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What is Counseling?

Are you considering enrollment in a counseling degree program in Rhode Island? Many of the state’s colleges and universities offer this major, as well as several other related areas of study. Pursuing one of these programs can lead to very rewarding careers, many of which relate to helping others overcome various challenges in life. Those enrolled in them often gain the knowledge and skills necessary offer social, emotional, and mental support to diverse populations by utilizing a wide variety of techniques. Graduates also learn how to address numerous psychological conditions.

The US Bureau of Labor Statistics considers many counseling professions to be part of the more generalized heading of community and social service occupations. Employment for these jobs is expected to increase by 10% from 2020 to 2030 in the United States. This is faster than the average for all occupations and will result in approximately 294,600 related positions being added to the job market during this timeframe. Those interested in the field should realize, however, that some professions will experience greater growth than others. The occupations with the highest projected gains include genetic counselors, marriage and family therapists, and substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors. Professions with the lowest projections are rehabilitation counselors, school counselors, and social workers.

It’s also common for counselors to designate specific populations that they work with such as trauma victims, veterans, or addicts. They can also specialize in treating certain age groups, from children and teens to adults and the elderly.

Notably, these specializations often significantly impact working environments and the type of tasks performed on a daily basis. In general, however, the majority of counselors are dedicated to helping people create positive and lasting changes in their lives. Responsibilities often involve assisting patients with social, emotional, and/or mental health problems, as well as helping others manage various physical and psychological difficulties. Some situations are associated with specific health conditions, which can make it necessary to coordinate care with other medical and mental health experts, but counselors are not permitted to prescribe medications of any kind.

Some of the most common responsibilities, regardless of specialty, include evaluating clients, assessing readiness for treatment, supporting skills and behaviors development, encouraging appropriate coping strategies, and managing treatment plans. These professionals might also provide education to community members, especially when working for family services offices, care centers, schools, and vocational rehabilitation facilities. Other common workplaces include hospitals, outpatient mental health facilities, substance abuse centers, service centers, and residential substance abuse homes. When properly certified by the state, counselors can also establish their own private practices.

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Online Counseling Education in Rhode Island

There are several factors likely impacting occupational growth in this field, but much of the increasing demand is due to a shift in the way counseling is perceived. As a society, more and more people are becoming willing to seek these assistive services, especially when related to addiction and mental health. Additionally, it’s becoming best practice for providers to embrace the concept of dual treatment. As a result, physical health professionals coordinate patient care with mental health professionals more frequently, allowing for multiple, often related, ailments to be addressed simultaneously. It’s also becoming more common for court systems to sentence drug offenders to treatment rather than jail time.

The educational services, healthcare, and social assistance industry is the second largest in Rhode Island and it accounts for approximately $8 billion in revenue each year. As of May 2021, the state employed 9,410 community and social service professionals with an annual mean wage of $56,650. While this is less than the annual mean wage of $62,120 for all occupations in the state, it is much higher than the median annual wage of $45,760 for all occupations in the nation.

As the smallest state in the nation, Rhode Island is home to fewer colleges and universities than other states. This can cause some prospective students to consider top rated online degree programs. While distance learning allows for flexible scheduling and coursework completion from nearly anywhere internet is available, those who plan to find employment in Rhode Island should give preference to schools located in the state. Local academic institutions often understand the region’s employment landscape and provide the most geographically relevant educations. This ensures that their students gain the knowledge and skills employers in the state value most. Many colleges and universities also establish relationships with nearby companies and organizations, which can make it easier for current students and alumni to secure internships and professional employment.

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There are many different types of counselors; each of which is specially trained to provide behavioral health services related to their areas of expertise. Most colleges and universities allow students to designate concentrations to differentiate their studies and prepare them for a specific kind of work.

Some of the most common counseling specializations include:

  • Addiction
  • Bereavement
  • Eating Disorders
  • Family
  • Mental Health
  • Military

Those interested in becoming counselors should understand that the job can be quite stressful. While rewarding, the profession demands a lot. Professionals often manage large workloads, work long hours, and fulfill regular on-call requirements. Some specializations also require helping patients work through difficult and/or traumatic experiences, which can be emotionally draining.

In order to qualify for most counseling and behavioral health jobs in Rhode Island, some amount of higher education is generally required. Prospective students can choose from a wide variety of programs at the associate, bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral levels. Some colleges and universities also offer undergraduate and graduate professional certificates, which may be ideal for those transitioning into the field from another profession.

It's important to realize that professional opportunities exist for graduates at every level, but those seeking state licensure must have master’s degrees in their areas of counseling specialization.

Online Associate Degree in Counseling (AS or AA)

Associate degrees in counseling generally consist of 60 credit hours of coursework that takes full-time students two years to complete. These programs are generally offered at community colleges, although some four-year institutions may award this type of degree as well. Curriculums vary, but most are comprised of both general liberal arts education and major-specific classes. Students can expect to receive a broad introduction to the field while also developing the basic knowledge and skills necessary to succeed academically. Instruction within the subject area is likely to pertain to behavioral health, as well as various psychological theories and models.

This type of degree is generally sufficient to obtain entry-level employment as counseling assistants, human service assistants, and caseworkers. It’s important to realize, however, that associate degrees in counseling will not qualify graduates for licensure as mental health counselors or marriage and family health therapists, or any type of counseling that requires licensure of that kind.

Many graduates choose to pursue further education by enrolling in related bachelor’s degree programs. Not only does earning an associate degree provide a strong academic foundation for future learning, but the credits earned can often be transferred to the gaining institution. Most colleges and universities will accept up to 60 or 90 transfer credit hours that can be applied toward bachelor’s degrees. As a result, those with associate degrees may enter as juniors instead of freshmen, with only two additional years of school remaining.

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

Bachelor’s degrees in counseling generally consist of 120 credit hours of coursework that takes full-time students approximately four to six years to complete. Offered by traditional four-year colleges and universities, these programs are also comprised of general liberal arts education and major-specific classes. Students typically receive a more thorough introduction to the field while developing the knowledge and skills needed to become behavioral health professionals. Instructors focus study on various counseling theories and concepts.

This type of degree prepares graduates for many of the same entry-level employment opportunities as the associate degree. These graduates do, however, tend to have better job prospects and may make more money. Further education will be necessary in order to qualify for licensure as mental health counselors and other similar roles.

Bachelor’s degree graduates may choose to enroll in master’s programs. Those interested will need to meet the various prerequisite requirements set by their gaining colleges and universities. Many academic institutions at this level set minimum grade point average (GPA) and Graduate Record Examination (GRE) test score standards.

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

Master’s degrees in counseling generally consist of 30 to 60 credit hours of coursework that takes full-time students approximately two years to complete. Offered by traditional four-year colleges and universities, these programs focus solely on major-specific material. While those enrolled will no longer take general liberal arts classes, some may be required as prerequisites during the admissions process. Students can expect to receive instruction in advanced counseling practices and theories, with various opportunities to conduct research and practical application. Many institutions also require the completion of supervised practicums or clinical internships as part of their curriculums.

This type of online degrees meet the minimum requirements to become licensed as mental health counselors and marriage and family health therapists in Rhode Island. Other employment opportunities may also be available. Most job options for those with master’s degrees offer more job security and higher salary potential.

PhD Degree in Counseling (PhD)

Doctoral degrees in counseling can consist of between 90 and 120 credit hours and often take full-time students five to seven years to complete. Offered at traditional, four-year colleges and universities, most of these academic programs are comprised of high-level, subject-specific classes relevant to special topics in the field. Students generally spend a few years receiving direct instruction before performing independent study and research. The degree typically culminates in the writing and defense of a dissertation.

As a terminal degree, this is the highest level of education available within the field. While few professions require candidates to possess doctorates, graduates can pursue careers related to behavioral health research, leadership, and/or academia.

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Become a Counselor in Rhode Island

The first step to becoming a counselor in Rhode Island is identifying your ultimate career goals. This typically means selecting a preferred counseling specialization. Each area has specific educational requirements for licensure, making it important to know your ultimate career goals as early as possible. You can then select the most appropriate academic program.

The Rhode Island Board of Mental Health Counselors and Marriage and Family Therapists oversees the licensure process for the state’s mental health counselors and marriage and family therapists. Both of these credentials require candidates to possess master’s or doctorate degrees from a program accredited by the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP). A minimum of 60 semester credit hours at the graduate level are necessary. Applicants must also meet internship and practicum expectations, as well as post-graduate supervised work experience requirements. Additionally, prospective clinical mental health counselors need to successfully complete the National Clinical Mental Health Counselor Examination of the National Board of Certified Counselors (NBCC), while prospective marriage and family health therapists need to successfully complete the Association of Marital and Family Therapy Regulatory Boards (AMFTRB).

The licensing for chemical dependency professionals is managed by a different entity, the State of Rhode Island Department of Health. Licensure may only be granted after the department receives a copy of current certification at the appropriate level from the Rhode Island Certification Board.

The board oversees three credentials:

  • Certified Advanced Alcohol and Drug Counselor (CAADC)
  • Certified Alcohol and Drug Counselor (CADC)
  • Provisional Alcohol and Drug Counselor (PADC)

While CADC and PADC applicants need only high school diplomas or GEDs, CAADC candidates must possess master’s degrees in a relevant field. They must also meet all education and training requirements, as well as complete clinical work experiences and on-the-job clinical supervision. Additionally, applicants must pass the Examination for Advanced Alcohol and Drug Counselors (AADC) examination administered by the International Certification and Reciprocity Consortium (IC&RC).

Requirements for CADC and PADC credentials are far less stringent, although education and training hours are still necessary, as is relevant work experience. CADC applicants must also pass the Alcohol and Drug Counselors (ADC) examination administered by the IC&RC.

Careers for Counseling Graduates

  • Career Counselor
    Career counselors help people identify and achieve their career goals by providing consultations, advice, and various job preparation services. These professionals often utilize assessment tools to identify possible professions for their clients. After gauging personality traits, interests, and aptitudes, they assist in identifying education and training requirements. Career counselors may also conduct mock interviews and provide assistance during career transitions. According to PayScale, career counselors make an average base salary of $46,450 per year.
  • Clinical Social Worker
    Clinical social workers are offer mental and emotional support. They often conduct psychosocial evaluations, coordinate patient care, and negotiate with third party groups. These professionals may work in hospitals, mental health clinics, residential nursing facilities, home healthcare companies, or substance abuse treatment centers. According to PayScale, clinical social workers make an average base salary of $57,600 per year.
  • Grief Counselor
    Grief counselors assist people who are dealing with the deaths of loved ones and loss of other kinds. They often offer support and guidance as patients work through their grief. These professionals place a strong focus on dealing with loss in healthier and more productive ways. According to PayScale, grief counselors make an average base salary of $46,850 per year.
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  • Mental Health Counselor
    Mental health counselors work with people suffering from mental health conditions. After providing a diagnosis, these professionals use various techniques and treatments to help patients work through and/or resolve their issues. They often specialize in particular types of patient care, such as young adult therapy or addiction counseling. According to PayScale, mental health counselors make an average base salary of $44,250 per year.
  • >School Counselor
    School counselors help students reach personal, academic, and social goals while in high school. This often entails guiding young people through various behavioral health issues, as well as offering college preparation assistance. These professionals may also provide counseling for students, especially during difficult adjustment periods. It’s fairly common for school counselors to meet with parents and/or make referrals to other support services. According to PayScale, school counselors make an average base salary of $51,350 per year.
  • Substance Abuse/Addiction Counselor
    Substance abuse and addiction counselors provide support and various services to people struggling with or recovering from substance use and abuse. They meet with patients, develop treatment plans, and implement various therapeutic treatments while providing counseling. These professionals also track patient progress, documenting observations and maintaining accurate health histories. According to PayScale, substance abuse and addiction counselors make an average base salary of $39,950 per year.
  • Residential Counselor
    Residential counselors provide services to people in residential care facilities. They utilize individual and group counseling to help patients deal with addictions, disabilities, or mental health issues. In addition to maintaining treatment plans, these professionals also handle crises and resolve conflicts among residents. According to PayScale, residential counselors make an average base hourly rate of $14.46, or approximately $39,700 per year.
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