One of the top things I'm asked is about counseling degree options. One of the universities I'm affiliated with has an undergraduate counseling minor (very similar to a pre-counseling program at many other schools). One of the universities I went to as a student had several different degree paths for would-be counselors, including several masters programs and a Ph.D. I've taken a little counseling coursework and have done plenty of one-on-one student counseling, but I'm not a professional counselor and don't intend to be. However, I've met with enough counseling students to know where the big questions arise when they're looking at degree programs and I've compiled those together and tried to address some of them in this article. Your goals as a counselor will largely determine which direction you should go when choosing a degree program. Here are the three main options:
Option 1: Other Degree Programs
Make certain that counseling is what you want to do and that this field of study best fits your professional goals. That's one of the great things about tackling some of it in your undergrad years. Getting even limited experience would be very helpful in determining your interest in pursuing that. For others, social work, like helping the poor or working in an orphanage, is more your ultimate goal. If that's the case a Master of Social Work degree is more appropriate. A counseling degree is usually geared more towards clinical counseling (sitting in an office, having clients, etc.). For those going into ministry, counseling is a necessary skill to have. However, for most, having one or two courses would be more appropriate than having an entire degree in it.
Option 2: Church-based Counseling
Counseling within a local church may mean that you're on the pastoral staff and you're doing informal sessions with members. For some churches, though, counseling involves a more structured program that allows members and non-members to seek help. In these cases someone with a degree (but not necessarily licensure) can usually counsel. It really depends on the state, though, so do some research on your own state's law about operating a full counseling program in a church and the qualifications they seek.
Option 3: Professional, Licensed Counseling
Most professional counselors will seek licensure. This is done mainly because it is much harder to find a good, long-term career as a counselor without it. Getting licensed is a process that you have to do through your state. You are evaluated based largely (if not solely) on your education. If your degree program fits their criteria, then you'll be in. If not, then there's usually not a lot you can do about it (except go back to school). To have a standard for professional licensure in counseling, there is a specific type of accreditation that has been created and generally agreed upon: CACREP accreditation. They are an academic accrediting body recognized by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (the government organization that recognizes valid accrediting bodies). If you graduate from a program that is CACREP accredited, then you usually are set to get licensure in any state. Of course, with a CACREP-accredited degree you can also do church-based counseling, which makes this option (usually) the best one for those wanting to begin a career in counseling. You can find a list of CACREP accredited degree programs HERE.
Mark Stevens is a former seminary student himself and currently researches and teaches in the area of theological studies.