Posted on Sep 8, 2011 in Business & careers, School & education
I am interested in becoming a licensed professional counselor — maybe doing youth therapy or mental health counseling. Where do I begin?
Becoming part of the helping profession can be a highly rewarding job indeed! A licensed professional counselor (LPC) is a highly versatile licensure. There are several areas you can work in, including state-run facilities and private practices.
An LPC can provide family counseling, addiction treatment and behavioral counseling along with most of the other fields of specialization. This is one reason that this title is one of the most coveted. While you can specialize in a specific area such as LMFT (Licensed Marital and Family Counseling) or LMHP (Licensed Mental Health Counselor), the LPC title covers a wide array of work areas. If this is the path you want to journey down you first have to know where to begin, so let’s start at the beginning!
It goes without saying that you must have a high school education in order to go to college for any major. If you have a GED, check out the availability of schools that will accept that in lieu of a high school diploma so you know exactly what your options are. This will prevent you from wasting your time applying at schools that will not accept you.
In order to major in any counseling program, you first must take your core college classes (math, English, science, etc.). Depending on the course load you take on, these are usually completed within the first year of college. The next three years are focused on your major — which if you want to become an LPC, should be psychology.
The first four years of college will earn you a bachelor’s degree, and the best one to choose is a BS (Bachelor of Science). You can opt to get your BA (Bachelor of Arts) but graduate schools and employers generally prefer a BS over a BA, as the BS will have given you an education that had a degree of scientific concentration in it — and, after all, psychology is a science. Your bachelor’s degree will prepare you for what is to come in graduate school. Yes, more school! If you want that LPC license, you must have a master’s or doctoral degree in your field. You can get all of your education in an online college or a traditional college, or a combination of both.
I opted for the online degree, and the University of Phoenix was a fantastic experience for me. To find out more about UOP as well as on campus colleges that offer your desired program, take a look at this article from collegecrunch.org that provides info on the top ten online and campus colleges that offer your desired program.
After you earn your BS in psychology, your next step is to apply for grad school. You most likely do not want to get your master’s degree in psychology. After getting your bachelor’s in psych, it is a bit redundant and harder to find employment after graduation.
To become an LPC, the best majors are Counseling or Mental Health Counseling. Your master’s program will be much more demanding (and rewarding) than your bachelor’s program was. Now you are into the meat and potatoes of your major and are actually learning about how to be a counselor instead of the basic psychology history and principles you learned in your BS program.
In the master’s program you will learn theories, practice, and ethics of practice. You will also be required to do one or two residencies (the number depends upon the school’s requirements) as well as an internship. The internship comes at the end of your program and cannot be paid. The amount of hours required, again, depends on the university’s rules.
For example: I am now at Capella University, and in order to graduate, I must complete 600 hours of internship: 300 supervised and 300 unsupervised. Yes, this sounds like a lot, but in the grand scheme of things, it is very little time and also serves another purpose that is in your favor. In order to get your license, you must complete a certain amount of hours in internship or direct work. This amount varies from state to state, so be sure to check out your state’s LPC examination site. In North Carolina (where I live), you must have 2000 hours — so through your college internship, you can subtract 600 of those required hours.
To find out more about your state’s licensure requirements, check out the American Counseling Association site.
How much time it will take for you to obtain your degrees depends on how you choose to get them. At a traditional brick and mortar school, you can finish your BS in four years if you go full time. Your MS can be obtained in as little as three years at full time status.
If you plan on attending an online college, though, things are more flexible. Going full time, you can complete your BS within four years — but part time, it may take up to six. I highly recommend that you do full time if at all possible. This means taking two classes at once and is fairly easy once you get the hang of online learning. For your MS online, you can take up to six years to complete your courses. Taking two classes at once knocks this down to three years — but keep in mind that your master’s program will be more demanding, and if you are an adult learner it may not be possible to take on a full time course load.
Now that you know the basics of what is involved, if you still want to become an LPC, don’t hesitate — get started right away! Just the act of learning itself was enough motivation for me, and it could be for you as well. Good luck!
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