The word “counselor” has a broad meaning, but it generally refers to someone that helps people work through mental health problems. Counselors work in different settings: in schools, prisons, the private sector, and the government. Even religious leaders can be counselors. As a counselor, you have a unique responsibility for helping others through speech communication. Counselors, like other therapists, need to follow certain laws and ethics for the safety of everyone involved.
If you want to get a national counselor certification or state counselor licensure, you will need to take the National Counselor Examination (NCE). The test is comprehensive and covers topics that are relevant to a counselor’s services. It does not specialize in any one topic; rather, it tests on a wide array of generalized subjects in the field of counseling. If you do well on the NCE, you may be able to take the National Certified Counselor (NCC) test, which is a prestigious qualification in the counseling field.
There are 200 questions in multiple-choice format on the NCE. While it seems like a lot of questions to answer, you have four hours to complete the entire exam. That’s more than one minute per question. Actually, only 160 questions are counted. The other 40 are only research questions for future tests. The questions on the NCE change from one test to another, so you cannot predict questions with any certainty. Questions are made up from the extensive research performed by the National Board for Certified Counselors.
As a new counselor, you should know a great deal about the subjects of human growth & development, group work, relationships, social and cultural foundations, and counselor ethics. There will be questions on the exam that ask you about these specific topics. Furthermore, you should know the fundamentals of counseling, career counseling, group counseling, intervention procedures, and practice issues. These subjects will be on the NCE as well.
Your grade on the test is released to you eight weeks after your exam. You cannot find out your grades via telephone. Make sure you put the correct address on the test form so you get your results in a timely manner.
The grades are broken down by “domains.” There are 13 domains, and you get a score for each one. Then, you also get a total score, which is the average of all your domain scores. The NBCC has a minimum score that you must meet or exceed in order to pass the NCE.
You cannot have your NCE scores mailed to another person or an address that is not your own unless you give written permission. In addition, you cannot get your grades unless you have paid all test fees.
Score verification is an automatic service if you take the NCE on a computer. This means that your scores are sent to your State Board about a month after you take the test. You can also request score verification in writing. Include your name, address, Social Security number, test date, location, and date. Mail it to the NBCC Examination Department along with a fee.
Salaries for National Certified Counselors (NCCs)
National Certified Counselors enjoy higher salaries, on average, than non-certified counselors do. Not every counseling specialty requires counselors to take the National Certification Exam, but it can give you an edge over other job applicants. The NCC designation also trumps state exams in most areas of the country, since it can be used anywhere. Counselors in all specialties should see rapid growth in the profession in the next few years.
The greatest pay is found in government sectors, at the local, state, and federal levels. Government jobs are difficult to get, but they provide excellent benefits and rewards. The health insurance is very good, and they offer paid vacations. The only caveat is that you have less freedom. Federal jobs are the best paying, but also the most challenging to obtain. Better prospects are found at your local and state levels. Many of these government counselor jobs do not specifically ask for the NCC certification, but it can help you get better pay or advance in your career quickly.
In 2008, the average vocational or school counselor earned about $51,050 a year, with most earning between $38,000 and $66,000. School counselors often work during the summer to earn extra money. The best pay, at $57,800, is found in elementary schools and high schools. The lowest pay for school counselors is in colleges and universities, who pay about $43,000. Junior colleges pay around $50,000 for their career counselors. Junior colleges (community colleges) may pay slightly more due to a greater need for career and resume help from its students.
Mental health counselors make about $36,000 a year, with the highest-paid counselors making around $45,000. Local government is the highest-paying employer for mental health counselors, while residential facilities and substance abuse rehab centers only pay about $29,000 a year.
Substance abuse counselors and those specializing in behavioral problems make about $37,000. The best jobs for these specialties are found in major medical centers and surgical centers. Their counselors make about $44,000. Again, residential and substance abuse facilities pay the least – $31,000 on average.
Marriage and family counselors make good money. Those working in family service centers make about $39,000 a year, while state government employees make around $50,000. Local government facilities also pay well – around $48,000 a year.
Rehabilitation counselors, who work with the disabled, make around $30,000. State government centers pay the best, at $45,000, with substance abuse centers and rehab centers paying the least – about $25,000 on average.
If you take the NCE and get your NCC designation, you can get high-paying jobs in the government sector. They may or may not require the NCC, but it looks good on a resume. Since there are so many applicants competing for the same few positions, your NCC designation will certainly stand out.
Overall, however, counselors make the most money when they work in private practice or a group practice. Self-employment has its headaches, but it can also bring great rewards for those who are willing to put in the time.
Careers in Counseling with the NCC Credential
Counseling is a service profession that requires dedication, patience, and intuition. Counselors can work in almost any type of environment, from medicine to academics. The National Certified Counselor (NCC) designation is a well-known accomplishment in the field of counseling. The only way to get this certification is to take the National Counselor Exam (NCE), which is nationally accepted and recognized. Other countries also recognize the importance of the NCC.
Types of Counselors
At least eight types of counselors exist, ranging from student counselors to substance abuse counselors. Each of these vocations has its challenges and rewards. Some of these specializations require extra education and credentials.
School counselors can work with very young children or college-aged adults. At the elementary level, they work with young children in group settings and create activities to get kids to open up. They may also work with children who have emotional issues or developmental problems.
At the high school level, counselors help young adults cope with problems at home, in school, or at work. They help prepare them for life after high school, whether they choose to go into the work force or enter college. Many counselors assist students with college applications and resumes. They provide study guides, college advice, and speak to them about their grades.
Vocational counselors usually work in colleges and universities. Their main job is to assist students trying to find jobs. You can find these types of counselors in the career center at any major university. They also build relationships with local employers and ask them to hire new graduates and recruit on campus. Career counselors are good at evaluating job tests to help people find their true passion. Vocational counselors may also assist individuals with mental help after they lose their jobs.
Substance abuse counselors help others who have issues with drugs and/or alcohol. They work in rehab clinics and hospitals. You can also find them in prisons. Group therapy is a common type of substance abuse therapy, where people can help each other work out their problems and addictions. Substance abuse counselors often work hand-in-hand with traditional doctors.
Rehabilitation counselors work with disabled individuals. Diseases can be genetic or acquired, and counselors help them work around problems arising from handicaps. Counselors may assist them with finding jobs or removing work barriers. Rehab counselors also work with the disabled person’s family and employer. As a professional that deals with physical or mental problems, a rehab counselor works alongside patients’ physicians.
Marriage counselors, also called family counselors or sex therapists, work on intimate relationships. They use the “family systems theory” to solve problems. They help their patient’s change their destructive or abusive behaviors toward each other. Regular therapy often deals with internal issues, while marriage/family therapy works on exterior relationships and interactions. Their job is not to tell their patient’s what to do, but to help them make good decisions for themselves. This type of therapy is usually performed in groups or with couples. Rarely is family therapy given to only one person.
Job Outlook for National Certified Counselors
Counselors who are NCC certified have many job opportunities in the near future. Employment of many types of counseling is expected to grow “faster than average” when compared to other jobs. The reason for the job growth is mostly due to a lack of counselor graduates. There are more counselor job openings than applicants right now, so it’s a good time to get into this career field. In addition, the public is readily accepting counseling as a form of medicine, so there are more patients than ever before.
Growth should increase by almost 20 percent in the next several years. This fast growth, however, only pertains to a few counseling specialties. Traditional counseling is starting to wane, and specialized forms of therapy are taking its place.
Rehabilitation counselors should see very strong job growth opportunities – 19 percent, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Fast growth in this particular specialty is due to the aging Baby Boomer population. They are going to require a lot of physical and mental care in the coming years. In addition, new treatments in mental health are prompting the elderly to seek help sooner.
Mental health is a related field, and you can expect to see many more jobs in this specialty. It is projected to grow by 24 percent, which is “much faster than the average.” Insurance companies are starting to see the potential of counseling therapy, so they are providing more coverage for this type of care. Plus, it is cheaper for insurance companies to send clients to counselors instead of psychiatrists. Finally, the stigma of having therapy is starting to erode. More and more people see the value of talking to a counselor about their problems.
School counselors and vocational counselors are going to see some moderate growth in the next few years. People often change jobs, which is something that wasn’t as common 20 years ago. Changing jobs is stressful and challenging, and vocational counselors can help with the transition. School counselors are needed for crisis counseling, especially in high schools. Elementary schools also require counselors to be on staff. The only issue with school counseling as a profession is that many public schools are facing steep budget cuts that curtail job openings for counselors. Budgets are tighter than ever before in public schools.
Substance abuse counseling is expected to grow rapidly as drug addicts seek treatment to avoid jail time. Moreover, judges are starting to send drug offenders to counseling sessions rather than prison. Drug treatment programs are often more effective than simply locking up a drug offender. Substance abuse counselors are also invited into prisons to provide group therapy to drug addicts.
Finally, family therapists and marriage therapists will see a moderate growth in job openings. Marriage therapy is very common, as people get divorced, date again, and are remarried. The explosion of stepfamilies is another stimulant to the family therapy profession. Many blended families need professional help to deal with the huge change of new spouses and stepchildren.
Not all of these specialties require the NCE exam, but it will help your career tremendously in the future. It is a nationally recognized exam that tests your knowledge on the basics of counseling, ethics, and laws.
NCE Education and Certification Requirements
While the National Counselor Exam (NCE) is a globally recognized designation, each state in the U.S. sets its own laws regarding counselor licensure. Some states will accept the NCE in lieu of the state exam, but others will not. Even the amount of education required varies from state to state. It’s important, as a counselor, to check your state’s laws frequently to make sure you are complying with any new rules.
Most counselors have at least a master’s degree in a subject related to counseling. Many more have doctorate degrees, but a master’s degree is usually the benchmark for certification eligibility. You can find counselor programs in university departments like education, human services, and psychology. More advanced courses are found on larger campuses or through private colleges that specialize in therapy and counseling education.
Counselors can work with small children, families, or elderly adults, so there is a great deal of specialization in the field of counseling. Very few counselors are “generalized,” meaning they work with all types of groups. Human psychology is very different when you are dealing with children or criminals. Counseling is considered by many to be a stressful career. If you do not follow the ethics and guidelines set forth by the National Board for Certified Counselors, you can start to have problems of your own.
Generally, counselors take courses in human growth and development, diversity, career development, techniques, research, and relationships. These foundation courses are found in every counseling program across the country. Most master’s degree programs in counseling are between 48 and 60 credits, which is about two years long. There is also a clinical portion, where the student must work alongside a licensed counselor who works with patients. Courses that are more specialized are needed for those who want to go into a career like substance abuse counseling or rehab counseling.
Almost every state in the U.S. requires counselors to have state licenses. Every state requires family therapists to have licenses and master’s degrees. In other settings, counselor requirements vary dramatically. Government-employed counselors may not need any certifications, but a private-sector counselor might need one. In particular, substance abuse counselors have different licensure requirements than traditional counselors. Some specialties only require a high school diploma and a certification!
Most counselors choose to take the NCE in order to bypass the state certification exam. The NCE is governed by the National Board for Certified Counselors, which also offers other specialized counselor exams. Those who pass the NCE get the designation of “NCC” after their names. It is a voluntary exam, but a very valuable one that is useful in any state.
Having the NCC will enhance your career in counseling. It opens doors and provides room for advancement into positions like supervisor or director. The NCC is far superior to any state certification, and is accepted everywhere. There is no ceiling for counselors with the NCC designation. They can become researchers, college teachers, open a private practice, or get a doctoral degree.