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What is Counseling?
Society has gained a deeper awareness of the importance of maintaining proper mental and emotional health in recent years. As such, the role of well-trained counseling professionals has become ever more important in helping people work through factors, potentially those out of their control, that adversely impact their mental health. Indeed, during the pandemic, communities have seen increases in demand for professional help as many sought community counseling when stuck in their homes.
While there may be a general uptick in the demand for counseling services at large, it’s still important to note that not all counseling degrees and careers are created equal. This is because demand for specific types of counselors can be driven by industry-driven stressors, which can be at least partially dependent on the economic buildup of each state. A student who is interested in counseling can find varying amounts of need or career options. As such, a student is looking to pursue a counseling or psychology program should be aware of the different types of counselors that are in the highest demand in their locality. Those who are well-prepared to work with the most plentiful patient types in their state will find it easier to begin and continue practicing as a counselor in the long run.
Counselors are trained professionals who have mastered techniques in helping identify sources of distress to help patients work through and recover from mental and emotional ailments. Skills that are essential for becoming a standout counselor include being an excellent listener, having a strong sense of compassion, and possessing a strong desire to help others. Counselors must learn to work with clients without negatively judging them for issues that they have experienced or are dealing with. Indeed, being able to sympathize without negative biases is a critical part of becoming a successful counselor.
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Online Counseling Education in Missouri
The top industries of employment within the state include professional and business services, which brings in $42.3 billion in revenue annually and might create good positions for organizational psychology professionals. Business professionals may also find themselves dealing with workplace stressors that can include spending long periods in a toxic work environment, long commutes, tight deadlines, or even harassment. As such, counselors who understand the types of struggles that business professionals deal with will be better prepared to support their clients’ mental and emotional well-being.
The second-largest industry in Missouri is manufacturing, which brings in $39 billion in revenue every year. Counselors who service clients from a manufacturing background and who understand important workplace stressors like potentially dangerous machinery, tight deadlines, tight profit margins, and supply chain disruptions will be better able to help clients work through anxiety.
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While at school, counselors-in-training learn a strict ethical code and train in evidence-based practices, which help determine whether someone can achieve their professional license and join the American Counseling Association. Specialties can vary depending on one’s interest, with some counseling degree students preferring to graduate with an emphasis in school counseling, family counseling, or clinical mental health counseling, among others.
Online Associate Degree in Counseling (AS)
Counselors work with highly sensitive information and individuals daily, which means that the degree and licensing requirements for this field are very high. Given that patients may be suffering from mental illness or be plagued by suicidal thoughts, a counselor’s work can sometimes make the difference between life and death. As such, each state has its own set of regulations regarding the educational background needed to become a licensed counselor who can work in private practice. In Missouri, one must have attained at least a bachelor’s degree and even a master’s degree to be able to practice as a counselor in certain areas. As such, completing an associate counseling degree will only allow students to gain support roles in the counseling field, which can provide good experience and familiarity with the work that is done in the field. Substance abuse counseling is the only exception, where students with an associate degree can go through additional certification and on-the-job training to become licensed professionals.
Students seeking to work in other specialties within the counseling field with only an associate degree can look to secure an entry-level position in organizations focused on mental health, community, and human service areas. Some common job titles will include caseworker, child and youth advocate, family mediator, human service assistant, outreach specialist, program assistant, and social services, assistant. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median salary for arbitrators, mediators, and conciliators was around an average of $49,400 in 2021. Students who are interested in the counseling field, but aren’t sure if they wish to commit to the field, may find it worthwhile to first complete an associate degree and work in the field before pursuing further education.
Online Bachelor's Degree in Counseling (BS)
In Missouri, students who have achieved a bachelor’s degree in counseling will be eligible for licensure for limited counseling specialties. In particular, students with only a bachelor’s degree in counseling will only be eligible for licensure as a substance abuse counselor, much like students who choose to only complete an associate degree. Students who do not wish to go directly to graduate school for their master’s degree can seek out similar entry-level supporting positions to gain a deeper understanding of what it’s like to work in the counseling field.
Students are eligible for jobs with titles spanning mental health specialist, social worker, mental health rehabilitation specialist, child development specialist, behavioral specialist, mental health technician, and mental health services data specialist. Usually, employers will look for students with an undergraduate major in behavioral health, counseling, health sciences, or psychiatry and they will generally have an advantage over candidates with only an associate degree. According to Indeed.com, behavioral specialists will earn an average of $16.20 per hour in Missouri. Those who have a bachelor’s degree will be paid a higher salary than those with only an associate degree.
Online Master's Degree in Counseling (MS or MC)
The vast majority of counseling specialties in Missouri will require students to complete a master’s degree in counseling, counseling, guidance, clinical psychology, or school psychology. Depending on one’s major in college and specialty during graduate school, students may work specifically toward licensure for certain counseling sub-fields. Popular focus areas include mental health counseling, school counseling, substance abuse counseling, child-centered play therapy, and rehabilitation counseling.
While the majority of counseling master’s degrees will teach students transferable professional skills, it may be best for students to focus on studying for a career in a specific counseling sub-area if they already have an interest in mind while still in school. Job responsibilities and even pay can vary between different counseling sub-fields, depending on the types of cases the individual will end up working with. While specific subject-area knowledge may differ between various counseling master’s degree programs, every counselor must undertake the same strict licensing process and complete hours of supervised work experience before they can become fully licensed professionals in Missouri. According to Indeed, the average base salary for a licensed professional counselor in Missouri is $59,503 in 2022.
Online PhD Degree in Counseling (PhD)
Students may decide to pursue a doctorate in the counseling field to boost their knowledge and skills but having a PhD is very rarely a prerequisite for becoming a licensed counseling professional. Those who are looking to pursue long-term careers as college professors or researchers in counseling theory may find that completing a doctorate is very helpful in advancing their careers. In comparison to practicing professionals in the field, those with PhD degrees in counseling will more likely find themselves training the next generation of counselors by helping others build critical clinical and supervision skills. However, they may also find work as psychologists, which is the role that requires the highest education. The entrance requirements to doctorate programs in the field are high, as students usually must first complete their master’s degree in the field before they are selected for a PhD.
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Become a Counselor in Missouri
All professional counselors must go through a strict licensing process before they are eligible to practice, and Missouri is no exception. The state offers Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC) and Provisional Licensed Professional Counselor (PLPC) licenses. Not only do candidates need to undertake a rigorous education process that often includes completing a master’s degree, but they also need to pass difficult examinations and complete hundreds or even thousands of hours of on-the-job training, depending on the counseling specialty they are working toward.
Counselors must also pass a background check. For instance, mental health counselors must complete a master’s program that is at least 48 semester hours or more in length, pass the NCE and Missouri jurisprudence exam, and complete 3,000 hours of supervised work over a minimum of 24 months and a maximum of five years, of which a minimum of 15 hours a week is spent in direct client contact. Candidates with a doctorate degree can obtain a license with 1,500 supervised work hours. Missouri also requires counseling licenses to be renewed every year after completing 40 continuing education hours.
Exceptions can be made for those seeking to become substance abuse counselors in Missouri, as those with only an associate degree can apply for licensure. However, they must undertake an even more stringent work regime. Associate degree holders can gain substance abuse counseling licenses if they complete 6,000 hours of experience within 10 years, an amount that is cut down to 4,000 hours if the applicant has a master’s degree. Other processes that must be completed to become a substance abuse counselor in Missouri include signing the Code of Ethical Practice and Professional Conduct, completing the Family Care Safety Registry Worker Registration Form, and having verifiable current employment in a substance use disorder treatment program.
Specific counseling licensure requirements vary in Missouri, depending on the specialty one is pursuing. Students who are interested in exploring their options within the counseling field can look for resources provided by organizations like the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, the Missouri Credentialing Board, or the Missouri Behavior Analyst Advisory Board, which issues different credentials spanning school counselor licenses, Certified Reciprocal Alcohol and Drug Counselor licenses, and behavior analyst licenses.
Careers for Counseling Graduates
- Career Counselor:
Career counselors help students determine potential career paths by evaluating students’ strengths, weaknesses, and interests. Career counselors will provide important advisory services like helping students practice interviewing, writing resumes, or providing networking tips.
- Community Health Worker:
These workers are important contributors to helping individuals, families, and communities adopt healthier behaviors by improving outreach for medical personnel and health organizations. They provide social support, dispense available health resources, and advocate for community health needs.
- Residential Counselors:
These individuals help support individuals with basic living needs, including responsibilities like monitoring medications and guiding patients toward appointments. They will generally support and care for groups of individuals living in shelters, rehabilitation centers, or assisted living facilities.
- Clinical Therapist:
Clinical therapists are counselors who analyze patients for signs of emotional trauma and mental illness through techniques like interviews and studying medical or social case histories. After diagnosing disorders, clinical therapists can help patients identify avenues for treatment.
- College Counselor:
When students look toward graduating from high school, many typically do not have a specific educational or career path in mind. College counselors can help students objectively assess their interests and academics to determine colleges that would be a good fit for their future ambitions.
- Family Therapist:
Family and marriage therapists are trained to assess, identify, and treat a complex set of mental, emotional, and behavioral disorders that exist within the context of family, marital, or intimate relationships. They are specifically trained to navigate complex relational systems to help provide the best support to their patients.
- Group Counselor:
Individuals may be hesitant to pursue one-on-one counseling and may find group counseling less stressful. In particular, group counselors help support members who may be seeking counseling for similar types of stressors and trauma. The group counselor will help build a trusting environment and help clients better understand themselves through interactions with other participants.
- School Counselor:
School counselors work closely with educators at schools to support the needs of students ranging from children to young adults who may be undergoing mental and emotional stressors both at home and at school. This may include helping students work through anxiety, bullying, depression, or other difficulties.