Florida regulates the mental health counseling and school counseling professions. Both roles require master's level education.
You don't need to decide on a career track until it's time to make preparations for graduate school. You can, however, take steps much earlier to ensure success.
Begin by enrolling in whatever undergraduate program will give you the preparation and life experiences that you seek. You'll want to begin building references as well. Learn more about undergraduate counseling and related programs.
An undergraduate degree in Psychology is a common route for students interested in later pursuing graduate studies in counseling.
It's also important to maintain a solid GPA. If it’s above 3.00, you’ll be a more competitive candidate. However, it’s more important to be well rounded than to be a straight A student.
You can join the Florida Counseling Association as a student member while you’re still an undergraduate – you just need to have an interest in the counseling profession. If you decide to pursue membership, you’ll select at least one division that corresponds to a counseling interest (for example, multicultural counseling).
Research programs early. Assess your strengths and determine if you're ready to apply or if your application would be strengthened by more experience out in the field. You can volunteer for organizations like the Mental Health Association of Central Florida.
You can also seek paid employment at the technician level. Many residential care positions go to people who are not professional counselors. It is even possible to get certified in behavioral health or substance abuse without graduate education.
If you are interested in becoming a school counselor, you should enroll in a graduate program in guidance and counseling. It must include a three semester hour practicum in a school setting.
If you are pursuing mental health licensure, you must enroll in a graduate mental health counseling program that includes at least 60 semester hours of coursework. Generally, you should select a program that is accredited be CACREP. If you select a program that is not CACREP-accredited, the burden will be on you to demonstrate that it meets all of Florida's coursework requirements and that the fieldwork experience meets standards set by the state.
There are some additional classes you will need that may be outside of the standard counseling curriculum. You will need HIV/ AIDS training as well as training in rules and laws and medical errors.
Check out more detailed Licensed Mental Health Counselor licensing requirements in FL here.
If you are working toward licensure as a professional counselor, you will need to work for two years under the supervision of a licensed mental health counselor (or another professional that the board has deemed qualified). Before you begin accruing hours, you will need to register as an intern. You must have a supervision plan in place. Your licensing agency will be the Florida Department of Health; you can find forms online, but may need to create an account to access some services.
It can be an advantage to belong to a professional organization as well. Membership is not linked to licensure, but you can stay on top of legislation and also make professional contacts.
Plan to take the required exams well in advance. In order to be licensed as a mental health counselor, you will need to take and pass the National Clinical Mental Health Counseling Examination, given by the National Board for Certified Counselors. It is administered via computer. Sessions are available two weeks out of each month, but the registration process takes a month or so, and slots do fill.
If you are seeking credentialing as a school counselor, you will take a subject test in school guidance and counseling.