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What is Counseling?

Are you considering enrolling in a counseling degree program in South Dakota? Majoring in this field can lead to many very rewarding careers. While anyone can pursue counseling and counseling-related professions, these jobs are best suited for individuals driven to help others overcome various life challenges. Students tend to gain the knowledge and skills needed in order to provide social, emotional, and mental support and graduates can help their clients address numerous psychological conditions. While the techniques learned can be applied to diverse populations, some who enter the field prefer to specialize in the treatment of specific demographics.

The US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) categorizes many counseling professions as community and social service occupations. According to data provided, employment for these jobs is expected to increase by 10% from 2021 to 2031 in the United States. This is faster than the average for all occupations and will result in the creation of 294,600 new positions becoming available throughout the decade. This is in addition to the 318,400 opening expected each year from the need to replace workers who leave the profession permanently, either due to retirement or a shift in career goals.

Notably, some professions will experience more growth than others. Substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors, for example, are projected to see gains of 22% over the ten-year period. Employment for marriage and family therapists is also expected to grow by 14%.

Counselors generally work with patients who are experiencing emotional and/or psychological difficulties such as depression, anxiety, stress, loss, relationship trouble, and addiction. While specifics vary, most strive to help bring about effective change and to enhance overall wellbeing. Common responsibilities include evaluating clients, assessing readiness for treatment, supporting skill and behavior development, encouraging appropriate coping strategies, and managing treatment plans. While some of the conditions they see may be associated with specific health conditions, counselors are not permitted to prescribe medications of any kind. They can, however, coordinate care with other medical and mental health experts to get their clients the correct medication.

In general, most counselors dedicate their time and efforts to helping other people create positive and lasting life changes. This often entails assisting patients with social, emotional, and/or mental health problems, as well as teaching how to manage various physical and psychological difficulties. It’s also relatively common for these professionals to educate community members, especially when working for family services offices, care centers, schools, and vocational rehabilitation facilities. Some counselors even serve as advocates.

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Online Counseling Education in South Dakota

Several factors are likely to impact the occupational growth in this field. The most significant contributor, however, is the increasing number of individuals seeking mental health and addiction counseling services. More and more healthcare providers are also embracing the concept of integrated care, which entails treating multiple problems at one time. As a result, specialists are working as collective and cohesive groups more frequently. Another important shift impacting demand for counselors stems from changes in the legal system. Many states are moving to sentence treatment and counseling services rather than, or in addition to, jail time for people with addictions and/or mental health concerns. This adjustment will greatly impact job availability, especially for professionals who specialize in addiction.

The educational services, healthcare, and social assistance industry is the second largest industry in South Dakota. It accounts for approximately $5.4 billion in revenue each year. As of May 2021, the state employed 7,040 community and social service professionals who made an annual mean wage of $44,490. It’s important to note that this is slightly lower than South Dakota’s annual mean wage of $46,810 for all occupations. It’s also just below the median annual wage of $45,760 for all occupations in the United States.

Many colleges and universities in South Dakota offer counseling as a degree option. Current professionals and those with other responsibilities or restrictions may struggle, however, to consistently attend classes on campus. While online programs exist throughout the nation and abroad, those who intend to work in South Dakota should give preference to academic institutions within the state. These schools will be far more familiar with the certification and licensure requirements of local counselors and will ensure that graduates are better prepared to meet various qualifying requirements. Colleges and universities in the state are also familiar with the needs and expectations of employers in the region. As a result, graduates tend to be better prepared for employment and perceived as more competitive. Additionally, it’s common for institutions to establish collaborative relationships with nearby companies and organizations. This can make acquiring internships, work experience, and professional employment much easier.

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There are many different types of counselors. These professionals can specialize in particular behavioral health services, becoming experts in treating certain conditions.

Some of the most common counseling specializations include:

  • Addiction
  • Bereavement
  • Eating Disorders
  • Family and Marriage
  • Mental Health
  • Behavioral Disorders

Counselors may also designate specific populations they prefer to work with such as trauma victims, veterans, or addicts. In some cases, these professionals even specialize in treating certain age groups, from children and teens to adults and the elderly.

Specializing in a specific type of counseling can significantly impact daily responsibilities, as well as working environments. Some of the most common workplaces include hospitals, outpatient mental health facilities, substance abuse centers, service centers, and residential substance abuse homes. Professionals who are properly certified can also establish their own private practices in South Dakota.

Working as a counselor can be extremely rewarding, but it can be quite stressful as well. Those interested in the profession should consider their own dispositions and what the job entails carefully before proceeding. Professionals in this field are often responsible for managing large workloads and working long hours. Additionally, many facilities require participation in on-call rotations or availability for emergency situations. Further, helping patients work through difficult and/or traumatic experiences can be emotionally draining.

Some amount of higher education is generally required in order to qualify for most counseling and behavioral health jobs in South Dakota. While the minimum degree required for licensed counselors in the state is a master’s, prospective students can pursue programs at the associate, bachelor’s, and doctoral levels as well. Employment opportunities will, however, vary based on the education obtained.

Online Associate Degree in Counseling (AS)

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. In most cases, curriculums will be comprised of both general, liberal arts and major-specific classes. The result is a broad introduction to the field and higher education as a whole. Students can expect develop useful academic skills as well as basic knowledge related to behavioral health and various psychological theories and models.

This type of degree is not sufficient to qualify for counseling licensure in South Dakota. It may, however, suffice for some entry-level employment opportunities in the field. Graduates can often find work as counseling assistants, human service assistants, and caseworkers.

Alternatively, those who earn associate degrees can pursue further education. Many graduates choose to enroll in related bachelor’s degree programs, putting their knowledge of basic liberal arts subjects to good use. In fact, some or all of the courses taken at the associate level may be transferrable toward bachelor’s degrees. Many colleges and universities will accept up to 60 or 90 credit hours from properly accredited institutions. This can make a huge difference, with associate degree graduates entering as juniors instead of freshmen. In many cases, only two additional years of education is required before obtaining bachelor’s degrees.

Online Bachelor's Degree in Counseling (BS)

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. Those with prior academic credit may meet graduation requirements earlier, however. This type of degree is traditionally offered by four-year colleges and universities. As with associate degrees, curriculums are typically comprised of both general liberal arts and major-specific classes. Instruction at this level is more thorough, allowing students to develop behavioral health knowledge and skills much further. Those enrolled can also expect to receive extensive instruction related to various counseling theories and concepts.

This type of degree is not sufficient to qualify for counseling licensure in South Dakota. It does, however, prepare graduates for many of the same entry-level employment opportunities as associate degrees. While those with bachelor’s degrees do tend to have better job prospects and may make more money, additional education is often necessary in to qualify for licensure and top jobs in the field.

Graduates who plan to become counselors often enroll in master’s programs. Graduate school admittance requirements can be more competitive, with institutions setting various standards and prerequisites. In most cases, prospective students will need to meet minimum grade point average (GPA) and Graduate Record Examination (GRE) test score criteria.

Counseling Admissions and Career Options for Bachelors

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

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. Prior undergraduate credit cannot count toward graduation requirements, but some institutions do set a list of prerequisite classes. These degrees are typically offered by traditional four-year colleges and universities and curriculums focus solely on major-specific material. Instruction often covers advanced counseling practices and theories, and students commonly have opportunities to participate in and conduct research. Many institutions also require the completion of supervised practicums or clinical internships prior to graduation.

This type of degree is often sufficient to qualify for counseling licensure in South Dakota, as long as the program selected is approved and consists of at least 48 credit hours. And graduates may pursue other employment opportunities, as well. Those with this level of education typically enjoy more job options and higher salary potential.

Counseling Admissions and Career Options for Masters

Online 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. They are typically offered by traditional, four-year colleges and universities. Curriculums vary, but most are comprised of high-level, subject-specific classes relevant to special topics in the field. It’s common for students to spend the first few years receiving classroom instruction before pursuing independent study and research. Supervised practicums or clinical internships may also be required, as well as the defense of written dissertations before a graduating board.

This is a terminal degree which can qualify graduates for counseling licensure in South Dakota. As the highest level of education available within the field, those who possess it can generally pursue any careers related to behavioral health research, leadership, and/or academia they want.

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Become a Counselor in South Dakota

The first step to becoming a counselor in South Dakota is determining what type of professional you want to be. While specialization is not required, knowing your intentions early can be helpful. Not only will it help you find the most appropriate degree program available in the state, but it can ensure you obtain the necessary knowledge and skills to succeed in the future. If you do have a specific type of counseling in mind, it’s important to verify that your college or university of choice offers it as a concentration. Otherwise, additional education and training may be needed. As previously mentioned, counselors generally need master’s or doctoral degrees in counseling from an accredited institution.

The state of South Dakota requires all counselors to be licensed. Providing counseling services for a fee without a license is against the law. The Board of Examiners for Counselors and Marriage and Family Therapists oversees the licensure process and awards the necessary credentials.

The board issues three professional licenses:

  • Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC)
  • Licensed Professional Counselor – Mental Health (LPC-MH)
  • Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist

All applications for licensure must be made through the board’s office and each application requires a refundable $225 fee that cannot be pro-rated. Licenses are valid until November 30th of the next even-numbered year following the issue date.

Those seeking the LPC credential must first submit a Plan of Supervision. Requirements include providing transcripts showing graduation from an approved program or a 48-hour master’s degree in counseling from an accredited institution. Candidates must also provide a passing score on the National Counselor Examination (NCE) for Licensure and Certification, which is administered by the National Board of Certified Counselors (NBCC). Additionally, a board-approved supervisor must be designated in order to oversee the required supervision and direct client contact hours for full licensure.

Counseling licenses in South Dakota must be renewed biennially in even-numbered years. Licensees must show 40 hours of continuing education, including at least four hours related to ethics.

Careers for Counseling Graduates

  • Career Counselor
    Career counselors utilize various assessment tools to help clients identify personality traits, interests, aptitudes, and possible professions of interest. For those who already have occupations in mind, these professionals help them identify and achieve career-related goals. They often offer a variety of relevant services including consultations, mock interviews, and resume building. Career counselors may also offer assistance while researching education and training requirements. According to PayScale, career counselors make an average base salary of $46,450 per year.
  • Clinical Social Worker
    Clinical social workers provide mental and emotional support in hospitals, mental health clinics, residential nursing facilities, home healthcare companies, or substance abuse treatment centers. These professionals often conduct psychosocial evaluations and coordinate patient care. They may also negotiate with third party groups when additional care is necessary. According to PayScale, clinical social workers make an average base salary of $57,600 per year.
  • Grief Counselor
    Grief counselors often offer support and guidance to people who are dealing with the deaths of loved ones or other losses. These professionals assist others through the various stages of grief while encouraging healthier and more productive ways to cope with loss. 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 diagnose and treat people with various mental health conditions. They utilize a range of techniques and treatments to help patients work through and/or resolve issues. It’s common for these professionals to 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 provide counseling and support to students in a variety of school situations. Responsibilities range from helping students reach personal, academic, and social goals to guiding young people through various behavioral health issues. They may also assist with college preparation assistance, as well as coping through difficult adjustment periods. Additionally, schools counselors regularly meet with teachers and parents. In some cases, they may 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 diagnose, treat, and provide support to people with substance use and abuse conditions. These professionals offer various services including one-on-one counseling sessions, the development of treatment plans, and the implementation of various therapeutic treatments. They spend a significant amount of time tracking 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 a wide variety of counseling services to people in residential care facilities. These professionals utilize individual and group counseling, maintain treatment plans, help resolve patient conflicts, and handle crisis situations that may arise. They may work in facilities that specialize in the treatment of specific demographics such as people with addictions, disabilities, or mental health issues. According to PayScale, residential counselors make an average base hourly rate of $14.46, or approximately $39,700 per year.
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