with details of any placements and internships that you have completed, along with volunteer work and references. There is a good variety of templates online that you can download for free and use to help you write a winning resume. You can also get guidance from your masters in counseling tutor on how to improve your resume and secure interviews.

Join professional associations 

Joining a professional counseling association is a great way to enhance your skills and network with professionals in your industry. You may even be able to have a direct impact on the development and future direction of the counseling industry. According to The Predictive Index: “Membership provides contacts at the local, state, national, and even international level.” Having these contacts will help you secure employment in your chosen counseling sector. You may also be able to find mentoring services while you are studying for your masters in counseling. On top of these benefits, many professional associations provide access to learning resources and professional development opportunities. Counselors should be proactive with their learning and continuously seek to improve their services by updating their skills and knowledge. Some of the best-known professional counseling organizations to consider joining include The American Counseling Association (ACA), National Board for Certified Counselors (NBCC), and the American Mental Health Counselors Association (AMHCA). You can find local organizations by searching on Google or asking people in your professional network for recommendations.


Gaining the skills and abilities required to become a licensed counselor is a large undertaking that will involve at least five years of formal training. You will also be required to complete a masters in counseling and build sufficient placement hours before you are granted a license to practice. Becoming a counselor is a challenge, but it can lead to an emotionally rewarding and fulfilling career for those with the drive and passion to succeed. Use the above suggestions to guide you on your training and help you become a successful counselor.

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