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What type of degree is best for a career in counseling/therapy?

I'm interested in psychology in the social work field. Would it be better to get a degree in psychology or a degree in something like social science?

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Subject: Career question for you

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Carl’s Answer

Hi Torrye. Thanks for your questions. For a career in therapy, it is always good to have an undergraduate degree in psychology as a foundation. An undergraduate degree in psychology will provide you with fundamentals in abnormal psychology, physiological psychology, social psychology, and learning and behavior patterns. To be a therapist, you will at least need a master's degree from a mental health counseling program accredited by the Council for the Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP).

There is a difference between a counselor and a therapist. Therapists are professionals who are licensed in their state to provide therapy to their clients. They explore clients’ pasts to uncover insights about their current feelings, behaviors, or traumas. They typically specialize in a specific field, such as marriage and family therapy. Counselors tend to focus more on helping their clients deal with psychological, mental health, and substance abuse issues. It is typical for counselors to provide their clients with coping strategies. They give practical advice that helps their clients deal with problems immediately. Counselors at a minimum need a bachelor's degree, although many do hold master's degrees.
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Rachel’s Answer

Should college drop off the table as an option for you, there are counseling certifications that do not require a degree. You can still be fulfilled and make an excellent living using soft skills and a certification course, especially with the rise of remote work.

You can become certified in rehabilitation, behavioral counseling, social work, or a student mentor, just to name a few.

Rachel recommends the following next steps:

Research "Counseling Certifications Online"
Research "Therapists' Certification"
Research "Fulfilling Counseling Roles Available Without A Degree"
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Arshia’s Answer

The best degrees for pursuing the field of counseling or social work are a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology, Sociology, Social Work, or Human Services. Depending on the type of counseling you wish to pursue, additional courses in fields such as Counseling Psychology or Clinical Mental Health Counseling may also be beneficial.

After completing a bachelor’s degree program, individuals may choose to pursue a Master’s degree in Counseling or Social Work for advanced training and better job prospects.

Here are some steps in becoming a Social Worker:

1. Earn a bachelor’s degree in social work (BSW). Many states require BSW holders to be licensed, as it is the entry-level educational requirement for most jobs in the field. Pursuing an advanced degree in social work (MSW) will provide additional education and training required for many positions, including those with supervisory responsibility or clinical practice authority.

2. Research state licensure requirements. In order to obtain a license, social workers must meet certain educational and experience qualifications set by their state board of social work.

4. Get hands-on experience through an internship or apprenticeship program, or through volunteer work at a local agency or organization related to your field of interest such as mental health counseling, gerontology, substance abuse counseling etc..

5. Network and build relationships with other professionals in your area and attend conferences that are related to your interests within the field of social work. This will help you stay informed on new developments within the profession as well as help create opportunities to further your career goals within the industry.
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Yvette’s Answer

Hi Torrye,

This is a great question! To pursue a career in counseling psychology/social work, your best bet is to first get a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology or Biopsychology. Either of these degrees will set you up for the rigor of graduate programs.

While working on your Bachelor’s degree, I would highly recommend getting work and/or internship experience at a counseling center, a hospital, or anywhere that you will get exposure to the mental health field. Another good option is to get research experience with a professor in the Psychology department. When looking for jobs or internships, LinkedIn is a great resource for finding these as well as building up your network and marketing yourself. (Tip: recruiters often look at LinkedIn profiles!)

Aim to get about 1-3 years of combined work, internship, research, and/or volunteer experience during your bachelor’s degree. During your 3rd year, start researching which universities and programs you are interested in. Pick your top 3, then pick about 3 programs that you think you might be able to get into, and about 3-4 safety programs you know you could definitely get into. Many programs will waive application fees based on income, so this is a good option to remember as application fees add up quickly.

In-state programs are often much more affordable compared to out-of-state programs, but if you are able to, I’d highly recommend branching out to a new state and discovering it for yourself! This will be hugely helpful in building confidence, making meaningful connections, and finding new opportunities. I wish you the very best of luck on your journey!
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