Careers in Counseling and Related Fields
Graduate School: To become a psychologist, clinical social worker, mental health counselor, marriage and family therapist (MFT), school psychologist, school counselor, or school social worker you will need to go to graduate school. You have to earn a master's or doctoral degree and then earn a professional license from the state where you work. [Note: Psychiatrists are physicians or medical doctors, and they must complete medical school and then do their residency in psychiatry.]
Many Options: One thing that often understandably confuses students who want to "do counseling" is that there are so many different degrees and professionals who do that work. In fact, those who conduct counseling and psychotherapy in community and health care environments could be psychologists, clinical mental health counselors, or clinical social workers, among others. Helping professionals in K-12 education include school psychologists, school counselors, and school social workers. There are similarities in these professions, but there are also real differences in the length and type of training they receive and the emphasis of that training. You will have to do careful research to decide the path that is best for you.
Doing your Research: One way to begin researching options is to first identify what kind of work you hope to do (e.g., do therapy within a community-based group practice), and then investigate all of the different types of training (e.g., master's in clinical social work or clinical mental health counseling; doctorate in clinical or counseling psychology) that would potentially prepare you for that career. Don't just rely on surface labels -- they can be misleading. For example, many people associate social work with child welfare or case management, but social workers who have a master's degree with a specific emphasis can and do work as licensed mental health professionals. Students who want to work with couples and families often believe they need a degree in marriage and family therapy, but in reality many psychologists, counselors, and social workers do that kind of work, as well. There is no one "right" answer as to what degree you "should" pursue. That answer will be different for everyone, so again, do careful research so you can make the best decision for YOU.
Links, Links, and More Links!: You will find detailed information about many of the topics above using the links at the right of the screen. You can even find out more about salary and job outlook trends for various careers. Keep in mind that these are national employment trends, and you are investigating professional careers. A good job outlook overall does not mean that a position will be readily available in the geographic location you hope to live. State-wide or national job searches may be necessary.
Counseling is NOT the only Option: There are many professions that involve helping people in ways other than counseling or psychotherapy. Attorneys, nurses, occupational and physical therapists, educators, public health workers, college student affairs professionals, law enforcement, clergy, dieticians, and countless other careers involve working with and assisting and/or advocating for people. If you are interested in any of these options, do some research in the Occupational Outlook Handbook to find out more about educational requirements at the college and graduate school levels.
Licensure and Certification
States typically license mental health professionals to protect consumers of those services. To become licensed, professionals often have to graduate from an approved master's or doctoral program, complete 1-2 years of supervised experience after finishing their graduate degree, pass a national examination, and pass a state oral or written examination. Requirements vary from state to state, however. After becoming licensed, professionals are typically required to complete regular continuing education.
If you are interested in learning more about licensure requirements, follow the links related to to that topic. The WI-DRL link will take you to the Wisconsin Department of Regulation and Licensing, which licenses psychologists, counselors, social workers, and marriage and family therapists. The WI-DPI link leads you to the Department of Public Instruction, which is responsible for certifying school counselors and psychologists in the state.
Professional organizations, such as the American Psychological Association, can also be good resources for students. They will often have information about graduate school, as well as pages specifically designed for undergraduate and/or graduate students. Links to some such organizations are included to your right.
Other Sources of Information
Make sure to examine the career information on the Human Development and Psychology websites. In addition, there are files of information on different careers in the C Wing of MAC Hall. Career Services is also an excellent resource for students.
If you have additional questions, please consult with your academic advisor.