A marriage and family counselor is an unbiased individual and a licensed professional who helps treat couples and families so that they can overcome mental or emotional problems that interfere with life in the home. As a trusted professional who can diagnose disorders and provide treatment, family counselors must go through a formal training process and earn clinical experience before they can be licensed to practice in any state. While the requirements can vary from state to state, there are similarities in most states. Here is the generic process to becoming a family counselor, but be sure to check with your state licensing board for specific requirements.
Complete a Bachelor's Degree Program and an Advanced Master's Program
The very first step to becoming a Licensed Professional Counselor specializing in families is to earn your high school diploma. Once you hold a diploma, you can enroll in a Bachelor's degree program majoring in Counseling or a related area of study like Psychology. A Bachelor's degree program will take about 4 years to complete if you have no completed credits and you are enrolled in the program full-time.
Upon completion of your undergraduate degree, you must then enroll in a Master's degree program as most states require applicants to have a minimum of a Master's to get licensed.
A Master's degree program does not include general courses, so the areas you study will be specific to counseling. You may take courses in family therapy, marriage counseling, counseling techniques, models, and research. The purpose of the Master's program is to advance your knowledge so that you are an expert in the field and not just knowledgeable. Earning your M.S. will take about 2 years if you are enrolled in classes full-time.
Fulfilling the Clinical Experience Requirements
The professional experience requirements, which must be done in a clinical setting, will vary by state. It is very important to check with your state's Board of Licensed Professional Counselors to find out how many hours of clinical supervision you need to sit for a state licensing exam. Many states require you to have between 2400 and 3000 clock hours of on-the-job experience under the supervision of a LPC. You must have face-to-face supervision for a majority of the time, and these requirements will be laid out in detail by the Board. It is important to check directly with the board for these requirements while you are still studying for a Bachelor's degree.
Taking the National Licensure Exam
All Licensed Professional Counselors are required to sit for a national licensing exam before they are eligible to practice. You will need to schedule the date in advance, pay the testing fee, submit documentation to prove that you meet the requirements to sit for the exam, and pass the test. Once you pass the test and a background check, your license will be issued and you will officially be a Family Counselor. You can also take a certification exam through the National Board for Certified Counselors if you want a specialty certification.
There will always be a need for Licensed Professional Counselors. If you would like to enter this field, the first step is enrolling in a reputable program. Be sure to choose an accredited program acknowledged by the American Psychological Association, and you'll be on your way to becoming a family counselor.