Master of Arts (MA): Professional Counseling Degree Overview

Browse program options for students who want to earn a Master of Arts in Professional Counseling degree. Check out the educational requirements for admission and the core courses of study. Get info about possible career paths and continuing education options for graduates.

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Essential Information

A Masters of Arts degree program in professional counseling is designed to prepare counselors to offer guidance to psychologically-distressed patients in multiple settings, including schools, community outreach programs, rehabilitation clinics and other medical facilities. During the M.A. program, students are trained in various counseling styles and also get to practice what they learn through participating in clinical counseling rotations.

Professional counseling programs require students to participate in classroom lectures as well as several supervised clinical internships. Many M.A. programs offer concentration options for individuals to specialize in various counseling fields, such as marriage and family therapy.

Education Prerequisites

The majority of M.A. degree programs will only accept applicants who already hold the equivalent of a bachelor's degree, and usually the bachelor's degree must be in a related field, such as psychology, social work or education. Certain concentrations within a professional counseling M.A. program have additional prerequisites, such as the school counseling concentration requiring applicants to be academically eligible for teacher certification and licensing.

Course Topics

Within M.A. programs, students typically learn techniques for listening to patients, identifying potential patient issues and making recommendations for treatment. Students can also learn about the legal issues related to counseling, including patient confidentiality and liability. Common coursework includes:

  • Counseling techniques
  • Group counseling methods
  • Abnormal psychology
  • Multicultural counseling methods
  • Lifespan development
  • Patient assessment
  • Intervention therapy
  • Child psychology
  • Addiction counseling
  • Counseling ethics

Popular Career Options

Master's degree programs in counseling can lead to a variety of counseling jobs, though some careers may require specialized training, licensure or certification. After meeting the correct requirements, individuals who complete a master's degree in counseling may become:

  • School counselors
  • Drug abuse counselors
  • Marriage and family counselors
  • Vocational counselors

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), employment of marriage and family therapists and mental health counselors is projected to increase by 29% during the 2012-2022 decade (www.bls.gov). School and career counselors should see a 12% increase. Based on 2012 data from the BLS, marriage and family therapists earned a median yearly salary of $46,670. School and vocational counselors received $53,610, while mental health counselors earned $40,080.

Continuing Education Information

Individuals who want to enter the professional counseling field of school counseling may need to complete additional coursework to obtain teaching credentials or licenses in accordance with state guidelines. Counseling certification programs are usually voluntary, but workers can pursue these programs by meeting educational requirements and passing certification exams. Counselors who wish to become psychologists or those who want to enter into upper administrative counseling positions may need to earn doctoral degrees within their counseling fields of specialty. A doctorate degree in counseling or counseling education could also lead to positions in academia or research.

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