In North Carolina, it takes a master’s to become a school counselor, pastoral counselor, or Licensed Professional Counselor.
Although a substance abuse counselor can be certified with a relatively low level of education, the highest credential, Licensed Clinical Addiction Specialist (or Advanced Alcohol and Drug Counselor), is reserved for individuals with master's degrees. Individuals with this designation may practice independently.
Select an undergraduate program. You do not have to select any particular major, but some graduate programs will like to see quite a bit of social science coursework on your transcript. Look ahead to know if there will be prerequisites. [Read up on selecting an undergraduate counseling major here.]
A bachelor's degree in Psychology is common preparation for graduate school in the field of counseling.
Get some volunteer or paid experience in the helping professions. One volunteer option is the Mental Health Association of Central Carolinas. You could become a part of the Compeer program. As a Compeer volunteer, you meet one on one with an individual with severe mental illness and go on outings like movies or trips to the park.
If you are interested in working with children, you might check out The Children's Alliance. There are more than 40 organizations, many in need of volunteers. You could be a mentor or help out in a crisis center. You could even become a Citizen Teacher, teaching about a hobby or job.
Begin the application process early. You may be asked to write an essay where you connect your past experiences with future goals and explain why the school would be a good fit. You may have the option of taking one or more elective courses through the counseling department before formal admission.
Enroll in a program that meets your career goals. If you’re interested in school counseling, look for an approved program at at least the master’s level. Your credentialing agency will be the Board of Education. [Learn more about Master’s in Counseling programs here.]
If you are interested in professional counseling, opt for a regionally accredited degree program that includes all content areas mandated by the North Carolina Board of Licensed Professional Counselors. If you enroll after June 30, 2013, your program must include 60 semester hours of coursework.
If you are interested in fee-based pastoral counseling, you will need to complete a Master of Divinity, or the equivalent, as well as master’s or doctoral level training in pastoral counseling.
Licensure as an LCAS will also require a master's. There are multiple categories of eligibility, but if you know at the onset you want to be an addictions counselor, you will likely want to attend a Category C school -- you will find a list the Board site. There are multiple qualifying programs in mental health counseling, rehabilitation counseling and related fields. (You enroll in the basic program, but do a concentration or certification in substance abuse counseling.)
Some programs will qualify you for both LPC and LCAS.
Each of the licenses requires an examination. If you are seeking LCAS, at some point, you will need to pass the IC&RC examination; when you do so depends on your eligibility category.
If you are a school counselor, you will take the Praxis School Guidance and Counseling test.
If you are on track to become an LPC, you’ll take the NCE, NCMHCE, or CRC examination.
Before you can be licensed as an LPC, you must put in at least 3,000 hours of work under a Licensed Professional Counselor Associate license.
If you are a Category C substance abuse applicant, you can attain full licensure after 2,000 hours of supervised experience. If you are applying under certain other criteria, it may take longer.
As a fee-based pastoral counselor, you will also have experience requirements.