If you feel called to make it your life’s work to help and empower other people, then you might consider becoming a professional counselor. There are many different types of counselors and — as you might expect — many types of counseling degrees to choose from. This career guide explores the different types of counseling degrees you could use to pursue a meaningful career in this field.
Undergraduate and Graduate Degrees in Counseling
The two primary types of counseling degrees are undergraduate and graduate-level programs. All aspiring counselors are expected to have at least a bachelor’s degree (undergraduate). Although a master’s degree is not a universal requirement for all types of counselors in every state, it is strongly recommended.
An undergraduate (bachelor’s) counseling degree typically requires four years of full-time study to complete. Depending on which school and program you choose, it may be possible to complete some or all of your credits online if you wish.
A master’s degree in counseling generally requires two years of full-time study for completion. Although you may be able to take your courses online, you will need to complete one or more internship rotations in order to gain hands-on, real-world experience.
Most types of counselor professions require a master’s degree. These include clinical practice professions, such as clinical substance abuse and behavioral health counselors. A clinical practice profession also requires state licensure, which involves completing a certain number of hours of supervised clinical experience (hours vary by state).
At both the undergraduate and graduate levels, you may have the option of selecting a general counseling degree or one with a specialization or concentration. General types of counseling degrees cover a broad spectrum of counseling knowledge and skills, such as counseling theories, methodologies and professional ethics.
If you already know which type of counselor you would like to become, you could instead opt for a degree with a specialization or concentration. For instance, you might choose to specialize in substance abuse counseling. A degree with a concentration will still cover all of the fundamental topics in counseling, but will also put a stronger focus on the chosen specialization.
A Guide to the Common Types of Counselors
It’s not always easy to know which types of counselor professions appeal to you, especially if you’re still in high school or if you’re a freshman in college. It may be helpful to look for local job shadowing and internship opportunities. These will give you real-world exposure to the profession, which can help you narrow down your list of possibilities.
Some of the most common types of counselors are as follows.
Mental Health Counselors
A mental health counselor is a licensed professional who assesses and treats the emotional, cognitive and behavioral issues associated with mental health disorders. These professionals use a variety of counseling methods and techniques to help their clients better understand their emotions, thought patterns and behaviors. Counselors can help people develop coping skills and adapt to more positive and productive thought patterns and behaviors.
A mental health counselor can work with a broad range of clients who are dealing with different types of mental health challenges. Some common examples of mental health issues these professionals may treat include depression, anxiety, trauma and phobias. Mental health counselors may work with children, adolescents, or adults.
Substance Abuse Counselors
As the title suggests, substance abuse counselors are the types of counselors who specialize in working with people struggling with addiction. Addiction is a complex disease that can have multiple root causes and risk factors, and it may take many forms. These counselors help their clients understand the causes and nature of their disease, learn healthier coping habits, identify potential relapse triggers and develop strategies for long-term sobriety.
Marriage and Family Counselors
The need for nurturing familial relationships is one of the defining characteristics of humanity; however, relationships aren’t always easy to maintain. Marriage and family counselors can provide support to parents and children whose relationships with one another are deteriorating, spouses going through difficult times and divorced individuals struggling to move forward.
If you think you might like to specialize in working with children, you might consider becoming a school counselor. These types of counselors help students overcome social and behavioral challenges, develop healthy and productive habits, identify career interests, and avoid problems such as drug use and bullying. School counselors can also work with teachers and parents by helping them learn how to empower their students.
A Guide to the Lesser-Known Types of Counselor Professions
If you aren’t quite sure about pursuing a career as one of the more common types of counselors, you might find the following lesser-known specialties appealing. General types of counseling degrees at the graduate level can qualify you to pursue these careers, although you may need a license as well.
Many people have an acute or chronic health condition or disability that limits their ability to work and live independently. Rehabilitation counselors are professionals who specialize in working with people who have short-term or chronic medical conditions that affect their quality of life and ability to perform vital life skills. For instance, a rehabilitation counselor might work with people of any age who are dealing with cancer treatment, an acute injury, sickle cell anemia, arthritis, or autism spectrum disorder (ASD).
Rehabilitation counselors help their clients learn important life skills and adapt to the use of assistive technologies and devices. They can also help their clients identify and strengthen their employment skills, land gainful employment and navigate the disability benefits system.
Vocational counselors are experts in employment. They work with teens and adults, helping them identify their strengths, career interests and goals. Vocational counselors help clients choose post-secondary educational or vocational programs, develop a resume, prepare for job interviews, solve workplace disputes and transition to new careers.
Correctional counselors are similar to generalist mental health counselors in that they often assess and treat a wide range of mental health issues, from schizophrenia to antisocial personality disorder to suicidal ideation. However, these types of counselor professionals specialize in working with inmate populations. Working in jails and prisons, correctional counselors may conduct one-on-one as well as group sessions with inmates, connect clients to educational and ministry resources, advise parole boards and work with parole officers to reduce the risk of recidivism.
Start Earning Your Counseling Degree
If you’re working on your undergraduate counseling degree, you can expect to study a broad range of topics in the field. You’ll learn about counseling theories, methodologies, mental health disorders, co-occurring disorders and professional ethics. If you've chosen a concentration, you’ll also study that specialized area in depth.
For instance, if you’ve decided to become a substance abuse counselor, you’ll study psychopharmacology in the treatment of addiction, the causes and risk factors of addiction, relapse prevention and similar topics.
When you’re ready to move on to your master’s degree, you’ll take a deeper dive into advanced topics in counseling. You’ll closely study advanced counseling theories, ranging from existential psychotherapy to rational emotive behavioral therapy (REBT). You’ll learn counseling skills, including clinical assessments, diagnosis and intervention.
You’ll conclude your master’s degree program by completing one or more counseling internships. Then, once you’ve met all of the requirements for licensure in your state, you can apply for your license and begin looking for work as a professional counselor.
Regardless of which types of counselor professions appeal to you, you can build the foundations for a meaningful career when you join the Christian learning community at Grand Canyon University. Our types of counseling degrees include a number of undergraduate and graduate-level options for aspiring counselors and mental health therapists. These include the Master of Science in Clinical Mental Health Counseling, which aligns with the academic requirements for becoming licensed as an LAC or LPC in Arizona.
Click on Request Info at the top of your screen to learn more about the types of counseling degrees available online or on campus at GCU.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Grand Canyon University. Any sources cited were accurate as of the publish date.