If you have a desire to help children and teens with issues ranging from emotional, developmental, and behavioral problems to choosing a college major, you might want to become a youth counselor. As the route to a career in youth counseling varies by the specific job type, you should begin by deciding what type of counselor you wish to become. Potential employers can include schools, group youth homes, juvenile detention centers, and parish community centers. While the requirements for each job can vary, prospective counselors will usually need to obtain a graduate degree in counseling and, in many cases, licensure or certification.
In order to become a youth counselor, you will in most cases need a master’s degree in counseling from an accredited university. These programs, generally offered through a university’s psychology or education department, usually consist of 48 to 60 credit hours of study combined with supervised counseling practice. Your classes should generally address a broad spectrum of counseling issues like addiction, career advising, and crisis treatment, as well as offering an in-depth focus on working with children and teens.
Every US state requires counselors to obtain a license before they are officially considered professionals. Investigate the specific type of counseling job you wish to pursue to determine whether its employees must be qualified as professional counselors. Some counselors, such as certain college academic advisers, do not need professional licensure. Since the bulk of counseling jobs — particularly those that are government-funded — can be filled only by candidates with this professional distinction, however, obtaining your license will greatly help you to become a youth counselor.
The steps to obtaining professional counseling licensure vary by state. In general, though, they include satisfactory completion of a master’s degree plus approximately 3,000 hours of supervised counseling practice. To best prepare yourself for your future career, you should attempt to serve the bulk of these practice hours with young people. The final step to licensure is usually a comprehensive examination. As some states require class work in specific areas of counseling, it is recommended that you consult your state’s licensure requirements before beginning your master’s program.
To further strengthen your youth counseling qualifications, you might consider becoming a National Certified Counselor. Unlike counseling licensure, which is issued by individual states, certification is a national qualification. Requirements for certification are generally less strenuous than those for licensure; in most cases candidates must complete a master’s degree and pass an examination. To maintain certification, however, counselors must take continuing education classes or re-sit the certification exam every five years. While certification is usually not a mandatory qualification for youth counseling jobs, the credential can lend an added level of distinction to your resume.
Finally, if you want to become a youth counselor you should research the daily realities of the job and think about whether your personality is suited to it. Many youth counselors work with troubled children and teens on a regular basis, and the emotional nature of this work can prove stressful and depressing to some. An ideal youth counselor candidate will have a sympathetic, caring, and patient nature, excellent listening skills, and the ability to function in a stressful and potentially upsetting environment.