How Do I Become an Online Counselor?

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Updated February 26, 2024 · 3 Min Read

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Learn about the job of an online counselor and how to begin your journey to a career as an online counselor.

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The growth of telehealth and online counseling during the COVID-19 pandemic allowed counselors to provide services to those who needed it. Online counseling participation rates have continued to grow.

Discover more about how to become an online counselor including educational and practice requirements, licenses and certifications, and job growth projections for this field.

Popular Online Counseling Programs

Learn about start dates, transferring credits, availability of financial aid, and more by contacting the universities below.

What Does an Online Counselor Do?

Online counselors perform the same essential work as in-person counselors but deliver their services over digital platforms, including phone, video conferencing, text, and live chat. Online counseling involves a variety of traditional techniques and therapies, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), mindfulness-based therapy, and solution-focused therapy.

Online counselors serve various clients dealing with conditions like anxiety, depression, and relationship problems. Common duties include conducting assessments, developing treatment plans, providing counseling sessions, and monitoring progress.

Online counselors may work independently or through online platforms, offering flexibility in scheduling and client reach. Online counselors ensure patient confidentiality and maintain clear communication.

Key Skills for an Online Counselor

  • Strong written and verbal communication skills
  • Active listening
  • Empathy
  • Flexibility and adaptability
  • Emotional resilience
  • Cultural competence and sensitivity to diversity
  • Ethical awareness
  • Time management

Education Required to Become an Online Counselor

Online counseling programs involve the same preparation as those for practitioners who provide in-person services.

Your education to become an online counselor begins with an undergraduate degree in counseling, psychology, sociology, social work or a related field.

To practice, you must also obtain a master's degree or doctoral degree, which you may complete in counseling, social work, marriage and family therapy, or psychology. Finally, candidates must complete the necessary clinical hours to be eligible to take and pass licensing exams in your state.

Practical Experience Requirements for an Online Counselor

Practical experience requirements for online counselors typically involve a combination of supervised practice, practical training, and relevant work experience. This may include completing practicums or internships during degree programs, where students engage in supervised counseling sessions under the guidance of experienced professionals.

Post-graduation, online counselors often need to accrue a certain number of supervised hours, which can vary depending on your degree. For example, you need at least 900 hours of clinical practice to complete an MSW and 1,500-6,000 hours to complete a Psy.D., depending on your state.

The hours involve providing counseling services while being supervised by a licensed counselor or therapist. Additionally, gaining experience in using online counseling platforms and adapting counseling techniques to a digital format is essential for success.

Online Counselor Licensure and Certification

Licensure or certification is required to practice for both in-person and online counselors. The process is regulated by individual states, so the requirements can vary. Licensure ensures counselors meet professional standards and legal regulations including education, supervised clinical experience, and licensing examinations. Licensure demonstrates competence, benefiting both counselors and their clients.

Optional certification from professional organizations like the National Board for Certified Counselors (NBCC) can demonstrate specialized expertise and commitment to ongoing professional development.

Certification may enhance your credibility, expand career opportunities, and provide access to networking. While optional, the following certifications may increase your job opportunities and career advancement as they demonstrate specialized knowledge.

National Board for Certified Counselors

Career Projections for Online Counselors

Your earnings as an online counselor can vary depending on whether you work independently or with a large organization, your experience, and additional specializations or certifications.

Marriage and family therapists earn a median annual salary of $60,140, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Substance use, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors earn a median annual salary of $49,710. The BLS projects 15% job growth for marriage and family therapists and 18% job growth for substance use and behavioral disorder counselors from 2022-2032, much faster than the average growth for all U.S. jobs.

The highest-earning online counselors are clinical and counseling psychologists, who hold doctoral degrees and earn a median annual salary of $90,130.

Frequently Asked Questions About Becoming an Online Counselor

Can you make money as an online counselor?

Yes, you can make a good income as an online counselor. Your salary depends on your specialty area and whether you work with a large organization or independently. Employers of online counselors may help market your services, provide a platform for documentation and billing, and offer discounts for professional liability insurance.

You can offer certain types of counseling without a degree, such as life coaching, peer counseling, or, in some states, drug and alcohol counseling. Laws and regulations for professional counselors vary by state, so be sure to look up the education and experience requirements in your area.

To become an online counselor, you need a master's degree from an accredited college or university and approximately 1,000 hours of supervised clinical experience. You can advance your education to obtain a doctorate degree, which you can usually acquire while continuing to work.

When clients and professionals are both committed, online counseling can be as successful as in-person counseling. The industry continues to grow because online counseling increases the accessibility of mental health support and helps reduce the stigma attached to mental conditions.

Page last reviewed on February 16, 2024

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