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All about Career and Vocational Counseling

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Career and vocational counselors assist individuals in making and implementing informed educational and occupational choices. They help students or clients to develop competencies in self-knowledge, educational and occupational exploration, and career planning.

Career and vocational counseling is an integral part of adult education and key to its effective delivery. Good counseling programs help individuals acquire the knowledge, skills, and experience necessary to identify options, explore alternatives, and succeed in society. These programs better prepare individuals for the changing workplace by teaching labor market changes and complexity of the workplace, improving decision-making skills, increasing self-esteem and motivation, building interpersonal effectiveness, maximizing career opportunities, improving employment marketability and opportunities, promoting effective job placement, and strengthening employer relations.


Recent data indicate that six out often counselors have a master's degree; fields of study include college student affairs, elementary or secondary school counseling, education, gerontological counseling, marriage and family counseling, substance abuse counseling, rehabilitation counseling, agency or community counseling, clinical mental health counseling, counseling psychology, career counseling, or a related field.

Graduate-level counselor education programs in colleges and universities usually are in departments of education or psychology. Courses are grouped into eight core areas:
  1. human growth and development

  2. social and cultural foundations

  3. helping relationships

  4. groups

  5. lifestyle and career development

  6. appraisal

  7. research and evaluation

  8. professional orientation
In an accredited program, forty-eight to sixty semester hours of graduate study, including a period of supervised clinical experience in counseling, are required for a master's degree.

More than one hundred institutions offer programs in counselor education, including career, community, gerontological, mental health, school, student affairs, and marriage and family counseling, accredited by the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP).

Forty-two states and the District of Columbia had some form of counselor credentialing legislation, licensure, certification, or registry for practice outside schools. Requirements vary from state to state. In some states, credentialing is mandatory; in others, voluntary.

Many counselors elect to be nationally certified by the National Board for Certified Counselors (NBCC), which grants the general practice credential, National Certified Counselor. To be certified, a counselor must hold a master's degree in counseling from a regionally accredited institution, have at least two years of supervised professional counseling experience, and pass NBCC's National Counselor Examination for Licensure and Certification. This national certification is voluntary and distinct from state certification. However, in some states, those who pass the national exam are exempt from taking a state certification exam. NBCC also offers specialty certification in career, gerontological, school, clinical mental health, and addictions counseling.

To maintain their certification, counselors must complete one hundred hours of acceptable continuing education credit every five years.

All states require school counselors to hold state school counseling certification; however, certification requirements vary from state to state. Some states require public school counselors to have both counseling and teaching certificates.

Depending on the state, a master's degree in counseling and two to five years of teaching experience may be required for a counseling certificate.

Vocational and related rehabilitation agencies generally require a master's degree in rehabilitation counseling, counseling and guidance, or counseling psychology for rehabilitation counselor jobs. Some, however, may accept applicants with a bachelor's degree in rehabilitation services, counseling, psychology, sociology, or related fields.

A bachelor's degree may qualify a person to work as a counseling aide, rehabilitation aide, or social service worker. Experience in employment counseling, job development, psychology, education, or social work may be helpful.

The Council on Rehabilitation Education (CORE) accredits graduate programs in rehabilitation counseling. A minimum of two years of study-including six hundred hours of supervised clinical internship experience-are required for the master's degree.

In most state vocational rehabilitation agencies, applicants must pass a written examination and be evaluated by a board of examiners to obtain licensure. In addition, many employers require rehabilitation counselors to be nationally certified. To become certified by the Commission on Rehabilitation Counselor Certification, counselors must graduate from an accredited educational program, complete an internship, and pass a written examination. They are then designated as Certified Rehabilitation Counselors. To maintain their certification, counselors must complete one hundred hours of acceptable continuing education credit every five years.

Some states require counselors in public employment offices to have a master's degree; others accept a bachelor's degree with appropriate counseling courses.

Clinical mental health counselors generally have a master's degree in mental health counseling, another area of counseling, or in psychology or social work. They are voluntarily certified by the National Board for Certified Counselors. Generally, to receive certification as a clinical mental health counselor, a counselor must have a master's degree in counseling, two years of postmaster's experience, a period of supervised clinical experience, a taped sample of clinical work, and a passing grade on a written examination.

Some employers provide training for newly hired counselors. Many have work-study programs so that employed counselors can earn graduate degrees. Counselors must participate in graduate studies, workshops, institutes, and personal studies to maintain their certificates and licenses.

People interested in counseling should have a strong interest in helping others and the ability to inspire respect, trust, and confidence. They should be able to work independently or as part of a team.

Counselors follow the code of ethics associated with their respective certifications and licenses.


Prospects for advancement vary by counseling field. School counselors may move to a larger school; become directors or supervisors of counseling, guidance, or pupil personnel services; or, usually with further graduate education, become counselor educators, counseling psychologists, or school administrators.

Some counselors also may advance to work at the state department of education.

Rehabilitation, mental health, and employment counselors may become supervisors or administrators in their agencies. Some counselors move into research, consulting, or college teaching, or go into private or group practice.
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