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What is Counseling?

Counseling is a profession that spans many specialty areas, which includes family and couples therapy, addictions counseling, pastoral counseling, and group therapy, to name a few. What all of these have in common is a trained professional who is often licensed and monitored by the state of Alaska to provide assistance to their clients. This counselor helps their clients work through various personal, emotional, psychological, and spiritual conflicts that are interfering in their lives.

Counselors are perhaps most commonly thought of as working in dimly lit offices as part of a private practice. However, they also work as employees of large drug and alcohol rehabilitation centers, school systems, and even churches. Counseling professionals typically launch their careers with degrees in counseling or social work. While some start their careers with an associate or bachelor’s degree, licensed counselors must finish graduate school, satisfy the state's internship hours, and otherwise satisfy Alaska's eligibility requirements.

Alaska's colleges and universities offer ample opportunity for aspiring counselors to earn degrees that lead to state licensing. Most programs that satisfy Alaska state licensing requirements will be well aware of how to make sure that their graduates can become counselors in Alaska. They will thus prepare students to start a clinical practice by requiring the proper courses, internship experience, and even therapy to prepare for life as a professional counselor. Since Alaska has its own rules for licensing counselors, each state evaluates and vets the preparation programs offered by their local schools. Students need guidance so that they are able to identify the very best counseling psychology program for them. Though each Alaska counseling degree program will prepare students to qualify for licensure, they are each unique and favor specific philosophies and counseling methods. On top of this, programs need to be evaluated according to objective measures that consider things like the retention rate, graduation rate, and net costs.

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Counseling Education in Alaska

A counselor is a mental health professional who works to help clients, often by way of talk therapy though some use behavioral therapy methods and other techniques. Most counselors operate under a state license that affirms that they have the necessary background to operate in a state such as Alaska. They help people overcome a wide variety of problems that stem from traumas, chemical imbalances, and even uncomfortable circumstances that arise in a person's life. Counselors are trained to apply a variety of methods and philosophies in their practice. When they are successful, patients and clients will experience breakthroughs and thus achieve new insights about their life and the world.

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Most counselors tend to specialize in certain client types, often whichever interests them the most. Focus areas include family counseling/therapy, career counseling, adolescent therapy, substance abuse counseling, and school counseling. Since counseling is often not a cheap endeavor, some counselors seek to both broaden their practice and include lower-income individuals by offering low-cost and sliding scale clinical mental health counseling.

To become a fully licensed counselor in Alaska, all aspiring professionals need to satisfy the state's Board of Professional Counselors requirements. Their requirements include academic credentials. The minimum degree required to become a licensed counselor in Alaska is a master’s degree from a fully accredited counseling program that is recognized by the board. Whether the program is conducted online, in person, or through some combination of online and campus courses is largely immaterial for the board. All students should complete at least one internship experience as a part of their graduate coursework. Those hours should be logged and may be used to bolster a licensure application. Academic advisors should be able to help guide graduate counseling students with regards to their Alaska counseling license applications. Furthermore, students will need to continue working in supervised practice until they have satisfied the board's requirements.

Associate Degree in Counseling (AS)

An associate counseling degree is often geared toward preparing students to work in substance abuse counseling. Degree holders won't be licensed to conduct one-on-one psychotherapy like a counselor with a graduate counseling degree or even individual mental health counseling, but they can work with support groups focused on addiction and provide support for those suffering from addiction. Because of this early access to the career, two-year counseling degrees are a terrific way to start a counseling career. The jobs available at this level provide invaluable experience that will pay off once a bachelor’s and master’s degree elevates their licensure level to that of a full counselor. In fact, since experience means so much in a counseling career, this way might even be preferred for those who wish to be the most effective counselor they can be. After all, many clients respond very favorably when their counselor exhibits deep knowledge and a wide range of experience.

Bachelor's Degree in Counseling (BS)

A bachelor’s counseling degree still won't be enough to become a fully licensed Alaska counselor, but it can help elevate a career. Those who are working in substance abuse rehabilitation centers may receive a raise and other non-licensed counseling positions outside of the mental health realm may become available once students have completed a bachelor’s degree in psychology or counseling. The bachelor’s degree will also expand one's understanding of psychology, sociology, and further build on one's overall understanding of human nature, development, and behavior. With a four-year degree in psychology, social work, or counseling, a student can work as a caseworker in a social services agency or a psychiatric technician in a hospital or long-term facility. Finally, a bachelor’s degree is absolutely necessary for anyone who wishes to become a licensed counselor or therapist in the mental health field. That's because a master’s degree is a minimum requirement for this profession and a entering a master’s program requires that you have first completed an undergraduate degree.

Master's Degree in Counseling (MS or MC)

To earn licensure in the state of Alaska, all counselors must first complete a master’s degree in counseling psychology. Most graduate degree programs in counseling are geared toward preparing their students for Alaska state licensure. Thus, master’s degree programs prepare future counselors with both the appropriate classroom knowledge but also real-world experiences that help get them ready for their future counseling practice. These internships are often credited towards the eventual Alaska licensure application. Since counseling is such a diverse field, all prospective students should carefully investigate each program to ensure that it aligns with their beliefs, values, and long-term professional goals. While each program be geared towards preparing students to work as therapists, others may also offer a research track. This sort of option is terrific for students who may find that their counseling experience is overwhelming or those who find that research is too dry.

PhD Degree in Counseling (PhD)

To reach the pinnacle of the profession, Alaska counselors can earn a PhD in counseling. This degree level will enable them to charge more per hour and will lend them a higher status in their professional community. A doctorate degree may help them publish books and papers, since top academic credentials often lend writing an extra air of respectability and authority. Keep in mind that state licensing requirements for continuing education may also accept published papers in lieu of classroom hours.

A PhD in counseling psychology can also help professionals diversify their careers with positions in academia. While it is possible to teach with a master’s degree, one's prospects rise with a doctorate degree. The top academic credentials will surely help a person teach at the graduate and doctoral level. Those with an MA are more likely to find adjunct and part-time positions teaching at the undergraduate level.

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Become a Counselor in Alaska

To become a counselor in Alaska, students should start their academic preparation while in their undergraduate years. They should work towards a degree in social work, psychology, or even education. It's vital to keep an eye on graduate school admissions standards, however, since certain classes may be required for admission to a master’s degree program. It's also vital to have a deep passion that fuels this work. Since counselors help people overcome some of the most dramatic traumas, they need to have a deep drive to help people heal.

To bolster the overall plan of becoming a counselor, students should seek out the sorts of experiences that will help them become the best therapists possible. These experiences can include things like part-time jobs in rehabilitation clinics, work for a psychologist's office, and even personal counseling for themselves. After all, the master’s degree for counseling psychology will include therapy and deep personal exploration. Students who have experience helping others in need and also working on themselves will be able to reinforce their decision to become counselors.

Once a student of counseling psychology has their bachelor’s degree and has gained enough experience to solidify their decision to become a licensed counselors, they can begin to apply to graduate schools. Each graduate school of counseling has something different to offer. Some have a strong religious focus while others may emphasize certain counseling philosophies and practices. With enough experience and academic training, students can discern the best program for them. For the Alaska licensing board, students should be certain to attend only regionally or nationally accredited master’s degree programs.

After graduation with a master’s degree in counseling psychology, students still have to meet two more criteria for a license to work as a counselor in Alaska. Those are the experiential and examination requirements. The Alaska licensing board requires that all applicants complete at least 2,000 hours of supervised practice within three years of their initial application. For the examination, the Alaska board will accept passing scores from either the National Counselor Examination for Licensure and Certification (NCE) or the National Clinical Mental Health Counseling Examination (NCMHCE). These exams are administered by the National Board for Certified Counselors, Inc. (NBCC).

Top College Programs in Alaska for Counseling

  • Alaska Pacific University:
    The Master of Science program for counseling psychology at APU is conducted via both online and on-campus coursework. Students attend online classes on a scheduled, synchronous basis and then meet up in person for on-campus intensives. This structure allows students the ability to work in the field while also working toward their long-term goals.
  • University of Alaska Anchorage:
    This top Alaskan institution offers students a Master of Science in Clinical Psychology. Students with a degree from UAA can pursue one of two licenses: Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC) or the Licensed Psychological Associate (LPA). Students also have the option of pursuing a PhD in Clinical/Community Psychology through UAA.
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  • University of Alaska Fairbanks:
    The University of Alaska at Fairbanks offers students an MEd for school counseling. Though this degree is offered through the education department, graduates go on to practice as private clinicians within mental health agencies as well as local school districts. In fact, UAF offers a track that ferries students towards a counseling master’s degree and one for school counselors.
  • University of Alaska Anchorage (MSW):
    For students who aren't quite sure if they'd rather work as social workers under the rubric of a state agency, or whether they would like to pursue a career as a clinical therapist, UAA offers a Master of Social Work degree. This degree will pave the way toward work as a private clinician if students choose that route.
  • Western Undergraduate Exchange:
    As residents of the Western United States, Alaskan locals have the option of applying to undergraduate programs through the WUE program. The WUE offers Alaskans the opportunity to attend public colleges and universities in states that participate without incurring out-of-state tuition fees. Thus, budding counselors can expand their horizons by earning an undergraduate degree in states including, but not limited to, Washington, Oregon, California, or Colorado without paying any more than any other in-state student.

Careers for Counseling Graduates

  • Addiction Counselor:
    This profession is sadly expanding all the time. The opioid crisis has plunged thousands into addiction, sparking a need for more addiction counselors throughout the U.S. Addiction counselors can often work in a rehabilitation clinic with as little as an associate degree, though a full master’s degree is necessary to provide one-on-one counseling in a clinical practice.
  • Child Counselor:
    Those who have a special rapport with children might consider working with youngsters and counseling them through their difficulties. While each counselor receives training in developmental psychology, this is a specialty area that may require additional certifications and training. Counselors may specialize in specific parts of childhood such as early childhood, middle childhood, and adolescence.
  • Marriage and Family Counselor:
    Married couples and their families often run into difficulties concerning their communication and behaviors. This specialty area is offered as part of many master’s degree programs in clinical psychology. It may be in the elective requirements or some programs may offer a suite of courses that provide a foundation for a practice devoted to helping couples and their families.
  • Mental Health Counselor:
    This career option is perhaps what most people think of when they think of a clinical psychologist. These psychology professionals are licensed by Alaska, or their state of residence, to conduct individual therapy sessions. Each counselor tends to form their own specialty area, but some have diverse practices that may include group therapy, family and couples therapy, as well as clients with substance abuse issues.
  • School Counselor:
    These mental health professionals work with school-aged children to help them overcome the difficulties of childhood and become successful students. This specialty is most often filled by practitioners with an MEd in school counseling. In fact, much like classroom teachers, school counselors need to pass a special PRAXIS examination.

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