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What is School Counseling?
Alabama's economy may often be thought of as agrarian and rural, but that's not entirely accurate. While the state has historically made its economic impact with crops, such as peanuts, these days the Alabama economy is dominated by manufacturing. Other industries in the top five include real estate, professional services, and social services including education and healthcare.
Thus, school counselors are a vital part of one of Alabama's largest industries. They help students who are having trouble learning or who may otherwise be a disturbance in the classroom. In this way, school counselors help all students learn, free up teachers' resources, and overall create a more pleasant environment for all involved in education.
A school counselor is an educational professional working with students who may be having problems with their own behavior or families rather than their schoolwork, though they also help pinpoint learning disorders for those who are having school trouble. Rather than helping them with studying, a school counselor addresses emotional or social problems that students may have. Since schools are divided by age group and developmental stages, school counselors also specialize in early childhood, childhood (elementary school), early adolescence (middle grades), or adolescent students (high school). School counselors thus earn their credentials in much the same way that teachers do, by earning a teaching certification from the state of Alabama, though they must also earn a master’s in school counseling.
School counselors may also take their work into the private sector. In fact, many retired school counselors have second careers as independent counselors where they continue to work with the same age group they specialized in during their careers in schools. In private practice, school counselors may involve parents in counseling sessions, when appropriate.
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Online School Counseling Education in Alabama
To help this profession thrive, Alabama allocates resources to keep counseling professionals in each and every school. The government also helps to keep their numbers alive and growing by funding school counseling degree programs at the graduate and doctoral levels. They also support school counselors by providing foundational training at the undergraduate level.
College degree programs seek out the best academia can provide when staffing their counseling degree programs. At the undergraduate level, education programs often seek out a mix of local teachers who hold a master’s degree and PhD-level faculty who can teach the upper level and even master’s level courses. When programs place an emphasis on recruiting local teachers, students gain added insight into what they will face when they become licensed professionals.
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Government officials and educators alike also realize that, by supporting school counselors, they are supporting the broader mental healthcare field. Not only are school counselors able to work with children who exhibit problems that may worsen with age, but the school counselors themselves may move elsewhere in the mental healthcare world. They may decide to shift their careers into a private practice or seek retraining to work with substance abuse disorder, for instance.
School counselors are unique in primary and secondary education in that they must earn a master’s degree in order to practice their profession. In particular, counselors need to complete a Master of Education (MEd) or a Master of Arts in School Counseling to qualify. They then need to pass a specific PRAXIS teacher's examination that evaluates their knowledge of their field as it pertains to the age group they intend to work with.
Online Associate Degree in School Counseling (AS)
Aspiring school counselors may consider an associate education degree as their first step along the way to a school counseling degree and Alabama school counseling licensure. These first two years in a community college can be very helpful and will help form a strong foundation for a successful career.
An associate education degree will enable a student to begin work in the schools as a substitute or paraprofessional. This time in the classroom will be inspiring as well as instructive. Knowledge from a two-year degree will inform every day in the school and will further help solidify the decision to work as a school counselor in Alabama.
This route is also helpful in that it makes sound financial sense. Alabama community colleges are more affordable relative to their four-year counterparts, so students can complete their core college curriculum without accruing more expenses than necessary.
Online Bachelor’s Degree in School Counseling (BS)
In a four-year online counseling program, aspiring school counselors will be able to dig deeper into their studies. Students will likely focus on one stage of the educational process such as early childhood, elementary, or secondary education. Most programs will prepare teachers to teach either a general curriculum, for early childhood and elementary students, or a specific subject for high school. Those who aspire to graduate studies in school counseling should speak with their advisor about which electives may help the most. A few that could help might include developmental psychology, general psychology, or even introductory courses in sociology.
While a bachelor’s degree might not support a student teaching experience shadowing a school counselor, students can still explore this as a possibility. Barring that, a part-time job that exposes students to the age group they intend to help may be invaluable in the long term. Some options may include summer camp counselor, preschool teacher, or coaching a recreational sports team.
Online Master’s Degree in School Counseling (MS or MC)
An online master’s school counseling degree is required for work in the field, so all who aspire to the profession should be aware of this when they start their post-secondary education. There are several online degrees that school counseling professionals can pursue, including an MEd with a concentration in school counseling, an EdS (educational specialist), or an online MA in school counseling. Students should research each, and even interview, with programs to make sure they are choosing the best program for themselves and their long-term success as counselors.
School counseling degree programs all wish to have their students succeed. Thus, the programs will help each cohort achieve its best success by offering the courses and practicums that will lead to Alabama state licensure. Students may have the opportunity to practice their skills with students in need, albeit under the supervision of a professional school counselor. Students should also be aware that a master’s degree will automatically entitle them to higher pay than those who teach with only a bachelor’s degree.
Online PhD Degree in School Counseling (PhD)
An online PhD or doctorate degree is highly valued in the world of psychology. It's also valued in public schools and academia. School counselors who earn their PhD will surely provide better service to the students they serve in public schools. It's worth noting, however, that there are options to consider before enrolling in a PhD counseling program.
That is some who have been practicing counseling with a master’s degree may desire a change into research or perhaps a shift into private practice. Both of these options, plus opportunities to join the ranks of academia, are available through a PhD program. If a student desires a shift into research, they may need to take additional courses at the graduate level before gaining admittance to a doctoral program, but they should certainly inquire before enrolling in any course. Research psychologists often work in universities where they may enjoy tenure. As for pay, those in private practice can charge insurance companies more per hour and school counselors will enjoy their profession's top pay, as determined by the Alabama School Board.
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Become a School Counselor in Alabama
There are many reasons to become a school counselor in Alabama, but the path to becoming a school counselor in Alabama is rather narrow. The reasons to become a school counselor may start in school itself. Some who take advantage of their school counselor may find that they are helped greatly and are thus inspired to become counselors themselves. Others may enter counseling outside of school and then decide that they most want to counsel kids in school. Others may start out on a path to become a certified teacher but then decide that their true passion lies in helping students overcome other issues.
No matter the inspiration, Alabama's aspiring school counselors should first start their path with a college degree. For their undergraduate degrees, there are two general choices. The first is to pursue a psychology degree. The second is a teacher certification program that focuses on a specific phase of education (preschool, elementary, or secondary) and perhaps a subject focus for those aiming at becoming secondary school teachers. Regardless of the path to an undergraduate diploma, students should seek out as much experience as they can with young people. This can include student teaching but may also involve being a camp counselor or even as lifeguard at a community pool.
All students who aim at becoming school counselors should start thinking about graduate school as early as their third year of college. Here, they will find multiple options. The two general paths will lead either toward a graduate degree in education or a degree in clinical psychology that focuses on school counseling. Those in the latter program may find more latitude later if they wish to transition into a private counseling practice, though that is not a given.
During graduate school, counseling students will be required to not only take the required coursework but to also complete practicums. These experiential learning courses will allow them to practice their profession. Not only are these vital for learning the profession, but they are also vital for state licensure.
The state board will then require school counseling candidates to pass an exam such as the PRAXIS II that focuses on school counseling. The four-part exam covers the practice of counseling itself plus professional areas such as accountability and management. Upon successful completion of the exam, students will be able to apply to schools for a position. Once hired, their principal will support their application for a license.
Careers for School Counseling Graduates
- School Counselor:
School counselors work with students to help them overcome personal and social issues that may be interfering with their schoolwork and overall personal development. Counselors need to complete a qualifying master’s degree in counseling and pass a PRAXIS or similar exam to complete their teaching credentials.
- Career Counselor:
These counseling professionals work in colleges to help students achieve their career goals. Career counselors spend a great deal of time accruing employment related resources for students, including arranging various on-campus job fairs. Career counselors may also coordinate with corporations or even government agencies on internship programs or other experiential learning opportunities. Career counselors need to hold a master’s degree.
- Marriage and Family Therapist:
Counselors often specialize in specific sorts of client, and marriage & family therapy is one such specialization. This work involves both individual and group sessions as the therapist attempts to bring the family or couple into greater harmony. Since families can span many different stages of psychological development, marriage and family therapists must also have a broad base of knowledge and therapeutic skill.
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- Social Worker:
This job title is used to describe a wide range of specialties. Social workers may work with child and family services to help ensure that children are well taken care of and not abused. They may also work with elderly, developmentally disabled, or mentally ill clients who need special resources and care. Social workers with a MSW can also become licensed clinical social workers who work as independent mental health counselors.
- Substance Abuse Counselor:
This is a licensed position that works exclusively with patients who suffer with substance abuse disorder. Licensure in most states is provided on a number of different levels. Counselors with an associate or bachelor’s degree are often licensed but cannot conduct individual psychotherapy. Counselors with a master’s degree in clinical psychology can work as independent counseling professionals in private practice or providing psychotherapy in drug rehab facilities.
- Mental Health Counselor:
To earn this title, psychological professionals need to first earn a master’s degree in clinical psychology, social work, or even education with a focus on counseling. Mental health counselors may work in mental healthcare facilities such as drug and alcohol rehab facilities or psychiatric hospitals. Licensure is required, a process that entails passing an exam as well as a period of supervised work.
- School Psychologist:
While many schools have school counselors, a school psychologist performs the same functions but with a PhD. The title psychologist is only allowed for those who have completed their doctoral work. Most school systems reward PhDs with extra pay and perhaps higher esteem. Psychologists may also leave the school system and work in private practice, provided that is their goal and that they maintain full state licensure.
- Special Education Teacher:
SPED teachers are a special breed who work with a variety of students who may be developmentally delayed, deaf, blind, or exhibiting some form of behavioral disorder. The job is very rewarding both personally and financially, but it also asks that teachers prepare a detailed Individual Education Plan (IEP) for each student.