Group Counselor

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Becoming a Group Counselor

Group counseling is an established method of psychotherapy that has proven to be effective across a broad range of cases, patient types and mental health situations. In the past few decades, group therapy has grown immensely as more people become aware of their mental health issues and seek out effective ways of treating it.

Sessions for group therapy are almost always administered by a licensed counselor who possesses a graduate degree. This individual may consider himself or herself to be a group therapist or a group counselor, but these are technically not official titles within the psychotherapy field. Indeed, group counseling is considered a technique of psychoanalysis and psychotherapy rather than a specialization in itself. Regardless, there are those who wish to focus on conducting group therapy sessions almost exclusively as they practice counseling.

The path for how to become a group counselor is long but mostly straightforward. Anyone who takes the following steps will be qualified to begin a practice conducting group counseling sessions or to work within an institution primarily as a group counselor.

Step 1 - Earn an Undergraduate Degree

Licensed counselors are required to have a graduate degree. A precursor to a graduate degree is, naturally, an undergraduate degree.

Obtaining an Associate’s degree is insufficient in this case, so pursue a four-year Bachelor’s degree in order to be eligible for admission into a school with a Master’s or PhD program in counseling.

An undergraduate program in psychology, social work or similar pursuit can increase your chances of being admitted to a graduate-level counseling program. However, you do not have to pick a particular major to be admitted to a graduate counseling program, but you must be prepared to justify to the admissions board how your undergraduate experience has prepared you for graduate work in counseling.

Step 2 - Get a Master’s Degree or PhD

A Master’s degree or higher is necessary to obtain a counseling license in all 50 states. Your course load must be from an accredited institution and cover the minimum amount of prerequisite hours determined by your state.

Most states also dictate that your courses cover subjects such as the theory of counseling or psychotherapy and ethical considerations of therapy, among others. For example, the state of Georgia requires taking no less than six of the following courses during your Master’s or PhD program in order to be eligible for licensure:

  • Human growth and development
  • Career and lifestyle development
  • Advanced psychotherapy intervention theory
  • Individual appraisal
  • Core, social or cultural foundations of psychotherapy
  • Group psychotherapy and group dynamics
  • Research methods or research statistics
  • Psychopathology
  • Professional Orientation

A coursework focus in group counseling along with any practical experience you can obtain will be beneficial to your later career path, as well.

Step 3 - Gain Practical Experience in a Clinic or Similar Setting

Once you have obtained a graduate degree in counseling, you are still not yet eligible for licensure in the vast majority of states. These states require a certain number of supervised clinical experience hours in order to be eligible for licensure.

For instance, Washington state necessitates either 36 months or 3,000 hours of practical work experience. These hours must include at least 1,200 hours of direct counseling and 100 hours of “immediate clinical supervision.”

Note that you may also need an “Associate Counselor” license or similar licensure in order to begin gaining practical experience hours.

Step 4 - Obtain Your License

After the needed supervised hours and other practicum requirements are finished, you will be able to apply for your certification or license. Most states will require a minimum grade on a standardized examination, usually the National Counselor Examination or National Clinical Mental Health Counseling Examination, to be qualified for this license.

Additionally, you are likely to be required to pay a fee, submit to a background check, file paperwork and abide by other requirements as a component of applying for your final license. Review the requirements of the state in which you intend to be licensed and practice in to confirm your license application process.

Step 5 - Begin Working as a Counselor

At this stage, though, you may have only obtained a limited amount of hours conducting actual group counseling sessions. If you were fortunate enough to obtain such experience during your graduate studies or supervised experience, then you will be more eligible than most to immediately begin practicing group counseling after obtaining your license.

Some individuals have the fortune to immediately begin a career in group counseling after receiving their license. Others may begin their own practice that conducts group counseling sessions almost exclusively.

However, you may need to work your way towards becoming a group counselor by first conducting general therapy sessions or working in a clinic that offers group sessions on a regular basis. Eventually, you may be qualified to serve full-time as that clinic’s group counseling facilitator.

The bottom line is that the path from becoming licensed to becoming a full-time group counselor is not always the same. Gain the experience you need and seize opportunities when you can, and working as a full-time group counselor can be within your grasp.

Step 6 - Seek Continuing Education to Maintain Licensure

Note that most states will require yearly renewal of your counselor’s license or certification. Review the requirements for your state, and be sure to keep up with documenting continuing education hours as a part of your regular duties. Seminars, short courses, conferences and other events can all count towards these hours.

Counselor Salary Information

Mental Health Counselor Salaries by State

United States$26,030$32,320$40,850$52,760$66,930
District of Columbia$21,590$28,110$38,290$55,370$72,950
New Hampshire$28,250$33,810$42,240$55,390$84,090
New Jersey$32,220$39,860$47,520$58,840$71,710
New Mexico$20,950$23,620$31,140$45,090$61,000
New York$26,070$31,020$38,550$48,660$61,410
North Carolina$31,950$35,660$42,670$52,540$63,470
North Dakota$26,300$29,590$41,250$47,690$57,830
Rhode Island$25,240$27,080$30,150$41,960$51,870
South Carolina$23,900$30,980$37,100$57,100$72,520
South Dakota$30,840$35,200$41,890$48,540$58,770
West Virginia$20,600$24,900$31,070$37,420$46,760
Puerto Rico$16,570$18,420$25,450$42,280$47,100

Table data taken from 2014 BLS (