What is Counseling?
A counselor is a person who helps others work through various problems in their lives. There are many professions that work as counselors. For instance, some counselors work with students who are seeking a career, others may counsel clients regarding finances, and yet we most often consider a counselor as a person who counsels clients regarding emotional and personal issues.
The field of mental health counseling can also include sub-specialties such as adolescent counseling, child therapy, and family and marriage counseling. While a master’s degree in clinical psychology can enable a professional to practice in these focus areas, most counselors will want to consider earning special certificates that provide the sorts of credentials clients appreciate. Since all licensed mental health counseling professionals must continue to renew their licenses with continuing education courses, they can add new credentials as part of their licensure process.
Counseling Education in Connecticut
Counseling professional graduates can work in other capacities. Some may focus their work on career guidance. These counseling professionals are not so concerned with mental health, per se, but rather help all sorts of students achieve their long-term professional goals. Guidance counselors also work in the larger college community to organize job fairs. They might also work with area businesses to facilitate student internships. Since Connecticut has such terrific colleges and universities, there are sure to be plenty of opportunities for career guidance professionals.
The latter type is primarily what this page discusses, yet within that subset are even more professional subdivisions. There are counselors who work with the aged and elderly, young children, adolescents, families, couples, those with substance abuse disorders, and those with other problems. The list is nearly endless. Nevertheless, all mental health counselors undergo the same or similar training.
Some counselors work under a master’s degree in clinical psychology. while others may be licensed clinical social workers. There are also mental health counselors who hold doctoral degrees and who are commonly known as psychologists.
Connecticut's colleges and universities are known to respond to the needs of their state and local community. When new problems or exciting trends arise, higher education tends to respond with curricula that address the core matters at hand. While the need for counseling isn't exactly new, there are new wrinkles in the need for mental health care which prompt Connecticut's academic institutions to adapt and evolve to meet those new needs.
For instance, Connecticut colleges and universities are responding to the opioid crisis, and addiction in general, with specialized degree programs. Addiction counseling programs offer students a way to enter the counseling field with a specialty that is in high demand. Students can build on that experience with a master’s degree in clinical psychology that opens up their practice to a wider population. That is, with a master’s degree in clinical psychology, a counselor can work with clients that are facing any number of problems, including addiction. They can also opt to complete a PhD which will enable higher pay and greater professional esteem.
Associate Degree in Counseling (AS)
At the associate degree level, there often isn't much for a counselor to do, particularly in the public health field. This is because the requirements for those who counsel patients one-on-one or offer diagnoses are high. However, those with an associate counseling degree might choose to specialize in addiction counseling. These professionals work exclusively with clients who suffer with substance abuse disorder or other obsessive problems.
However, even those who have long-term plans to work as counseling professionals who work with other mental health issues can use their associate counseling degree. For instance, this might be a great way to land a position as an administrator in a counseling practice office. Those with associate counseling degrees can also use their credits to support a full bachelor’s counseling degree, and then the ensuing master’s counseling degree. Since community colleges tend to be far more affordable than four-year institutions, an associate counseling degree is a terrific way to start one's academic journey.
Bachelor's Degree in Counseling (BS)
With a bachelor’s degree in counseling, professionals will likely not find licensure opportunities in Connecticut. However, the state might license counselors with bachelor’s counseling degrees in the field of addiction counseling. Students who desire this sort of career path can discuss it with their academic advisors who will have more information.
Bachelor’s degrees will allow students to dive deep into their field. Typically, most aspiring counselors pursue a bachelor’s degree in psychology, which covers the theoretical and research aspects of the field. This foundation is then used to inform later graduate studies in clinical psychology.
A bachelor’s counseling degree also opens up other academic opportunities. Students might inform their counseling curriculum with courses in sociology, social work, or a healthcare field. The full four years may also allow time for students to land an internship that will provide valuable experience on top of their academic knowledge.
Master's Degree in Counseling (MS or MC)
A master’s counseling degree is the key to a long and successful career in the mental health field. In order to conduct one-on-one psychotherapeutic counseling, this is the requisite degree for licensure. A master’s degree also entitles a licensed counselor to operate an independent counseling office and to otherwise pursue a wholly unique and individual counseling practice.
For most states, including Connecticut, master’s level counselors need to not only pass all of their coursework, but they also need to satisfy other requirements for licensure. States require that they pass an examination and complete a period of supervised counseling. The process may seem arduous, but once it's completed most counselors discover that the experience was all worthwhile and that they are better counselors for that experience. In fact, the process continues by way of continuing education hours that are required to maintain one's professional counseling license.
PhD Degree in Counseling (PhD)
A PhD in counseling is generally considered the gold standard for mental health counselors. This degree entitles the holder to sit for state licensure as a psychologist. They are thus able to conduct counseling sessions as independent counselors. Those who decide to work for mental health organizations will find that they are able to make more money, enjoy elevated status, and are able to move into upper management with greater ease than those with master’s counseling degrees.
A PhD also opens up more opportunities in academia. While counseling professionals with a master’s counseling degree can teach at the college or university level, a PhD is more likely to bring greater success. PhD level counselors might also be better able to satisfy their CEU requirements for licensure by teaching training courses for fellow licensees. Doctorate level counselors may also have an easier time with publishing articles, which is perhaps another way to satisfy Connecticut state CEU requirements.
Become a Counselor in Connecticut
Connecticut counselors often find that they started their career path early in life. It may all begin with a simple fascination with human behavior. They may be baffled trying to discern how adults are motivated or how people are able to do certain things. At this early stage in the process, many future counselors may be found with their heads buried in novels or even comic books. Their fascination with human behavior may even lead them to peruse relevant magazines and websites, such as Psychology Today.
To help form a strong foundation for the field, high school students should seek out schools that offer an emphasis on social sciences, including sociology and economics. This will help acclimate them to the more analytic side of the field. After all counseling is predicated on the scientific method, including statistics. Extracurricular activities, such as a psychology club or volunteer work at a local hospital, may also help.
In college, students should find a program that offers the heaviest focus on counseling. In some schools this may be an addiction counseling program. They should also strive to take as many theoretical and research-based courses. A standard psychology degree will certainly be sufficient, but students might also study social work or even sociology. Along the way, students should investigate the requirements for a Connecticut master’s degree. It will be important to satisfy any coursework requirements for a master’s degree. Some graduate programs may ask that applicants have certain degrees, though many will accept diplomas in related fields.
Before enrolling in a Connecticut graduate counseling program, students should investigate the program's reputation and accreditation. Both should be stellar, with the accreditation being sufficient to please the Connecticut licensing board. After all, it would be a shame to complete two hard years of study only to find that the state doesn't recognize the degree. In any case, any reputable master’s counseling degree program should prepare its students for licensure and long-term success as a counselor.
While most graduate counseling programs press students to complete internships or other experiential learning courses, the state licensing agency will surely need more hours. These supervised counseling hours will take the better part of a year, if not longer. At the end of the process, counselors will be able to practice as fully licensed professionals, assuming they also pass the examination and other licensure requirements.
Careers for Counseling Graduates
- Career Counselor:
Counselors who work in this capacity often have graduate degrees in the field. To find work, most career counselors work in colleges or universities where they help students achieve their long-term goals. The job may involve some personality testing and administrative tasks, such as organizing career fairs. While they don't conduct psychotherapy, career counselors can make a real difference in students' lives.
- Substance Abuse/Addiction Counselor:
This field is sadly growing by leaps and bounds. The opioid crisis has resulted in a boom in drug and alcohol rehabilitation centers and a heightened demand for licensed addiction counselors. In many states, all that is required to launch a career is a high school diploma. Addiction counselors at all levels, including those with bachelor’s and master’s counseling degrees, must satisfy their state's licensing requirements.
- Counselor (Private Practice):
To qualify for licensure and private practice, counselors need to achieve a master’s counseling degree. They must also pass a professional examination and satisfactorily complete supervised hours in a counseling capacity. In private practice, counselors must be able to attract clientele and manage administrative tasks such as scheduling and billing. Most successful counselors are included on insurers rosters.
- Child Counselor:
Therapists who specialize in child psychology fill their days with sessions involving disturbed children and, often, their parents. This is a specialized area of counseling that often requires specialized training and supervised experience. The practice may often include play therapy, art therapy, and music or movement therapy. This is different from work with adolescents or adults who are able to articulate their feelings and problems.
- Community Health Worker:
These healthcare professionals work with the larger community to promote health and wellbeing. The profession can involve actual clinical care, often on the nursing level but perhaps more. Other community health workers fill their days with educational endeavors such as conducting classes that address topics such as hygiene, sexually transmitted diseases, basic nutrition, or dental health, among other topics.
- Social Worker:
These professionals most often work for state agencies, but they may also work for non-profit organizations, including hospitals. Many social workers are case managers who oversee specific populations. Some may work with foster children, for instance, while others may manage a roster of mentally ill adults. Social workers who earn a MSW can work towards becoming licensed clinical social workers (LCSW) who perform one-on-one psychotherapy much like those with graduate degrees in clinical psychology.
- School Counselor:
To become a school counselor, most states require these professionals to achieve virtually the same credentials as a schoolteacher. They must pass a PRAXIS examination that focuses on counseling and hold a master’s degree in education. On a day-to-day basis, counselors meet with students who are having problems at home, with peers, or otherwise. The goal is to help students overcome their difficulties and become better students.
- Family Therapist:
Counselors may work toward this field as an end in itself, or they might pursue a general counseling license and then add family therapy to their practice. The latter counselors may want to add a special certification to their credentials to gain the trust of new clients. For counselors in this field, their days are filled with group and individual sessions with family members. Their practice may also focus exclusively on couple’s therapy.