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What is Counseling?

This professional works with people who are struggling with mental or emotional disorders. They may also choose to work with individuals who are addicted to substances, including alcohol. Counselors obtain an education in mental health and counseling. They may also choose a specialization which allows them to work as child counselors, substance abuse counselors, or mental health counselors. Because of the variation in demographics counselors may work with and issues they may treat, they may find that there is a great deal of variety in the tasks they might perform on an average day.

A grief counselor will most likely work with those who have lost a loved one or gone through a divorce. Child counselors will help children deal with mental health diagnoses or trauma that they have experienced. Many counselors focus on creating coping mechanism to deal with everyday issues, but some focus more on the medical side of a diagnosis, providing prescriptions for medication or tweaking dosages in order to allow their patient the best quality of life possible. Much of this depends on what specialization a counselor chooses.

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Counseling Education in Illinois

Counseling of all types falls within the top five industries in Illinois. When it is combined with educational services, healthcare and social assistance, counseling services to individuals who need the support brings billions of dollars into the state.

Outside of that, the top five industries in Illinois are as far as profits are concerned, from smallest to largest are:

  • Educational services, healthcare, and social assistance ($75.6 billion)
  • Finance and insurance (88.7 billion)
  • Manufacturing ($107.7 billion)
  • Real estate, rental, and leasing ($108.9 billion)
  • Professional and business services ($118.4 billion)

Even though the state’s population has fallen in recent years, it’s still home to several of the largest names in business such as United, State Farm, Walgreens, Sears, and Boeing - all of which do business all over the United States. Despite the fact that many other industries have primacy in the state, counseling is by no means ignored.

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To ensure that counselors have all of the knowledge and skills needed to do their jobs well, Illinois has a certification board for those looking for counseling certification in a variety of specializations.

This is the Illinois Certification Board (ICB), which certifies counselors for substance abuse counselors and the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation IDFPR, which provides licenses and renews the licenses of counselors throughout the state. These boards require that all counselors abide by a code of ethics. They also require counselors in the state to comply with certain procedures regarding any alleged violations of the Code of Ethics.

The employment picture for counselors and therapists in Illinois looks good. As of May, 2020, this occupation was up and still increasing. The employment number at that time was 85,000. Areas of specialization such as marriage and family therapists, mental health and substance abuse social workers, substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors, will all find that their services are more in demand than ever.

Associate Degree in Counseling (AS)

Some community colleges in Illinois offer human services or psychology associate degree programs for its students. Community colleges are the most likely to offer associate degrees, though some four-year colleges offer two-year degrees as well. These degrees usually require around 60 credit hours and allow students to complete the general education that is required for a bachelor’s degree at a fraction of the cost. However, graduates from associate degree programs will not be eligible for most careers in counseling, despite their education. They may be able to find work as assistants in mental health wards or counselors offices, but becoming a full counselor requires at least a master’s degree in Illinois.

The one exception to this rule is for those who are interested in working as substance abuse counselors. These graduates may be able to find a group counselor position or something similar to jumpstart their career in the field but, even so, they should still start looking for a way to increase their education if they wish to continue moving up in counseling. Graduates will be prepared, after earning an associate degree, to transfer their credits to a four-year university which offers degree programs in psychology, counseling, or mental health within the state.

Bachelor's Degree in Counseling (BS)

Undergraduate students looking at the best counseling colleges in Illinois do so because they want to help others understand how their mind’s processes may affect how they behave, think, and even react to events around them. At this level, students may find online counseling programs that can allow them to reach a successful completion of their degree program.

Bachelor’s degrees usually include around 120 credit hours and take four years to complete for those who attend part-time. Luckily, many schools include some sort of internship opportunities for students at this level, making it easier for graduates to leave their degree with at least some experience in the field under their belt. This not only helps them find their niche in the world of counseling, but it can also make it easier for them to find an entry-level job or gain entry into a graduate degree program. Since master’s degrees are a requirement for counselors outside of the substance abuse field, a majority of students who choose to work in counseling apply to a graduate degree program right after completing their undergraduate degrees.

Career paths that graduates of a baccalaureate degree program in counseling may enter include substance abuse counseling, marriage and family counseling, career counseling, mental health counseling and school counseling. While they are not yet equipped with a master’s degree in counseling, they may still accept offers for support positions such as community service coordinator, health educator, and behavioral health technician.

Master's Degree in Counseling (MS or MC)

Graduate students who enter a Master of Science in Counseling degree or similar are readying themselves for careers in a variety of settings. They may work in schools, mental health clinics, or in private practice, among other options. This degree level requires students to dive into the study of human behavior and development while they work to become a counselor in Illinois. In their classes, they acquire the professional counseling methods they will use for the rest of their lives. They may also become involved with scholarly research.

The important thing to note about this degree level is that you will have many more options for choosing a specialization at this point. You can complete a master’s in counseling, or you can focus on marriage and family therapy, child counseling, school counseling, mental health counseling, substance abuse, and much more.

PhD Degree in Counseling (PhD)

There is at least one program in Illinois that prepares doctoral students in the field of rehabilitation counseling. This specialty equips the professional to help a person with a disability or a chronic illness to gain psychological and economic independence. These clients may also receive vocational rehabilitation counseling, making it vitally important that you be able to work with other counseling professionals as you go about your work.

Rehabilitation counseling programs require students to develop their teaching skills. They may work on curriculum development and the clinical supervision of master’s degree students who are enrolled in the counseling program. Students may also teach some courses. However, each program is developed specifically for the students looking to earn this terminal degree. Whether they focus on research or gaining new skills, a doctoral degree is focused on the interests of the students.

Once you complete this degree, you will be prepared to continue your career or enter a new field as an educator, researcher, counselor, or supervisor and rise to become a leader in the counseling field.

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Become a Counselor in Illinois

Counselors in Illinois must have earned a master’s degree in one of the following: social work, psychology, marriage and family therapy, counseling, or a related mental health field. Counselors are also required to accumulate between 2,000 and 4,000 hours of supervised clinical experience, which they can begin working on after graduation from an undergraduate or graduate degree. Taking a licensure exam and earning a license to practice is another requirement for licensure. In addition, counselors are required to complete continuing education courses in order to renew their license.

All counselors are required to take the certification examination before beginning to work with clients. The Illinois Certification Board sends study materials to candidates once they have finished their application process. Before beginning their study program, candidates may also choose to download one of several candidate guides.

The Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation (IDFPR) includes a professional counselor licensing and disciplinary board. It sends counseling licenses to professional counselors in several mental health disciplines. Licensed professional counselors and clinical professional counselors are licensed via the IDFPR. Once these providers are licensed, they may provide professional counseling services to clients who are struggling with relationship, family, marriages, and mental health issues. Candidates working to receive their licensure through IDFPR are required to hold their master’s or doctoral degrees in counseling or rehabilitative counseling.

Additionally, the Illinois Mental Health Counselors (IMHCA) offers counselor licensure at two levels. The first is the Licensed Professional Counselor; the second, the Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor. Counselors are required to hold either their master’s in counseling or a doctoral degree in counseling. The experience requirement for the LCPC is 1,680 hours of work per year, for two years, for a total of 3,360 hours. In addition, they are required to have 960 hours of face-to-face counseling per year for two years, for a total of 1,920 hours.

Licensed clinical professional counselors are also required to provide clinical supervision. Licensed clinical social workers, psychiatrists, and licensed clinical psychologists are also required to provide supervision.

Careers for Counseling Graduates

  • Career Counselor
    In this type counseling, the professional works with those who are having questions about various educational options and careers. They may work with someone who is looking for a job where they may be fulfilled and enjoy the daily work. Career counselors ease this process and assist with job offers. An excellent audience for the career counselor may be high school students and college graduates. Adults contemplating a career change may also be able to spend time with a career counselor as they go through their options.
  • Counselor (Private Practice)
    Counselors who run a private practice work with clients in their own offices and may also set their own work schedules. This differs from mental health counselors who work in a government agency or hospital. These counselors are required to show they have worked a set number of clinical hours under supervision before they can work on their own this way, but they may then choose their patients according to their own qualifications.
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  • Community Health Worker
    This professional works to help link clients to the services they need. They may work with the homeless, helping to connect them to job opportunities, or help their clients gain needed work experience, build their professional skills, and work on their professional development.

    They may also be the liaison between members of a vulnerable population and the healthcare system. Thus, they may connect their clients to primary care services or create more coordinated care for their clients.

  • Clinical Therapist
    Clinical therapists work with clients who are suffering from severe mental illness, substance abuse, and PTSD. They may work individually with their clients or with a group of clients and they may be called psychotherapists or licensed mental health counselors. Clinical therapists can find work in private practice, community organizations, the military, government agencies, hospitals, religious institutions, nursing homes, prisons, and more.
  • Social Worker
    Social workers advocate for others who may be unable to speak for themselves: elderly individuals, young children who are living in foster care, and others. This professional helps them find resources so that they are able to receive the care they need. Social workers also connect them with other professionals in the psychological and health professions.
  • Family Therapist
    Family therapists meet with their clients to talk about their emotions and experiences, help them process their reactions, and teach them how to make adjustments in their life. A major part of a family therapists’ work is guiding their clients through the decision-making process as they face their future. They may also make referrals for their clients to other resources in the community.
  • Group Counselor
    A group counselor’s goal is to develop a trusting environment where members work together, supporting each other. A major part of their work is helping group members understand themselves better as well as helping their clients understand how they interact with others.


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