Become a Behavioral Counselor: Step-by-Step Career Guide

Learn how to become a behavioral counselor. Research the education requirements, training, licensure information and experience you will need to start a career in behavioral counseling.

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Do I Want to Be a Behavioral Counselor?

Behavioral counselors help individuals identify detrimental or negative behavior patterns, such as mental health disorders or substance abuse issues, and work with them to alter those behaviors. A position as a behavioral counselor often consists of observing patients, recording patient interactions and progress, and participating in treatment plans. Sessions with patients may take place individually or in a group setting.

These professionals can be found working in a multitude of environments, including private practices, rehabilitation centers or hospitals. The work is often stressful, and some counselors must see several different patients. Many jobs require professionals to work evenings and weekends.

Job Requirements

A bachelor's degree is often the minimum educational requirement, and state licensure is necessary to work in the field. Students often major in a subject like psychology, counseling or social work. The following table describes the common qualifications and requirements for behavioral counselors:

Common Requirements
Degree Level Bachelor's degree*
Degree Fields Psychology, social work, counseling or other behavioral health related field*
Licensure and/or Certification Private practitioners must be licensed; requirements for those employed by private practices varies by state**
Key Skills Written and verbal communication, analytical skills, decision-making, problem solving, multi-tasking, sensitivity and compassion*
Additional Requirements CPR and first aid certifications sometimes required*

Sources: *Online job postings in October 2012, **U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Step 1: Obtain a Bachelor's Degree

Psychology, social work and counseling degree programs provide a general understanding of the behavioral health field, including abnormal, cognitive and developmental behavior. A Bachelor of Science program will tend to feature a heavier course load that may include labs and typically offer concentrated areas of study as opposed to Bachelor of Arts programs in the same field.

Success Tip:

  • Participate in an internship. In addition to coursework, some colleges and universities offer internships in mental health agencies for credit while attending a bachelor's degree program. These programs provide college students with real-world experience and skills in their field that can be used after graduation.

Step 2: Complete a Graduate Program

Master's degree programs in clinical psychology or a similar discipline can prepare individuals for more advanced practice as a behavioral counselor and is sometimes a requirement for employment in the field. In addition to advanced-level courses in areas such as psychology methods, techniques and assessment models, students are expected to complete practicum work along side clinicians.

Success Tip:

  • Gain experience by volunteering. Gaining work experience is a vital component to becoming a behavioral counselor and is often a prerequisite for earning licensure. Many community volunteer opportunities exist in the mental health field. Clinical volunteer experiences can be found within local community organizations, teaching hospitals, medical centers and private practices.

Step 3: Become Licensed or Certified

State requirements vary for becoming a licensed counselor. Common requirements include completing a graduate program and acquiring a minimum number of professional hours of clinical work. Two of the most common licenses pursued by behavioral counselors are the Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor (LPCC) or the Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC). Becoming licensed requires taking and passing the National Counselor Examination for Certification and Licensure (NCE), which is administered by the National Board for Certified Counselors (NBCC) and is accepted by most states.

Success tip:

  • Complete continuing education. Maintaining licensure usually requires completing continuing education coursework. States vary on the minimum number of continuing education credit hours needed to maintain a license.
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