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28 Jun

Which Counseling Degree Is Right for Your Career?

Types of Counseling

Choosing the right counseling degree is crucial to ensuring you provide skillful care to future clients and find professional and personal fulfillment. No pressure, right?

One fact is certain: You need a master’s if you want to be a counselor. A master’s degree is considered the entry-level degree needed to practice as a professional counselor, and it is required to work as a licensed professional counselor.

If you wish to pursue teaching, research and scholarship, supervision, and/or leadership and advocacy, you may need to earn a doctoral degree. Typically, a master’s degree in counseling and work experience as counselor is required before you can pursue a doctoral-level degree.1

Here, we will focus on how to choose the right master’s-level counseling degree based on your career interests and personal preferences. As you research potential types of counseling degrees, you should ask yourself a few important questions:

  • Whom do you want to counsel? Children? Couples? Veterans? Those suffering from addiction?
  • In which workplace settings/environments do you want to work?
  • Are you drawn toward a particular type of counseling?

The answers to these questions will inform your counseling degree program choice and your future career path.

Types of Counseling Degrees and Related Clients and Settings

The Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP), which is the gold standard accrediting body for counseling degree programs, accredits programs in the following areas:2

Addiction Counseling

Clients: Individuals and families affected by alcohol, drugs, food-related, gambling, sexual and other addictive disorders
Work settings: Community agencies offering substance abuse counseling services; private practice

Career Counseling

Clients: Individuals who need guidance making career decisions
Work settings: Career resource centers; in-house within private or public organizations; private practice; schools; universities

Clinical Mental Health Counseling

Clients: Individuals, couples and families affected by a range of mental and emotional disorders
Work settings: Community-based mental health centers; hospitals; private practice

Explore William & Mary’s online counseling degree program in Clinical Mental Health Counseling.

Clinical Rehabilitation Counseling

Clients: Individuals with cognitive, physical, psychiatric and sensory disabilities
Work settings: Community-based mental health facilities; hospitals; private practice; schools; substance treatment facilities

Marriage, Couple and Family Counseling

Clients: Individuals, couples and families with relationship and communication issues related to a family system
Work settings: Community-based mental health centers; inpatient facilities; private practice; social service agencies

Rehabilitation Counseling

Clients: Individuals with disabilities (and their support systems) who are trying to reach personal, psychological, social and occupational goals
Work settings: Hospitals; government agencies; rehabilitation facilities; schools; universities

School Counseling

Clients: Students from kindergarten through high school
Work settings: Private and public school systems at the elementary, middle and high school levels

Take the first step toward becoming a school counselor with William & Mary’s online program in School Counseling.

Student Affairs and College Counseling

Clients: College and university students
Work settings: Higher education: Counseling offices; housing and residential life; student affairs offices

While not exhaustive of all types of counseling degrees, this list reflects many of the most common paths for counselors.

Specialized programs may fall under a particular counseling degree area, so make sure to research programs thoroughly and clarify any questions with faculty and admissions advisors. For instance, the Military and Veterans Counseling specialization in the Online Master of Education (M.Ed.) in Counseling from William & Mary is offered within the Clinical Mental Health Counseling concentration, and both are accredited by CACREP.

In addition, a program such as Clinical Mental Health Counseling prepares you for licensure and work as a Licensed Substance Abuse Treatment Practitioner (LSATP).

When in doubt, ask around!

If you struggle to determine which counseling degree to pursue, inquire with friends, family and colleagues to see if they know anyone working in the counseling profession in any capacity. Speaking to someone with first-hand experience as a counselor can provide valuable insights you might not get from research alone.

Answer Your Calling to Become a Counselor

Narrowing your list of types of counseling degrees to pursue can seem daunting, but it is a necessary step in your journey to helping others through life’s struggles.

If the flexibility of online learning is important to you, explore the transformative Online M.Ed. from William & Mary. We offer three CACREP-accredited paths that prepare you for licensure exams and work as a professional counselor: Clinical Mental Health Counseling, Military and Veterans Counseling, and School Counseling.


1. Retrieved on June 7, 2019, from https://www.cacrep.org/for-students/student-faqs-2/#FAQ1
2. Retrieved on June 7, 2019, from cacrep.org/for-students/