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What is Counseling?
A counselor is a mental health professional who works with people who are struggling with deep personal or other issues that stem from things such as childhood trauma, addiction, biochemical disorders, or simply confusion with regard to career choice. The counselors we most often think of work with clients one-on-one and conduct psychotherapy to help them overcome difficulties. They may also work with couples, families, and groups of people who may share a common malady.
There are also counseling professionals who perform different functions, yet they also help their clients live a better life. These counseling professionals may help students achieve their career goals by way of academic achievements. Others may work in mental health but have a specialty in addiction therapy and not yet have a license that enables them to conduct one-on-one counseling sessions, much less work as independent practitioners. There are also counselors who advise couples with regards to their genetics and its impact for their potential children.
This page is all about counseling degrees in Alabama. The goal here is to help students of psychology discover the right degree for them, as well as the proper approach to helping others. After all, there are multiple types of counseling career options available. Some deal with intense personal and family issues, while other counselors focus on things like career development or matters that are more strictly medical in nature.
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Counseling Education in Alabama
Alabama is a dynamic and growing state which supports a wide range of professions. Their cities need financial and business professionals, while their outlying rural areas still need agricultural scientists. To help all of these hard-working people achieve their best lives, there are counseling professionals.
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Not only do ordinary Alabamans need counseling help from time to time, but the state is also in the middle of an epidemic that only counselors can help. That epidemic is substance abuse, including addiction to alcohol. While Alabama has always had its fair share of substance abuse cases, those numbers have exploded during the opioid epidemic.
The opioid epidemic has ravaged Alabama's urban and rural areas alike. Where problems like heroin addiction used to center mostly in large urban centers, now addicts are being created wherever a pharmacy is there to fill a prescription for opiate drugs. When an addict's prescription runs out, they may seek out street drugs such as heroin to assuage their cravings.
Though many see this problem as an issue for law enforcement, many in Alabama understand that it is an issue of public health; mental health in particular. To respond to this growing need, Alabama's colleges and universities have instituted counseling degree programs that train caring, knowledgeable, mental health professionals to help those who suffer. The state is thus able to address the problem and help to maintain the integrity of their social fabric. Without these counseling degree programs, the state's economy would surely suffer as a result of unchecked addiction. This is because addicts not only cause problems in their own workplace, but at home, and throughout their community. Then, when the addiction has grown out of control, they may start to burden hospitals with increased rates of overdose, hepatitis, and other maladies associated with addiction.
Associate Degree in Counseling (AS)
An associate counseling degree is a terrific way to get started in the field. Alabama community colleges can help students launch a career as an addiction counselor or provide the necessary foundation in psychology that will lead to higher degrees and licensure later on. An associate degree makes sense for many other reasons, too.
One of the chief advantages of a two-year college degree in counseling is that the curriculum includes all of the core courses required for a bachelor’s degree. Given that public community college tuition rates are generally far below that of four-year institutions, students find that an associate counseling degree eases the financial burden of higher education. Furthermore, community colleges tend to have smaller class sizes and instructors who are dedicated to their students and learning. The overall value of an associate counseling degree is tremendous and often overlooked.
Bachelor's Degree in Counseling (BS)
A bachelor’s degree is typically the educational level most employers are looking for from their entry-level candidates. A bachelor’s counseling degree from an Alabama college or university will satisfy the state regulators and thus enables a student to earn credentials to work in addiction counseling. The Alabama Alcohol and Drug Abuse Association has more requirements, including internships and supervised work time, but a four-year counseling degree is the core academic requirement.
A bachelor’s counseling degree can also lay the groundwork for a master’s counseling degree. Students who are driven to earn a master’s degree and work as independent counseling professionals should certainly start with a bachelor’s degree and move forward to a graduate degree program. During the course of a bachelor’s counseling degree, students should seek out as many internship opportunities as possible. It may even be possible to find work in a rehabilitation center to help broaden one's horizons and ensure that counseling is the best career decision.
Master's Degree in Counseling (MS or MC)
With an Alabama master’s counseling degree, students can gain a license to practice psychotherapy one-on-one with clients of their choosing. With a master’s counseling degree, students can work with nearly any population they choose, including those suffering from some sort of trauma, addictions, and mental illnesses. However, a master’s counseling degree will not allow the practitioner to prescribe psychopharmaceuticals such as anti-depressants or lithium.
For this degree and licensure level, students can earn a master’s degree in clinical psychology or social work. A master’s counseling degree enables students to work as therapists with the opportunity to earn a PhD and work as a psychologist. On the other hand, those who earn a master of social work can become licensed to practice psychotherapy or they can work in a social services agency. While the MSW offers more options than a master in clinical psychology, the MSW is not paired with a PhD option that will enhance one's counseling career.
PhD Degree in Counseling (PhD)
For those who specialize in clinical psychology, a PhD is a crowning achievement. Those with a doctorate degree can use the title psychologist and thus charge clients more and enjoy an elevated esteem in the counseling community. The added coursework and in-depth research into specific counseling topics will also help their practice. They can dive deep into specific pathologies, such as addiction. Armed with such a specialty area, they may soon become considered experts in the field. Other specializations include forensic psychology, marriage and family counseling, adolescents, or child psychology.
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A PhD also opens up the possibility of teaching at the college level. Those who want a career as a full-time professor will need a PhD to earn a tenure-track position. Though it's possible to teach undergraduate students with a master’s counseling degree, a PhD opens up the possibility of teaching graduate students, including doctoral candidates.
Become a Counselor in Alabama
Counseling is not so much a job but a career calling. Counselors must be driven to the field more by passion than a desire for a mere good job. In fact, many students of counseling enter their degree programs after they have completed work with a counselor. They may have had such a dramatic experience that they are then compelled to enter the field. Others may be driven to the field for other reasons, but nearly every counseling student will have some tale of transformation that drove them to become counseling professionals.
Those who come to the field without having first-hand experience in therapy often show early signs that they are fascinated by human thought and behavior. They also tend to be rather empathetic and altruistic by nature. These are kids who share their lunches with those who may not have enough and who are always eager to help even when that runs counter to their self-interest. These youngsters may also have a tendency to read a lot of fiction and may question why people do the things they do.
As they move through school, those who wish to become counseling professionals should seek out opportunities that inform their desires. Some high schools offer courses that can feed the aspirations of a budding counselor. Those may be psychology courses that build a foundation of knowledge in the subject. Schools may also offer sociology courses which also inform one's need to understand the human condition. Naturally, most any high school offers literature courses that also provide insights into humanity.
For college, future counseling professionals should look for degree programs that best suit their long-term goals. Any college they choose should be fully accredited and well-respected in the community. For a major, most any college will offer a psychology degree. Students may also be able to choose between that and social work or addiction counseling. After graduating with a bachelor’s degree, students should look into either a license as an addiction counselor or continuing into a master’s counseling degree program. All counseling students should prioritize a master’s counseling degree as a long-term, if not short-term goal.
Careers for Counseling Graduates
- Career Counselor
These counseling professionals work with students to help them either discover the best career path for them or to optimize their college education so that they are best able to achieve their goals. Career counselors typically work for a college or university and hold master’s degrees in the field. Their credentials will not qualify them for mental health counseling, but the experience may help with admission to a clinical psychology program, or a master of social work department.
- Substance Abuse/Addiction Counselor:
To fight the growing opioid epidemic, states such as Alabama have started licensing addiction counseling professionals at various academic levels. While the best paid substance abuse counselors have a master’s degree or better, states are licensing students with associate or bachelor’s counseling degrees, as well. The work typically is conducted at drug and alcohol rehabilitation centers, but many independent counselors specialize in addiction and alcoholism.
- Counselor (Private Practice):
To work as a licensed counselor in private practice, states typically require a master’s degree and that the practitioner pass a professional examination, among other licensure requirements. However, some counselors may work as pastoral counselors who hold a master of divinity and perhaps additional certifications.
- Social Worker:
There are many levels of professional credentials for social workers, but nearly all of them are engaged with counseling at some level. There is no licensure requirement to enter the field in general, but to be a licensed counselor who conducts psychotherapy, a master of social work degree is a requirement. Social workers are found working in a number of government of non-profit organizations including hospitals, jails, child and family services agencies, and homeless shelters.
- College Counselor:
These counseling professionals work on college and university campuses where they help students with their problems. To become a college counselor, students need to meet their state's requirements for the field, most often a master’s counseling degree and passing an examination, on top of experiential requirements. Counselors often choose this environment for their practice because college students are in such an interesting period of growth and development.
- Family Therapist:
While counseling professionals of any sort can work with families that need help, there are specific licenses for this specialty. Family therapists often work with each family member one-on-one and then as a group to help them overcome communication or other difficulties that prevent them from functioning as cohesive units.
To become a psychiatrist, it's necessary to complete medical school and then a psychiatric residency. While these mental health professionals used to focus on psychotherapy they now primarily work with psychopharmacology. They may discuss symptoms with their patients, but their primary duty is to evaluate their prescription which may involve analyzing blood and other evidence.