How to Become a Counselor in New Jersey

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What is Counseling?


Everyone has an issue in life at one point or another. Some people are able to address their issues and find healthy ways to cope with the issue or loss and move on from it. However, there are many people who face issues or mental health disorders that they cannot overcome without help. Others suffer from addiction. These situations are where counselors, therapists, psychiatrists, or psychologists can come into play. These professionals can help people overcome their issues, whether they are caused by trauma, substance abuse, genetics, or other factors.

In the state of New Jersey, there are roughly 22,000 individuals who work as counselors, and three quarters of these people work as substance abuse counselors. Another large group of counselors and social workers are found within the school system. Counselors can work with all ages of the population and can be found in a variety of social service agencies, hospitals, and in private practice. They work in social work, medical settings, for the government, and with emergency services. If you’re interested in a career helping others navigate through difficult situations or learning how to cope with situations, then keep reading. There is a plethora of information below regarding educational requirements, different types of career options, and additional information.

A counselor is a person those who are struggling with issues of some sort seek for assistance. Counselors work within all parts of society and all ages of people. The typical day for a counselor consists of seeing patients, taking careful notes regarding counseling sessions, and meeting with other members in the mental health community to help with overall community care. They also participate in continuing education hours, and the most experienced counselors work with new counselors.


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Online Counseling Education in New Jersey


To work as a counselor in the state of New Jersey, a master’s degree is required. However, degrees from lower-level programs can help a person determine if a career in counseling is something they want to pursue and can prepare them for higher-level learning. It’s important to note that all degree programs, as well as the school you choose, must be regionally accredited. This is a requirement for qualifying to sit for the licensing exam.

Online Associate Degree in Counseling (AS)

You cannot pursue a two-year degree in counseling in the state of New Jersey. Instead, a person can get a two-year degree in psychology or sociology. This degree can help a student determine if counseling is the right career path and, if so, provided the school is accredited, the courses taken can be transferred to apply toward a bachelor’s degree. Students with associate degrees in behavioral health sciences or related fields can work as assistants in mental health facilities and clinics. Some community colleges have collaborative agreements with colleges and universities in their area to make sure that credits from an associate degree transfer easily, making earning a bachelor’s degree less expensive and easier to attain.

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Online Bachelor's Degree in Counseling (BS)

A bachelor’s degree in counseling in the state of New Jersey is the groundwork needed to begin the process of becoming a counselor or therapist. A four-year degree in counseling, psychology, sociology, or a related behavioral health field will cover many mental health areas and prepare you for the appropriate master’s. Students will need to complete general education courses, unless they have already completed them through an associate degree, and take core courses in the appropriate field.

Some core courses included in the curriculum may include the following.

  • General Psychology
  • Abnormal Psychology
  • Statistics and Statistical Reasoning
  • Physiological Psychology (Biological Foundations of Psychology)
  • Childhood Development, Life Span, and Aging
  • Introduction to Clinical Psychology

The degree takes four to six years to complete and, usually, at least one internship is required to complete the program. A degree from an accredited college or university is required to pursue a graduate degree.

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Online Master's Degree in Counseling (MS)

For those who want to work as licensed counselors in New Jersey, a graduate degree is a requirement. The program covers most aspects of behavioral and mental health and requires at least one internship or hours of work experience in a related field. Either a comprehensive exam or a capstone project is often required for successful completion of the program. Upon graduation, a person is eligible to apply for positions as counselors under the supervision of other licensed counselors. Only after completed the required supervised hours can you apply to take the counseling exam and gain full licensure.

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Online PhD Degree in Counseling (PhD)

A doctorate in counseling is ideal for those who want to be viewed as subject matter experts, teach at the university level, run their own practice, or gain even higher-level licensure. The most commonly earned degrees in this field are the Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) in Psychology or Counseling and the Doctor of Psychology (PsyD). Most counseling doctorate programs can take up to seven years to complete, and a dissertation must be written and successfully defended for the PhD to be granted. Hours if not years’ worth of work experience is also required.

Become a Counselor in New Jersey


In order to become a counselor in New Jersey you have to do three things: earn a minimum of a master’s degree, complete hours of supervised work experience, and pass the licensing exam. The basic process is outlined below but can vary somewhat depending on discipline.

  • Education
    A master’s degree is required for anyone who wants to work as a counselor in any area of social service or mental health. This means a person has to complete a bachelor’s degree as well as a graduate degree. The degrees earned should reflect the area of counseling a person wants to pursue. For example, a person who want to become an addiction counselor should pursue courses in addiction and behavioral sciences and perhaps a certification in addiction counseling, while someone who wants to pursue a career as a family counselor should earn a general counseling degree at a high level, which will include taking psychology and sociology courses. It’s important that the education you receive comes from a regionally accredited college or university. This is a requirement for sitting for the licensing exam.
  • Work Experience
    To be eligible for the licensing exam, you’ll need to complete a certain number of experimental/certification hours. The number of hours depends on the discipline you are pursuing and the hours are started after you’ve completed your graduate work. Some organizations will honor internship hours if they were completed at that location. These hours include any work you do as a counselor under the supervision of an already licensed counselor. Once the required hours are met, you can apply to sit for the Professional Counselor Licensing Examination.
  • Applying for Exam and Licensure

    A candidate who is currently working under the supervision of a licensed counselor can apply to take the Associate Counselor Exam. Once they have passed the exam, they can work as an associate counselor, which means they can take on more clients with complex issues than someone without the license. They are still required to work under the direct supervision of a licensed counselor.

    Once a person has completed their certification hours, they can apply to sit for the licensed professional licensing exam. Once they have passed this examination, they are eligible to work as a licensed professional counselor without supervision.

Careers for Counseling Graduates


A graduate with an education in counseling doesn’t have to work as a counselor. There are many other areas where a person can find employment. However, it would be a shame to spend all that counseling education on a job working for a corporation in HR. Below are a few examples of positions that a licensed counselor can pursue, even if you find the first focus you tried not to your liking.

  • Career Counselor
    Career counselors assist people who are looking for the career that most suits them. They work with students who are about to or have just graduated from college, high school students trying to pick colleges and possible majors, people considering a career switch, and military personnel re-entering civilian life.
  • Substance Abuse/Addiction Counselor
    Substance abuse counselors assist people struggling with addictions to alcohol or other substances. They can work with individual patients, but also assist with recovering addicts in a group setting.
  • Counselor (Private Practice)
    Counselors in private practice counsel patients who need assistance in a variety of areas. Substance abuse and mental health counseling are examples of areas of expertise. Counselors may also specialize in certain demographics such as adults, children, families, military, those in the LGBTQ community, etc.
  • Community Health Worker
    Community health workers are on the front lines of, usually, lower income or minority communities. They spend time in the neighborhoods getting to know the people and finding out what their needs are, and take that information to local authorities and organizations in order to create services and solutions to help those who are in need. For example, a community health worker could be the one to organize a blood pressure screening if the community has a large population of overweight or generally unhealthy people. The same community worker could also organize exercise programs, after school care programs for children, or other needed services for the community. They are the bridge between the community they work in and the area’s leaders and assistance agencies.
  • Marriage and Family Counselor
    Marriage and family counselors work with families, married couples, and individuals dealing with relationship issues. When families come to counseling, each member might receive individual counseling before either the couple or family are counseled as a whole. A marriage and family counselor is trained to offer assistance to individuals and the group. These counselors are often in private practice but may also be attached to social service organizations.
  • Residential Counselor
    Residential counselors work with individuals who are in treatment. Patients could be those who are completing rehabilitation programs in house or patients who come to the facility on an outpatient basis. Residential counselors offer individual and group therapy and counseling sessions and help patients learn the tools to navigate through life without the use of substances such as drugs and alcohol, if they are working at a rehab facility.
  • Clinical Therapist
    Clinical therapists are what most people picture when they think of a person with an education in counseling. Clinical therapists assist people with their issues, whether they are substance abuse related or caused by other, underlying issues. Therapists help people create healthy methods of dealing with their mental and substance issues so they can live a more fulfilling life without needing to self-medicate or perform other harmful or dangerous acts. Therapists can work with both individuals and groups of all ages, races, and genders.
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