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Qualifications required to become a counsellor

Counsellors are professionals trained to give advice and support to individuals in a range of settings. They may specialise in areas such as vocational, educational, mental health or substance abuse counselling and work in schools, hospitals, rehabilitation centres, unemployment offices and other such institutions.

Many counsellors work closely with children, adolescents and families who are struggling with emotional issues and personal problems. Counsellors must meet the minimum qualifications in their state to become eligible to work.

Formal education

Education requirements vary by state and by the area of speciality. Most counselling jobs require at least a master's degree, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Before obtaining a master's, aspiring counsellors must complete a bachelor's degree program, preferably in a related field such as psychology, sociology or education. Students should develop a solid background in the principles of human growth and development, counselling, behavioural psychology, statistics, group dynamics and other relevant subject areas. A bachelor's degree usually takes four years to complete, while the master's degree generally takes two years and includes a major research project. Master's degrees require between 48 and 60 credit hours and significant supervised clinical experience.


Counsellors work closely with people in a clinical setting and therefore need as much experience as possible working in this environment.

Prospective counsellors should gain experience by volunteering, working or interning in counselling centres, schools and other places where their services are needed.

They should gain experience working with clients with a range of ages, backgrounds and crises.

Having experience working with both individuals and groups is also useful. Many counsellors acquire professional experience while pursuing their undergraduate and postgraduate degrees.

Certification and licensing

All counsellors must be licensed to work in the state they plan to work in. Licensing requirements differ depending on the state and the type of counselling. Most licenses require a master's degree, 3,000 hours or two years of postgraduate supervised clinical experience and successful completion of a state-approved licensing exam.

In order to maintain the license counsellors usually have to complete additional continuing education courses every few years. Both the National Board for Certified Counselors and the Commission on Rehabilitation Counselor Certification offer voluntary certification to counsellors who fulfil their requirements (see Resources). Counsellors who hold specialised advanced certificates can expect to earn more money and have greater career options.

Skills and personal qualities

The job of a counsellor can be quite challenging, and it's not the right career for everyone. Counsellors should be patient, caring individuals committed to helping others who may be struggling with emotional problems. They should be able to relate to a wide range of people and inspire confidence and trust in the individuals they treat. This can be a stressful job, so counsellors should ideally have a high threshold for stress.