Counseling is a highly rewarding profession. Practicing counselors help people mitigate their anxieties, work through relationship problems, deal with difficult people, and lead better lives overall. However, the median pay for counselors in the United States in 2016 was only $44,000 annually, and nearly every position required a minimum of a master’s degree. As such, it’s important for licensed professional counselors to take advantage of opportunities in higher education — here’s five of the most common avenues to educational advancement.
Licenses and Certificates
Government agencies around the world ensure consumers of product and service quality and the legitimacy of companies that provide them with licensing and certification. This is also true for counseling, with licensing and certification providing mental health professionals with training that equips them for particular niches in practicing. Two popular certifications include the CADAC, or Certified Alcohol and Drug Abuse Counselor, and LICSW, or Licensed Independent Clinic Social Worker. Licensing is similar to certifications, although there are significantly fewer licenses available to licensed professional counselors than there are certifications. Counselors can obtain these by working with their state boards of counseling.
Engaging in Quality Research
Research is important in the field of mental health, as not enough about our brains are understood. Licensed professional counselors can effectively further their education and make more money by performing quality research. Counselors can do this by getting together with mental health professionals that have doctoral degrees, or attending school at the master’s or doctoral level. However, it makes more senses to pursue a doctoral program related to psychology because it provides more flexibility your career, and helps you command a higher salary, as employers will pay people well for taking on a decade of school, if not longer.
Doctor of Psychiatry
Unfortunately for licensed professional counselors, educational advancement is required to make a substantial living. One means of advancing in academia, and subsequently advancing in your career, is to obtain a doctorate degree in psychiatry. Unlike many other doctoral programs, you must enroll in medical school to become a doctor of psychiatry. Most medical schools require their applicants to take the Medical College Admissions Test, or MCAT, although some of them only require them to take the Graduate Record Examination, or GRE. After taking one of these exams, you’re able to apply for medical school. Following graduation, you must complete residency in psychiatry.
Obtaining a medical doctorate is a professional degree, unlike most other doctoral degrees, which means it’s geared towards actually practicing what is learned, rather than researching it. There are many more universities offering doctoral programs in psychology than medical colleges, as medial colleges’ guidelines and requirements are far more rigorous than their research-based counterparts. Getting a doctorate degree in psychology, rather than psychiatry, takes a minimum of four years, rather than in excess of seven, like medical degrees. They generally require two years of coursework, then the remainder of the program is spend towards researching, writing, and defending your thesis.
Fortunately for licensed professional counselors, there are many particular subsets of counseling to practice. Even better, specializing doesn’t require counselors to obtain degrees that take four years or longer, although getting a doctoral degree in a specialty related to counseling will help you in efforts of educational advancement as a licensed professional counselor. Cyberpsychology, school, addiction, pediatric, geriatric, and development psychology are all types of specialization that offer counselors great opportunities. You can engage in specialization by applying to practices that facilitate narrow practicing, obtaining certifications, and taking on other master’s degrees.
Related Resource: Top 10 Online Marriage and Family Counseling Degree Programs
Even though helping people improve their mental health is satisfying, counseling doesn’t pay all too well. It’s important for every current and prospective mental health professional to be aware of these educational advancement opportunities, and their avenues to fruition.