How to Become a Counselor in Iowa

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What is Counseling?


A counselor is a professional who works with individuals and groups to help them improve their lives. The word most often invokes images of mental health therapists in quiet, dimly lit offices were patients lie on sofas and work out their personal problems. This is the sort of professional that this page is mostly concerned with, but readers should know that the term applies to a broad spectrum of helpful individuals.

All counselors can be said to take clients who are facing some sort of problem. That might be a drug or alcohol addiction, school problems, behavioral issues, or diagnosed mental health disorders - such as bipolar disorder or depression. Counselors can also help students achieve their scholastic goals with an eye to a career or they may work with couples to determine whether their offspring is likely to contract a genetic difficulty. This page discusses the profession in its various permutations, including any academic degrees necessary for Iowa state licensure.


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Counseling Education in Iowa

Iowa is an economy that includes many industries that are key to the national good. Their farms produce large amounts of food, and their manufacturing sector turns those products, such as corn and hogs, into the products we find on grocery store shelves. Iowa is also a technological state that is considered part of the Silicon Prairie. Even so, Iowans are susceptible to the same personal struggles that face citizens elsewhere in the nation.

On top of the usual psychological problems that beset Americans, there is now a terrible threat to mental health that comes in the form of addition. The opioid epidemic has reached all corners of Iowa. Where hard drugs were found primarily in large cities like Chicago or New York, Iowans can now find them easy to access through their local pharmacies. To address this issue, Iowa offers addiction counseling licenses to all educational levels. Iowa's colleges and universities have likewise risen to face this problem by creating counseling programs that prepare highly qualified counselors to fight addiction and other mental health stresses.

Iowa's universities also have master’s counseling degree programs that are there to help address the needs of the state's citizens. These master’s level counselors can earn licenses that enable them to work with individuals, families, and even children who suffer with various mental health issues. These programs work to prepare students for success when it comes to completing their licensure requirements, such as supervised work and examinations. Thus, these institutions of higher learning are striving to help their students achieve success while simultaneously helping Iowans overcome the difficulties that keep them from living healthy, successful lives.


Associate Degree in Counseling (AS)

Students can start their counseling career with an associate counseling degree from a local community college or an online associate degree program. This approach is not only a great way to get started in the field but also a good way to save money in the short- and long-term. When someone starts their career with an associate counseling degree, they will find that their debt is easier to pay off since community colleges charge far less per credit hour than a four-year college or university.

In Iowa, students can use their associate degree to start a counseling career working with people who struggle with substance abuse disorder, also known as addiction. While the state of Iowa only requires 24 semester hours in college level courses for these professionals, those who complete their associate counseling degree will be able to advance farther faster. After all, a full associate degree will be a great launching point when students return for their bachelor’s degree.

Bachelor's Degree in Counseling (BS)

A bachelor’s degree is probably the best degree to use to start a career as a counseling professional. With a full undergraduate counseling degree, students will have an easier time earning a license to practice as an addiction or other type of counselor. When students build on a bachelor’s degree, they will only need 4,000 hours of supervised experience prior to full licensure as an addiction counselor. They will also find that they can negotiate for higher salaries and status.

Those who take this approach will gain so much knowledge and experience relative to counseling that they can make better choices going forward. Since counseling can be a very demanding career, students can explore it using their bachelor’s degree prior to committing to a master’s counseling degree. If they choose to pursue a master’s counseling degree, they may be able to apply their experience toward their advanced credentials upon completing their graduate work.

Master's Degree in Counseling (MS or MC)

A master’s counseling degree is often considered the brass ring for counseling professionals. This level of academic achievement qualifies the holder to gain a license to practice counseling as an independent therapist. There are also many options when it comes to achieving this sort of professional autonomy.

Some may choose a master of social work degree that offers counselors the ability to work for government or non-profit social work organizations. Those who satisfy Iowa's licensure requirements can work as licensed clinical social workers in private practice. Others may earn a master’s degree in addiction counseling, child therapy, or marriage and family counseling. Keep in mind that a master’s counseling degree holder can work with a wide range of clients using their license. Naturally, a master’s degree in clinical psychology is also available, which offers many options, including the ability to build on that degree with a PhD in counseling psychology.

PhD Degree in Counseling (PhD)

When counselors earn an PhD in counseling psychology, they can earn the esteemed title of Psychologist. This title is more than a word. Psychologists can charge clients more, enjoy heightened esteem in the psychological community, and may even find it easier to work as administrators for mental health facilities. Earning an Iowa license still involves many of the same steps, including a period of supervised work, but those with a doctorate can qualify after fewer hours. They will still have to pass an examination, background check, etc. Counseling professionals in Iowa should consult the Iowa Board of Certification for their current licensure requirements.

A doctorate has another benefit in that it's easier to work as an academic. Iowa colleges and universities prefer to hire those with a doctorate for full-time and tenure track positions. For those who would like to teach but don't desire to work full-time as a professor, the Iowa board may also allow them to teach informal, non-college-credit CEU courses that help satisfy licensure renewal requirements.

Become a Counselor in Iowa


Those who want to become a counselor in Iowa have many options available to them. First off, there are many sorts of counseling professions to choose from. Some may want to pursue addictions counseling, but there are so many other options including marriage and family therapist, child therapist, group therapy facilitator, clinical social work, guidance counselor, genetics counselor, and many more. However, we're mainly concerned with mental health counseling, which would include addictions counseling and other counseling professions that require a license.

Before anyone gets a license, however, it's important to determine whether counseling is the right profession to pursue. One way to gauge whether counseling is the right career is to assess one's personal history. Most counselors have a long history of seeking to help others solve problems. They may be the trusted friend whose ear is always open, or they might be the voracious reader who seeks to understand human behavior through novels and short stories. Counselors can also have a strong analytical side, which they will need when it comes time to assessing psychological studies and conducting research of their own.

When it comes time to pursue bachelor’s degree, future counseling professionals should study psychology. However, they might also choose fields such as sociology or social work. During these undergraduate years, it’s important to decide which direction is the most appealing for their graduate work. Some may choose social work, which offers certain advantages for those who may want to work for a government agency or a non-profit. Those who decide on clinical psychology will be restricted to counseling, but they can also pursue a PhD which will elevate their pay and their overall status.

Once graduated, counseling professionals need to earn a license from the state of Iowa. The requirements include an examination, supervised work, and background checks. These requirements also extend down to those who have an associate or bachelor’s degree and who wish to work as addiction counselors. While those addiction counselors who work with only a bachelor’s degree or less may not conduct one-on-one therapy sessions, licensed counselors with a master’s or better can open an independent counseling practice and conduct therapy so long as their license remains current. The state of Iowa also has regulations that require continuing education (CEU) and ethical standards for those who wish to renew their license.

Careers for Counseling Graduates


  • Career Counselor:
    These counseling professionals aren't involved in mental health but instead work with college students who are seeking proper career direction. They typically work with a master’s degree and help college students take the right courses that will help them succeed after graduation. They also plan and coordinate events such as job fairs and on-campus recruiting efforts.
  • Substance Abuse/Addiction Counselor:
    The state of Iowa confers several licenses for substance abuse counselors. In fact, a person can be an addiction counselor with only a high school diploma and many thousands of hours of supervised experience. The best groundwork for this career would be a bachelor’s degree. With a master’s degree, a substance abuse counselor can work with patients on an individual basis.
  • Genetic Counselor:
    Though not directly concerned with mental health, these counseling professionals nonetheless help people identify and cope with problems. To that end, they work with couples who are interested in having children. The counselors assess the couples from a genetic point of view and help them understand whether they face any risk of passing along genetic disease or other problems by having children.
  • Counselor (Private Practice):
    Counselors in private practice must receive a license from the state of Iowa. Licensure for these professionals includes a minimum degree of a master’s counseling degree, a period of supervised counseling experience, and satisfactory scores on a professional examination. Once in practice, independent counseling professionals may see individual clients, couples, or groups for therapy sessions.
  • School Counselor:
    A master’s degree is required to work as a school counselor in Iowa. School counselors work with students who may be having trouble at home, with peers, or with other matters that may impede their scholarship. Iowa requires that school counselors pass the PRAXIS exam and hold credentials very similar to their peers in classrooms.
  • College Counselor:
    These counselors have a singular focus: helping students gain admission to the college of their choice. To help in this process, college counselors help high school students craft the best admissions essay possible and coach them for college admissions interviews. They may also help students manage expectations, pursue schools they may not have previously considered, and overcome any possible difficulties.
  • Psychologist:
    Psychologists are counseling professionals who have earned a PhD. This enables them to charge a higher hourly rate and elevated status in the counseling community. Psychologists might work in an administrative position for clinics or hospitals, and they can use their degree to work for an Iowa college or university. Their academic credentials may also help them publish books and articles, which they can teach from in lieu of taking CEU courses themselves.
  • Family Therapist:
    Iowa has a special license for marriage and family therapists. To work in this profession, counselors need a master’s degree and significant supervised hours spent in counseling. This type of counseling practice can also be pursued by those without a specific marriage and family therapist license, but they must hold a counseling license for those at or above the master’s level.

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