What does a veteran who’s come back from the front lines of a war zone have in common with a young adult struggling with anorexia and a high school student suffering from anxiety over college decisions?
At first glance, it may seem these individuals share very little. Still, a common thread runs through their circumstances: working with a trained professional counselor could help each one successfully navigates the unique situations they are facing.
Counselors may be the hidden helpers of our society. They’re everywhere, but we don’t always notice them because they’re often behind the scenes, quietly doing their jobs helping others overcome adversity and get back to the business of living.
Troy University’s graduate counseling programs step in to train professional counselors who can significantly impact many people’s lives. Whether students interested in the field want to work in a school setting, a vocational rehabilitation center, a mental health clinic, or another setting, TROY’s counseling degree programs offer the necessary training and certification courses to prepare counselors to change lives.
What is Counseling?
Have you ever wondered what counseling really is? Or what professional counselors do?
Dr. Sherrionda H. Crawford, Ph.D., LPC-S, NCC, ACS, Interim Department Chair for TROY College of Education Counseling, Rehabilitation and Interpreter Training Division, describes the career as a helping profession — a compassionate and caring professional field.
“Counselors work with a diverse group of individuals — across the lifespan, across genders, across ethnicities — to help them make sense of their world and learn to cope with traumatic experiences or stressors that disrupt their routine or their lives,” she explains.
Where Do Counselors Work?
Life disruptors can happen to anyone; as a result, you can find professionals providing counseling services in a variety of settings. There are, in fact, many types of counseling.
School counselors, for example, work in the K-12 environment. “They serve in career centers and academic areas as well as social and personal areas,” says Dr. Crawford. “Being a school counselor is an avenue to help students successfully navigate the school environment and create lifelong relationships with peers and educational professionals to help them become productive citizens.”
Carla S. Wiley got her master’s in school counseling from Troy University in 2018 and is now working for the Opelika City Schools as a school counselor for third through fifth grades. She agrees with Dr. Crawford. “I would advise students to keep in mind that school is supposed to be a safe haven for students,” she says,” so be that person that they can turn to no matter what. Be an advocate for your students with a non-judgmental mindset.”
Another specialty is clinical mental health; these counselors often serve in psychiatric hospitals, mental health agencies, and private practice. “They’re more clinically focused,” says Dr. Crawford, “which means they deal with more serious mental illnesses such as depression, psychotic disorders, personality disorders, eating disorders — anything you can think of that disrupts an individual’s life and impacts their capacity to cope.”
What about veterans returning from active duty and transitioning to life back home with family and friends? They may be struggling with a traumatic brain injury or simply need help transferring their military skills to a civilian job. These individuals can reach out to a vocational rehabilitation counselor.
“Vocational rehabilitation helps individuals get back into employment or back into their careers or maybe into a different career, depending on the reason they’re receiving the rehabilitation services,” explains Dr. Crawford. “It’s also for veterans who are learning to integrate back into their communities after leaving the military.”
All three counseling settings — schools, mental health clinics, and vocational rehabilitation centers — can offer some form of clinical services. All counselors who work in those settings can become licensed professional counselors, eventually working in various areas and environments, depending on their expertise.
Skills Needed for Careers in Counseling
What does it take to pursue a career in this challenging and compassionate profession?
According to Dr. Crawford, those interested in careers in counseling benefit from some specific characteristics. “Openness to feedback, critical thinking, the ability to be empathic, self-awareness, and multicultural competence are important,” she says. “Anyone who’s a counselor will meet individuals who are different from them in terms of diversity, ethnicity, religion, or gender identity. Being able to meet someone where they are without biases and assumptions is critical.”
Because counseling is a career focused on helping people, Dr. Crawford says the efforts to help someone navigate a crisis have to be genuine and come from someone who genuinely likes people. “You simply can’t be a counselor if you don’t enjoy the interaction with people,” she says.
How To Become a Counselor
The essential requirement to practice as a counselor is a master’s degree. Post-master’s certifications in specialty areas can increase expertise and help individuals find their niche, but professional counseling careers begin with a graduate-level counseling degree.
A national exam and licensure process are also part of preparing to practice as a professional. “Most of our Alabama- and Georgia-based students take the National Counselor Exam before leaving our program. Florida residents typically opt for the National Clinical Mental Health Exam (which is what Florida uses),” explains Dr. Crawford.
“Then, when they leave our program with their degree in hand,” Dr. Crawford says, “our graduates are ready to start accruing the supervision experience to become licensed.” About 75% of the graduates of TROY’s counseling programs go on to pursue professional licensing.
Licensure requirements vary by state. In Alabama, the post-master’s supervision experience required for licensing is 3,000 supervised clinical hours. The state of Georgia’s licensing requirements for post-master’s supervision experience varies by degree (e.g., master’s, specialist, doctoral), requiring a range of 1,000 – 3,000 supervised clinical hours. In Florida, the post-master’s supervision required for licensing is 1,500 supervised clinical hours. If students have taken the National Counselors Examination (NCE) or the National Clinical Mental Health National Examination (NCMHCE) before graduating from TROY, they will only need to pursue the supervised clinical hours after graduating.
A student can get started on the process for clinical hours by identifying a licensed supervisor who’ll oversee their clinical practice. Because a number of TROY professors are licensed supervisors, they can easily give students advice about the process. Licensing can make a big career difference.
“The trend in our profession is to require individuals to be licensed if they want to work in any area,” says Dr. Crawford, “however, school counselor positions do not require licensing, school counselors are typically certified upon graduation.”
TROY’s Master’s Degrees in Counseling
While TROY’s main master’s programs are in clinical mental health, rehabilitation counseling, and school counseling, there are also programs and certificates offered in specialty areas such as addictions counseling, counseling military populations, and infant and early childhood mental health counseling. The emphasis of every program is on training professionals of the highest quality.
“We’re accredited with the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP),” explains Dr. Crawford. “That’s the standard in most states and with licensure boards. State licensure boards typically require students to graduate from a CACREP accredited program or take additional courses. At TROY, we designed our curriculum in all three states to allow students to be ready to sit for the licensure exam when they finish their classes. This allows the student to quickly move forward in pursuance of their supervision experience without having to take any additional courses or training.”
No matter their specialty, all graduate students take core clinical and application classes. “Because we’re CACREP accredited, we have the core areas that are the same regardless of the program students are in. One of the favorite areas for our clinical students is learning the process for diagnosing and treating mental health disorders,” Dr. Crawford says. “It’s a class that introduces students to instruments that assess for a variety of mental health disorders such as depression, personality disorders, and cognitive disorders.”
Another core component is learning how to assess and evaluate patients. Application classes such as Evaluation and Assessment and Facilitation Skills and Counseling Techniques, help students learn to engage clients and communicate in a therapeutic and helpful way.
According to Wiley, among the best aspects of the school counseling program were the mental health courses. “I think that it is imperative to have mental health courses in the school counseling programs because of the rise in mental health among our youth.”
Thanks to the skills she learned at TROY, Wiley says she is able to create a counseling program from beginning to end. And knowledge acquired through courses like the Diverse Learners class she took, is applied on the job every day. “I can relate to diverse populations even more and this helps when I am having counseling sessions with students. I work at a diverse school, and these skills are helpful,” Wiley adds.
Why Choose TROY for Your Counseling Degree?
With so many counseling programs to choose from, why choose TROY? For Dr. Crawford, the answer is simple: “We know your name.”
At TROY, class sizes are small enough that professors and students get to know each other well. And the broad experience of faculty members means that mentorship and advice are available, whatever a student’s interest or focus.
“My experience at TROY was very positive. I feel like the professors there are genuine and are there to help make the college experience pleasurable and memorable,” Wiley says.
Faculty members have many areas of expertise to share with their students. Licensed in both clinical mental health and school counseling, Dr. Crawford offers students perspective in both areas. She adds, “In my building, we also have someone who’s a certified play therapist and someone who’s addiction certified. Another colleague is licensed to do assessments. And that’s pretty much the same across all of our locations.”
For students, that means they have access to faculty professionals who understand firsthand where students want to go with their careers and can give them the guidance to get there.
Faculty members also continue to work outside the University in a professional capacity. Dr. Crawford says this benefits students tremendously: “We’re able to talk to the students about what it really looks like to go out there and work in the field because we continue to pursue the profession outside of the classroom. We’re able to provide that experience to our students, and we have those connections in our communities to bring back into the classroom by way of speakers, seminars, and training opportunities.”
Flexible and Cost-Effective Options
TROY’s graduate counseling programs are flexible and meet the needs of traditional college campus students and adult learners who may need online or other options.
Whether you’re someone who can attend morning classes during the week or you’re a working adult with a 9-5 schedule who needs to take courses in the evening, on weekends, or online, TROY has a counseling degree program to fit your needs.
Wiley found that TROY’s master’s in school counseling program fit her lifestyle and needs. “I like the fact that courses were offered in terms and after I got off from work,” she adds.
“And we’re cost-effective,” adds Dr. Crawford, “Students who live within a 50-mile radius of our Alabama campuses (Phenix City, Dothan, Troy, and Montgomery) receive in-state tuition. Often, this means that students in Florida or Georgia will receive in-state tuition rates. And because we have programs onsite across Alabama, Georgia, and Florida, we can serve you regardless of which one of those states you’re in. If you want a master’s degree in counseling, we have a program for you.”
Some other benefits of the program include specialty certificates that can speed up the licensure process. The Education Specialist: Counseling or School Counseling (Ed.S) adds expertise to school counselors who already have a master’s degree.
That is something that Wiley is taking advantage of while working in the Opelika City School System — she is attending TROY Online to earn her Ed.S in School Counseling.
“Many state licensure boards will allow postgraduate courses to count towards a certain percentage of the required clinical hours. Both of those programs are 30 credit hours; typically for licensure boards in Florida, Georgia, and Alabama, those 30 hours of classroom study can reduce the required clinical time by up to 2,000 hours,” says Dr. Crawford. “And as far as convenience goes, both of those programs are 100% online — it doesn’t get more convenient than that.”
Projected Growth in Counseling Jobs
For those interested in a career in counseling, the job outlook is robust. Counselors work in so many settings, says Dr. Crawford, “We are everywhere — from the schools, private practice, mental health clinics, and vocational rehabilitation centers. We also provide professional counseling services in settings such as corporate businesses with Employee Assistance Programs (EAP), child protective service agencies, community organizations, and churches.”
With so many places to serve, counseling jobs provide many professional options. Dr. Crawford also notes the flexibility inherent in the field. “There are many, many things one can do as a professional counselor, especially once one become licensed,” she says, “and we need more mental health professionals to fill in the gaps.”
The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) confirms the growing need for these professionals. The BLS projects the number of counseling jobs to grow by 25% through 2029, rehabilitation counseling jobs by 10%, and school counselor positions by 8%.
Challenges and Self-Care for Counselors
While the job outlook is strong for this helping profession, the challenges it brings should also be recognized. Counseling is one of the most rewarding fields, but at the same time, it demands much of its practitioners. As Dr. Crawford explains, “Feeling overwhelmed about the job responsibility can lead to burnout. And with the shortage of mental health professionals in the field, our caseloads can be high.”
People reach out to counselors when they’re in need; working with individuals who are in some type of crisis can cause mental health professionals to experience some of that stress as well.
“That’s why self-care is so important,” says Dr. Crawford. “We have to learn to drop that stress at the office and not take it home, but that can be a challenge. We discuss the importance of self-care in our counseling programs. We teach students how to be intentional about engaging in self-care—during the program and after graduation. When our students graduate from our programs, they have the tools they need for a successful career in counseling.”
For more information about TROY’s graduate counseling degrees and certificates, please visit the program page on our website.
Illustration created by Madelyn Flanagan © 2021 Troy University