It takes graduate education to become either a school counselor or a Licensed Professional Counselor. You won’t need to make a lot of decisions early in your academic career. You will want a good academic foundation and some vocational experience.
Build a solid academic record as an undergraduate. You can select any major. In Tennessee, neither school counselors nor mental health counselors are required to have a particular educational or career background. It is not uncommon for schools to require a few courses in the social sciences, however. It’s a good idea to look ahead. Learn more about your undergraduate counseling program options here.
An undergraduate Psychology degree is common preparation for graduate school in the field of counseling.
Your coursework can also create internship or job opportunities. People can often find work in fields like substance abuse counseling with less than a master’s.
If you don’t have paid experience in the field, look into becoming a volunteer. This will confirm your career choice; it can also be an asset when it comes time to write your professional goals and get references. You may find volunteer opportunities on your city's official web page. The City of Knoxville lists many: You can mentor children with incarcerated parents through Amachi Knoxville, interact with domestic violence victims or help out in the play room at the Family Justice Center, or become a Big Brother/ Big Sister.
Request counseling application materials early. The GRE is often a requirement. You’ll need to create a resume and professional statement. If you make it past the first round, you'll likely have an interview.
In Tennessee, professional counseling requires a 60 unit program with coursework in specific areas mandated by the Board. If you want the mental health provider designation, your listed of required courses will be a little longer. You must, for example, have training in diagnostic use of the DSM.
You have a lot of choices when it comes to graduate counseling education programs: rehabilitation counseling, mental health counseling, even college counseling. Not all work settings or roles will require you to have the professional counseling license, but you have more options if you obtain it. If you choose a counseling discipline with educational requirements lower than those set by the Tennessee Board, you may have the option of adding to the basic program. For example, the University of Memphis has a rehabilitation counseling program that is 48 semester hours and a clinical rehabilitation counseling program that is 60; the latter prepares you to be a Licensed Professional Counselor.
School counseling is credentialed through the Department of Education and is not subject to the 60 semester hour minimum.
As a future LPC, You will complete a supervised experience of at least 500 hours. The Tennessee Board requires that you put in at least 300 hours at a community agency or mental health setting.
You will also need to take one or more national examinations. As a prospective school counselor, you will take the Praxis. You will need to take the National Counselor Examination to get LPC status. The mental health service provider designation requires a second test, the National Clinical Mental Health Counseling Examination.
Licensure as an LPC requires a period of supervised work experience. This must be under conditions set by the Board. The requirements are a little stricter for the MHSP designation.
Tennessee licenses pastoral counselors separately, as Clinical Pastoral Therapists. This entails a much longer course of study – at least for an individual with no prior graduate school. If you already have a Master’s of Divinity or equivalent degree, your educational program will be of similar length to that of a traditional counselor, but the requirements won’t be identical.