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What is Counseling?

Maryland is home to a vibrant economy that is led by its real estate market. The state's economy is also dominated by business services, education, healthcare services, manufacturing, and finance and insurance. Since Maryland borders Washington DC, much of its economy is fed by government contractors who work in IT, defense technologies, and governmental accounting. This makes Maryland's economy rather unique, rivaled only by neighboring Virginia, which also borders D.C.

A counselor is a professional who seeks to help people solve a variety of problems. We often think of counselors as mental health professionals who help people overcome psychological or emotional difficulties in order to lead a better life. However, there are also counselors who consult with undergraduates in need of career guidance, high schoolers trying to attend the very best college, and those who need help overcoming grief.

Counselors tend to work in quiet offices free from as many distractions as possible. The stereotype of a mental health counselor is a dimly lit room with a couch on which clients recline. These days, counselors may conduct sessions involving horses, groups, or via an online medium, such as Zoom or Skype. Mental health counselors in Maryland and other states must qualify for a license to conduct independent counseling and work in private practice. The minimum academic requirement for this license is a master’s degree in counseling psychology or social work.

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Online Counseling Education in Maryland

Maryland is like other states, however, in that its residents have a growing need for counseling services. Every industry and people in all walks of life can find that they have a need to visit a counselor at some point. This fact is all the more valid in light of the ongoing opioid epidemic, which exacerbated the substance abuse disorder problem in the country and brought demand to the next level.

To meet this growing demand, Maryland licenses substance abuse counselors at three degree levels: associate degree, bachelor’s degree, and master’s degree level. Professionals at each of these levels are trained and qualified to help treat the state's alcohol and drug addicts. Since addiction counseling students can start at the associate level, it’s likely that they can find an appropriate program in their local community college. If not, it's always possible to pursue an online associate counseling degree program.

Since Maryland may have many substance abuse disorder victims who are coming out of the military or government agencies, its vital to have counselors who are aware of their particular issues. Thus, Maryland's colleges and universities attract instructors from the local area who have likely practiced counseling with clients immersed in military or governmental cultures. In fact, they may have been in those areas themselves at some point.

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Maryland's colleges and universities have tailored their programs to help address the substance abuse problems facing the wider economy. They do so by crafting degree programs that help best prepare students to be top-tier counseling professionals. The curriculum features internships that please the Maryland licensing board, and they focus on key points that may be on the profession examination. After all, if a degree program has a high rate of licensed professionals, it is more likely to attract more students to that program.

Online Associate Degree in Counseling (AS or AA)

An Associate of Science in Counseling degree is not enough to qualify for state licensure as an independent counselor. However, Maryland does provide licenses for addiction counselors who have an associate counseling degree. This licensure level is a great option for those who have a two-year degree and a passion for helping Maryland fight the opioid epidemic or the scourge of alcoholism and its detrimental impact on public health. There are other advantages, as well.

An associate counseling degree is a very smart approach since community colleges require students to complete the liberal arts core courses as part of their associate degree. Community college tuition rates are also far below those of four-year institutions. This means that students who earn an associate degree will be halfway to their bachelor’s should they return to school at a later date. On top of these academic and financial head starts, students who enter the addiction counseling field can accrue valuable experience that may prompt them to pursue higher counseling degrees or to find another career trajectory.

Online Bachelor's Degree in Counseling (BS or BA)

In Maryland, a Bachelor of Science in Counseling degree is a terrific way to launch a career. This sort of training can be helpful to a number of companies and industries. For students who desire a career in mental health, this degree is a terrific foundation for great things. With this degree, students might apply their skill to social work positions, or they might pursue a license to work as an addiction counselor. Though this licensure level will not allow them to conduct one-on-one counseling, it will open the door to working with groups of alcoholics and addicts who need their help.

Bachelor’s counseling degree programs are also a great idea because they allow students the ability to become well-rounded, lifelong learners. Students of counseling can also take courses in sociology or psychology which will broaden their perspective on their work. A bachelor’s counseling degree also provides the necessary academic background to pursue a master’s counseling degree. Maryland confers licenses at the master’s level that allow for independent, one-on-one counseling sessions.

Online Master's Degree in Counseling (MS or MA)

A Master of Science in Counseling degree is often the academic level most people think of when they think of a counselor. Maryland licenses master’s counseling degree holders to work one-on-one with clients in psychotherapy or counseling sessions. Thus licensed, Maryland counselors can choose to work in private practice or through a rehabilitation clinic or some other larger organization.

The licensure for this degree level is similar to that for addiction counselors at the lower degree levels. Candidates must have a degree from a reputable, accredited Maryland college or university, must pass a licensure examination, and need to complete a period of supervised practice. They must also submit to a background check, provide professional references, and complete ethics training.

Prior to enrolling in a master’s counseling degree program, students should weigh their options. To work as an independent counselor, students can earn a master’s degree in social work, clinical psychology, or addiction counseling, among other options. Each of these degrees has its own drawbacks and benefits, but professionals should know that they can always pursue specialties and thus change course later, if they choose.

Online PhD Degree in Counseling (PhD)

With a doctorate, counseling professionals enjoy the top status in their profession. Like their peers at the master’s degree level, they can engage in independent counseling and open their own private practices. Those with a PhD in clinical psychology can hold the title Psychologist. Those with a PhD in addiction counseling will likely move up in rank if they work in a drug rehabilitation clinic. There are other options for a PhD for counseling professionals such as a PhD in social work or research psychology.

The PhD also allows holders to land teaching or even research positions with one of Maryland's colleges or universities. While it is possible to teach at the college level with a master’s counseling degree, a PhD opens up the possibility of a tenure-track position. PhDs may also want to conduct research and their degree will surely be helpful when it comes to applying for grant money.

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Become a Counselor in Maryland

There are several ways to approach becoming a counselor in Maryland. Each involves a college degree of some sort. The easiest approach to the profession is an associate counseling degree leading to a career as an addition counselor. The Maryland state board recommends an associate degree in health and human services counseling, though they will accept associate degrees from fields deemed substantially equivalent. The same applies to those counseling professionals at the bachelor’s degree level.

Students who have long-term ambitions that exceed addiction counseling may want to pursue degrees in psychology, social work, or other similar options. These degrees may well qualify an undergraduate for licensure to work with addictions and, once these students complete a master’s counseling degree or even a PhD, they can do much more. Still, starting a counseling career with an undergraduate degree and working in addiction counseling is a terrific idea. That experience and degree combination will be superb for a long-term career even if they never work in addictions again.

It's important to consider the licensure process involved with this profession. In Maryland, as in most other states, students need to complete an appropriate, qualifying degree from an accredited, reputable college or university. Undergraduate students may take the Board's recommendation and study health and human services counseling, but they have other options. Students who aim to work in addiction counseling after graduating from either an associate or bachelor’s degree program should consult with their academic adviser or other faculty to ensure that their degree will support their ambitions.

It's particularly important to receive adequate preparation for the state examination. While an independent, non-academic preparation course may be helpful, nothing surpasses solid academic preparation. Students might also seek an internship in a drug and alcohol rehabilitation facility. There, they may find a mentor who will help them focus their schoolwork if necessary, or who can guide them to appropriate resources for exam prep.

Students should seek out as many experiential learning opportunities as possible. This is because counseling is a very demanding job. Any profession that touches on the field of mental health has its own special challenges, but also great rewards, too. There is no better way to experience both than by working in the field either as an intern or in an entry-level position.

Potential Careers for Counseling Graduates

  • Career Counselor:
    These counseling professionals don't necessarily work in the mental health field, but they do help people live their best lives. In this case, career counselors work with undergraduate students in a college or university. They typically have a master’s degree, and they spend much of their time coordinating student visits as well as organizing career fairs or other recruiting events.
  • Substance Abuse Counselor or Addictions Counselor:
    This field is increasingly in demand. Maryland, like most states, is in the grips of the opioid epidemic. Pharmaceutical drugs such as oxycontin and fentanyl have been let loose upon an unsuspecting populace who is now experiencing ever-higher rates of addiction, overdose, and death from these addictive substances. Maryland offers addiction counseling licenses starting at the associate degree level.
  • Genetic Counselor:
    These counseling professionals don't work with matters of the psyche, but they do hopefully ease the minds of their clients. Genetic counselors assess the genetic makeup and history of a couple with the aim of providing prognostications for their reproductive future. They assess the likelihood that a couple's offspring will contract a genetic disease or hereditary trait.
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  • Counselor (Private Practice):
    To enter into private practice, Maryland counselors must first complete a master’s counseling degree. This might be a clinical psychology degree or a master of social work. They might also work with a master’s degree in addiction counseling. Once licensed, these counselors can work in private practice where they conduct one-on-one counseling sessions.
  • Social Worker:
    A social worker can be found in a number of different places. Their job is often to help clients in their caseload access the resources that they need for their lives. They thus work with the prison system, healthcare systems, and a myriad of government agencies. A social worker with a master’s degree can become licensed for independent one-on-one counseling if they so choose. They may also use their MSW in their work for a larger organization such as a drug rehabilitation center or a government agency.
  • Psychologist:
    To earn this title, mental health professionals need to earn a PhD in counseling psychology. These PhDs function much the same as a clinical therapist who holds a master’s degree, but they are able to charge more to insurance companies and they are held in higher esteem in the professional community. A PhD may have an easier time publishing a book, for instance, and they find it easier to land teaching positions. They may even conduct lectures that satisfy part of their required continuing education units for licensure renewal.
  • Psychiatrist:
    This mental health profession requires a medical degree and license. To become a psychiatrist, a doctor must finish medical school and complete a psychiatric residency in a hospital. Psychiatrists spend much of their time evaluating blood or other samples and then prescribing psychiatric medications that fit a client's needs.

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