Considering a master’s program in counseling? The most important considerations are accreditation and program track. These ensure that you can get the type of licensing you want and practice independently.
Master’s level programs in counseling may emphasize mental health counseling, school counseling, addictions counseling, or rehabilitation counseling, among others. Most tracks will prepare you for a similar level of licensing upon graduation; however, this is dependent on the laws of the individual state.
Your duties also may overlap somewhat from specialty to specialty. You may have to meet certain coursework requirements, though, to wear particular titles or have addiction-related counseling services reimbursed by particular agencies.
As a school counselor, you generally have a separate licensing agency. Programs for school counselors are often shorter, but some people opt for a longer program to achieve dual licensing or certification.
If you want career flexibility, the length of your degree program can be important. Considering a second specialty down the road? Some states say that you can pursue additional coursework without enrolling in another formal educational program if your initial program met minimum length requirements and included the most fundamental components.
Most tracks prepare you to take a licensing exam and (depending on the state you live in) apply for an associate or lower level license immediately upon graduation. In order to achieve full licensure, you need to work under supervision for about two years. Again, school counselors are not subject to the same regulations.
Most counseling programs are accredited by CACREP. Rehabilitation counseling programs are often accredited by CORE.
It's generally easier to become licensed if your program has the expected accreditation. You may also find it easier to obtain employment with certain agencies. Here is an example: New federal regulations allow mental health counselors to provide services to TRICARE members as independent practitioners (no referral necessary) if they meet all the requirements. After a phase-out period, counselors who do not meet the requirements will no longer be eligible for reimbursement for services to TRICARE members. Program accreditation is among the considerations.
Proper accreditation can also make the licensing process easier if a counselor moves from one jurisdiction to another.
Capella University, offers three online CACREP- accredited master's programs: Clinical Mental Health Counseling, Marriage and Family Therapy, and School Counseling. Click here to contact Capella University and request information about their programs.
Chicago, IL based Northwestern University offers another option for an online M.A. in Clinical Mental Health Counseling modeled after CACREP's guidelines. Click here to contact Northwestern University for information about the program. (*This program is NOT available to students in WA, NV, MN, WI, AR, LA, AL, KY, NC, DE, MD, NH)
Are there ever reasons to consider a program that doesn't have the standard accreditation? Sure. Some psychology departments offer master’s programs in counseling psychology that include all the required coursework in counseling or marital and family therapy and are designed to meet licensing requirements in that state. They can be very innovative. If the program has been pre-approved by the state, the licensing process may not become any more complicated. It is critical to first explore your state’s requirement if you decide to take this route.
Some people choose art therapy programs that have curriculums that are closely aligned with CACREP-accredited counseling programs. Depending on the state of residence, one may or may not be eligible for the same licensing.
You will probably find many programs that meet the basic requirements. What should you consider besides practicalities like cost and location? The American Counseling Association suggests you consider special programs and also the strength of the faculty. You might consider how diverse the faculty is when it comes to theory and pedagogy as well as gender and ethnicity. You can learn more than what’s in the official literature if you visit the campus in the evening and observe interactions among students and faculty.
There are all kinds of small considerations (for example, whether the program includes a thesis) that could have some bearing on your educational options down the road. However, the impact is generally minimal. Educational accomplishments can look good on a resume or scholarship, but so do real world accomplishments after graduation.
An M.A. program is more likely to include a thesis. Many M.A. programs, however, don’t include one. In many cases, the initials can tell you little about the degree.
CACREP Accredited Online Master's in Counseling Programs
Capella University offers three online CACREP- accredited master's programs: Clinical Mental Health Counseling, Marriage and Family Therapy, and School Counseling.
*Take a look at the CACREP website to see the 4 additional schools offering CACREP accredited online Master's in Counseling programs as well as search for programs located in your state.