A graduate-level academic degree is required to be considered a professional counselor. A master's or doctoral degree in Counseling or Counselor Education are the typical degrees leading to professional counseling; however, some other graduate degrees (e.g., counseling psychology) can be appropriate if the program meets the requirements for licensure. Those who deliver services with less than a master's degree are considered paraprofessionals. SeeAccreditationbelow for information about appropriate accreditation for counselor training programs.
Prospective graduate students: An excellent resource for graduate programs in counseling isCounselor Preparation: Programs, Faculty, Trends, Eleventh Edition, edited by T. W. Clawson and D. A. Henderson and published by Routledge (2002). This resource is updated every few years, so check for more recent editions. In addition, theCACREP websitehas a directory of all accredited programs by state.
Two credentialing boards exist for the purpose of accrediting professional counseling programs throughout the United States. The Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP) accredits master's level programs with specialties in school counseling, community counseling, mental health counseling, college counseling, student affairs (college), marital, couple, and family counseling/therapy, career counseling, and gerontological counseling. CACREP also accredits doctoral programs in counselor education and supervision.(Visit the CACREP websitehere.)The Council on Rehabilitation Education (CORE) accredits master's program in rehabilitation counseling.You can visit the CORE websitehere.
Accreditation is an important credential, especially for the mental healthcare consumer; just as it is reassuring to know that your physician graduated from an accredited medical school, seeing the "CACREP" or "CORE" designation on your professional counselor's curriculum vitae, marketing materials, or disclosure statement is reassuring, as well; it indicates that he or she completed a program with high standards and should have the requisite skills necessary for the delivery of mental health services.
Completion of a CACREP- or CORE-accredited professional counseling programcan sometimes facilitate the process of applying forstate licensurein some states and the Nationally Certified Counselor (NCC) credential through the National Board of Certified Counselors (NBCC).
Accreditation is also becoming more vital for employment; more and more employers are favoring job applicants who have graduated from CACREP- and CORE-accredited programs.
To locate accredited programs or to examine the criteria for becoming accredited, visit the CACREP or CORE websites.
The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania regulates the practice of professional counseling that takes place both in and out of the school setting. School counselors in Pennsylvania are certified through the Pennsylvania Department of Education as Educational Specialists for either elementary (K-6) or secondary (7-12) school counseling. Information about the Educational Specialist - School Counselor certificate is available on the Pennsylvania Department of Education website here.
Counselors who practice in the community, with clients of any age, must be licensed through the Pennsylvania State Board of Social Workers, Marriage and Family Therapists and Professional Counselors in order to call themselves "Licensed Professional Counselors (LPC)" Information about this process can be foundin Chapter 49 of the Pennsylvania Code foundon theBoard's website. There is no license or certification required for counselors who practice exclusively in colleges or universities (unless requested/required by a particular employer); however, many counselors practicing in these settings do choose to become LPCs.
There are three national credentialing boards that issue board certification for professional counselors. The National Board for Certified Counselors (NBCC) is based in Greensboro, NC, and offers the Nationally Certified Counselor (NCC) credential. This is a general counseling credential appropriate for most counselors practicing outside of the school setting. Certificates of specialization are also available for mental health counselors (Certified Clinical Mental Health Counselor - CCMHC), addictions counselor (Master Addictions Counselor - MAC), and school counselors (National Certified School Counselor - NCSC). The Commission on Rehabilitation Counselor Certification (CRCC) is based in Schaumburg, IL, and offers the Certified Rehabilitation Counselor (CRC) credential, which is specific to rehabilitation counselors. The National Credentialing Academy (NCA) is based in Corpus Christi, TX, and offers the Certified Family Therapist (CFT) credential, which is specific to marriage and family therapists. All of these credentials are recognized nationwide; however, in most cases all of them serve as a supplement to, not a replacement for, state licensure.
For more information about NBCC, CRCC, NCA or their respective credentials, please visit their websites, provided in the paragraph above or below in the following section.