Completing your studies appears to be enough prove that you have acquired requisite skills and knowledge to become a counselor. However, you will need to clear the hurdle of certification or license. And why do you need a license in the first place?
• It provides prove that you have the skills required to operate as a counselor
• Certification is used to standardize learning in different institutions
• It shows that you have met all requirements of a counselor, making you eligible to perform relevant duties
• You are entered into a roll where your practice is monitored as you get an opportunity to grow and advance your skills.
• Practicing without a license makes you lose your eligibility and you could even face criminal charges.
A certified counselor is highly regarded in practice than an unlicensed one. In fact, it will be impossible to practice without a license. APA or American Psychology Association requires you to be licensed in order to operate as a counselor. Each state has unique requirements, but there are general conditions for all counselors in US.
• Choose an Area of Specialization- there are numerous areas under counseling for you to focus on. They include academic counseling, drugs and substance abuse, child and domestic abuse, career counseling, grief, marriage counseling, etc. Each will expose you to a different environment and experiences. Ensure that you are ready and dedicated to handle the pressure that will arise.
• What Work Environment Will You Be Working? The choice of a career translates into a decision on the general environment you will engage throughout your life. For instance, if you choose clinical psychology, be ready to interact with mental disorder patients. Should it be education counseling, your focus will be on youths and persons aiming at improving their careers and academics. Only plunge into a field if you are comfortable.
• Complete Your Psychology or Counseling Degree- this is either a BA or BS course, depending on the school and expected outcome. Consult a career specialist to see the best option depending on your expected outcome. The basic undergraduate course is an introduction to almost all areas in psychology. It lays the foundation for specialization at Masters or PhD level. Without this, you can never get a license.
• Polish your Character- counseling requires very personal interactions with clients or patients. Licensing boards endeavor to protect these vulnerable individuals from dishonest counselors. You must therefore demonstrate a good character. The references you get will be crucial in defending your character. Volunteer in organizations, schools, campus club activities, etc. The competitive nature of graduate school requires an impressive character and CV.
• GRE- most schools and institutions consider your GRE score during screening. However, it is mandatory to have take GRE to gain entry into psychology graduate school.
• Make Your Graduate School Application- you need an MA or an MS in counseling or psychology to get a license. The application should be made focusing on the area you wish to specialize in and work as a professional. The highly competitive nature of these programs means that you should apply in several institutions. Consider such issues as reputation, cost, convenience, etc. The program you apply for should also be accredited by relevant accreditation bodies in your state and country wide.
• Take Your Graduate School Studies Seriously- there is a lot of theory and practical work in counseling Masters or PhD degree. You also get extensive hands on experience on such areas as human development, disorders, behavior change, substance abuse, etc. You also need to learn about counseling strategies and how to apply them. This knowledge will prepare you for your upcoming career. With a Masters degree, you are ready for licensing, but a PhD gives you more advantage.
• Apply for residency program or internship- to get a license in most jurisdictions, you must have accumulated a certain number of experience hours under supervision. This is easily achieved through internship and residency programs. These opportunities are easily available. When making your application, concentrate on the area you wish to practice or specialize in.
These are general requirements that will apply for all LPCs in USA. There are requirements specific to each state. The requirements include a minimum number of years, moral conduct, level of education, experience hours and sitting for a licensing examination. Depending on area of specialization, you might be asked to, for instance, take a course in identifying and reporting child crimes.
Talk To An Experienced Professional
Completing basic education opens the chapter of specialization which will determine your career progress. Talk to an academic counselor to discuss the specific counseling path you wish to take. You will identify the examination to take, the resources you require and how to get your counseling license. A mistake at this juncture will lead to wastage of resources and time.
An experienced professional could also be your mentor in the field of counseling. This is a chance to have a real life encounter with the person you aspire to become. Ask about the work environment, opportunities available, the sacrifices you have to make, challenges you should expect, etc.
Take the Licensing Examination
Licensing examinations differ from one state to the other. Further, different examinations will usher you into unique career paths. Get materials from the accreditation body, institutions offering tuition and other sources to help you study. Without passing this exam, even the number of hours of experience will be useless. Most states and accreditation organizations give multiple choices. You need to hit the pass mark.
Submit License Application
This application requires you to submit documents as prove that you have completed all other requirements like test scores, supervised hours and graduate studies. You may also be required to appear for an interview in front of the licensing board.
To keep your license, you must comply with licensing requirements. Attend workshops and seminars to update your skills. Further, avoid malpractice or character damaging charges. You can move from one state to the other but your accreditation must be verified and aligned to your practicing state.