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Professional Counseling Degree

Frank Parsons, also known as the “father of guidance” was a social reformer who changed the world through his work in vocational psychology and counseling. He had a vision of a better world that could only be established through social change and by helping people tap into their abilities and skills in a meaningful way. His work helped improve the condition of many people through interventions, counseling, and guidance. 

Professional counseling can be described as the application of human, health, and psychological principles through cognitive strategies that help people overcome certain problems. Many people are seeking help from professionals to get over challenges related to career, education, and relationships. Professional counselors have the knowledge and skill that enables them to empower patients and help them deal adequately with problems.
According to the American Psychological Association, in any given year, 5%-7% of adults suffer from a serious mental illness, and around 5%-9% of children experience a serious emotional disturbance. This has led to the increasing demand of professional counselors throughout the nation. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the demand for mental health counselors is expected to grow by 29% (faster than average) whereas the demand for career and school counselors is expected to grow by 12% from 2012-2022.

Why study Professional Counseling?

There are many reasons why students want to become counselors. The field lets counselors interact with individuals and families in need, and help them overcome various social, financial, and personal issues. The job can be challenging, but may also be rewarding, giving counselors a sense of achievement and letting them give back to the society. Professional counseling is a “helping profession”.
There are a number of colleges offering professional counseling degrees. One must have a minimum masters degree in this field. Apart from just getting a college degree, individuals will need to meet certain licensing requirements depending on which state they reside in.

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Master of Arts in Professional Counseling

Masters in professional counseling is a two year graduate program designed to prepare students for roles as professional counselors. The program focuses on a number of topics that not only equip students with a strong theoretical foundation of knowledge, but also develop skills and techniques necessary for practice.
Students will gain an in-depth understanding of counseling theories, human growth and development, research, and how counseling can help people overcome and tackle problems, heal through trauma and illness, and stabilize their psychological condition. The program will cover many courses such as the following:

  • Addictions and substance use disorders

This course will provide students with a thorough understanding of substance abuse effects, the psychological dynamics of use disorders, and professional roles in intervention.

  • Counseling theories

This course highlights the major theories and principles of counseling. Topics such as the following are covered within this course: existential psychotherapy, behavioral and cognitive therapy, Adlerian and psychoanalytic therapy.

  • Group counseling theory

This course is designed to provide students with an understanding of group development, group counseling theories, group dynamics, and ethical standards.

  • Marriage and family therapy

In this course, students will learn about the dynamics and the structure of family and marriages. Students will learn how to assess marital problems and provide therapy.

  • Diagnostics, assessment, and treatment

This course will focus on the assessment and diagnostics tools used for treatment of behavioral health disorders. The course will include topics such as diagnostics tools and development of treatment plans.

PhD in Professional Counseling

This is a post-graduate program that is geared towards preparing students for leadership roles in counseling, executive roles, and other advanced careers in this field. The program emphasizes skill development, knowledge enhancement, clinical experience, and research.
Students will be required to complete intensive theoretical coursework that will highlight different facets of counseling. After completing the coursework, students will be required to pass a qualifying examination, implement a research study, and prepare a dissertation. A point to remember here is that the exact course requirements may vary from college to college. Here are some of the courses covered:

  • Professional identity and ethical practice

This course will introduce students to the legal, ethical, and professional aspects of the field. Students will study a range of cases that will highlight ethical dilemmas and legal issues.

  • Psychotherapy Integration

This course will provide students with an understanding of psychotherapy integration movement. Students will cover important topics such as models of psychotherapy, approaches, practice theories, dialogue and debate, and integrative approaches.

  • Doctoral Internship

This is covered under the supervision of a professional. Students will be exposed to various healthcare and clinical settings where they will gain hands on experience, skills, and will demonstrate professional competency.

  • Research

This will equip students with research skills. Students will learn how to apply quantitative and qualitative research methodologies, collect and analyze results, and implement an original research project.

  • Group dynamics, contexts, and counseling

This course will introduce students to the dynamics of group counseling. Students will learn about different types of groups, issues, and counseling techniques used for group therapy.

  • Lifespan development processes

This course is designed to provide students with in-depth knowledge of factors affecting and shaping the development of beings. The course will highlight numerous topics, models, and theories relevant to the field.
Students must complete all the course components and acquire a minimum number of credits to successfully earn the degree. It can take anywhere from four to eight years to complete a doctorate of professional counseling degree.

Learning Outcomes

  • Recognize and accurately classify different mental disorders
  • Develop treatment plans for mental disorders
  • Show professional competency, skills, and understanding of the field
  • Demonstrate skills needed to function as practitioner
  • Conduct original research and contribute to the field
  • Demonstrate in-depth knowledge of psychology and counseling


Admission Requirements of Professional Counseling Programs

The admission requirements will vary from college to college. Students seeking admission in a masters degree will need to first get a bachelor degree. On the other hand, individuals seeking admission will need to submit a masters degree transcript. Other admission requirements may include the following:

  • Minimum CGPA
  • Professional portfolio
  • Personal essay
  • Completion of an admission application
  • Letters of recommendation

Career Prospects

With a degree in professional counseling, you can work in different organizations such as schools, healthcare facilities, social assistance agencies, mental health facilities, and more. Your area of specialization, state, and level of degree will play an important role in determining how you earn.
According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), school and career counselors made a median annual income of $53,610 and mental health counselors made a median annual income of $41,500 in 2012.


Frequently Asked Question(s)

Q:What are professional counseling programs?

A:Professional counseling programs are designed to provide the necessary training and coursework to meet the academic requirements for work in schools and mental health facilities. They prepare counselors to enable them to be committed to a process of intentional growth that promotes ethical behavior and lifelong learning. Students are taught diversity, critical thinking, creation and integration of knowledge.

Q:What can you do with masters in professional counseling?

A:There are many career paths you could opt for with masters in professional counseling. You could become a mental health counselor, substance abuse counselor, school guidance counselor or a marriage and family therapist. Your main function in all these jobs would be to support and counsel clients in several potential focus areas. Your work would revolve around providing emotional support to people with different issues. These could be academic issues, depression or suicidal thoughts, couples therapy or alcoholics.

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