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People can improve their lives with many tools and resources found on the internet, including licensed counselors. Online counselors provide the same services virtually as they do in person. Doing so lets them reach more people, such as those without transportation to a counseling office. Successful professionals hold not only a graduate degree but also advanced interpersonal and communication skills.

It takes years of education and training to become an online counselor. Fortunately, the field features many careers in online counseling. This article discusses online counseling in depth, offering the latest tuition and salary information. Other information details which careers graduates pursue with different degrees. Use the embedded links to learn more.

Questions About Online Counseling Careers

Are online counselors the same as in-person counselors?

Online counseling offers the same mental health benefits as in-person counseling. People working with an in-person or online counselor report less depression and other positive outcomes.

What type of online counselors are there?

Many professionals specializing in mental health, substance abuse, or marriage and family counseling offer services online. Options include text chat or videoconferencing.

Can an online counselor practice across state lines?

The answer depends on their client’s physical location. Sometimes, a counselor cannot treat a patient when they go on vacation or move to another state.

Are online counselors in demand?

The COVID-19 pandemic made many people seek online counseling to improve their mental health. Also, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects strong growth in the counseling field in 2020-2030.

What Do Online Counselors Do?

Online counselors offer clients the same services as in-person counselors. One-on-one or small-group discussions determine clients’ needs. Counselors use this information to create treatment goals. Clients reach these goals by following a detailed plan their counselor recommends. Further discussions show counselors whether the plan needs adjusting.

People turning to online counselors may need help with substance abuse, depression, their marriage, or another issue. Fortunately, many counselors specialize in one of these areas. Clients attend an online counseling session at home. Their counselor may work from home or an office.

Counselors learn the skills they need to help clients in an undergraduate or graduate program. Although most professions require a master’s, a bachelor’s lets graduates explore some entry-level positions. A master’s qualifies graduates for state licensure. This degree also lets professionals enroll in a doctoral program. Professionals with a Ph.D. do research on counseling best practices.

Featured Online Counseling Program

How to Get Hired as an Online Counselor

A master’s degree trains students for most careers in online counseling. Classes may include theories of personality, abnormal psychology, and statistics and research methods. Other typical requirements involve supervised experience hours. Professionals get these hours by working under a licensed counselor in a clinical setting.

Like in-person counselors, online counselors need a compassionate attitude and interpersonal skills to attract clients. These traits help clients open up to counselors and reveal underlying issues. Counselors also use these skills to build trust and convince clients to follow a treatment plan. Professionals who do so increase their clients’ chances of improving their mental health.

Becoming an online counselor requires passing a criminal background check. However, aspiring professionals with a criminal record should not give up on their dream. A minor offense, such as a traffic violation, may not count against someone. Job-seekers applying to hospitals or other clinical settings should avoid using illegal substances. Employers may require a drug screen.

What Are the Education Requirements for Online Counselors?

Becoming an online counselor involves earning a bachelor’s or master’s, depending on the job. An associate gives students the education necessary to move to a bachelor’s-completion program. Doctoral programs offer advantages, too. Counselors with a doctorate use their education to teach at a college. Others use the degree to lead a counseling organization.

Some professionals become an online counselor by starting their education with an associate degree in psychology. Two-year associate degrees provide the education learners need to transfer to a four-year school. Degree-seekers earn approximately 60 credits by taking general education and major classes. These programs often feature electives, letting students customize their education.

Associate-level major classes may include general psychology, introduction to probability and statistics, and child development. Degree-seekers also analyze abnormal psychology and culture and ethnicity in social psychology. Students save money on an associate by attending a local community or junior college. These schools offer the lowest tuition rate to in-district residents.

Like master’s degrees, bachelor’s programs in counseling let students choose a specialization, such as substance abuse counseling. This program takes four years for degree-seekers without previous college experience. Learners with an associate degree need only 1-2 years. Required substance abuse classes may include case management and crisis intervention skills, relapse prevention, and introduction to counseling theories.

Like learners earning an associate, bachelor’s degree-seekers save money by enrolling in an in-state public college. However, please note that four-year schools charge more per credit than two-year schools. Bachelor’s degree-holders qualify for a career in online counseling-related positions, like community service manager or probation officer.

A master’s in counseling qualifies graduates for many careers, as top programs meet states’ licensure requirements. Degree-seekers pick a specialization or emphasis that may include marriage and family counseling. Students prepare for this career with coursework in family systems therapy, human sexuality, and child and adolescent counseling.

Students complete many graduation requirements other than coursework. Programs feature internships and practica in learners’ specializations. These in-person requirements help degree-seekers understand the profession better and start gaining experience hours. Graduates who earn a license work for a healthcare provider or open a private practice.

A Ph.D. in counseling or counseling psychology requires coursework in professional ethics, psychological measurement and research, and intervention strategies. These classes prepare students for the dissertation process. Degree-seekers work with a dissertation advisor to pick a topic and start their research. Researching and writing the dissertation may take many years. Learners earn a Ph.D. once they defend their dissertation successfully.

Many Ph.D. graduates work as postsecondary instructors. These professionals teach undergraduate and graduate classes. Tenure-track teachers perform original research in their field. Other professionals use their degree to lead a mental health clinic or other healthcare facility.

How Much Does an Online Counseling Degree Cost?

Students wanting to become an online counselor must budget for a master’s degree in their specialization. In 2021, tuition and fees for a master’s averaged over $66,000. MA degrees cost about $10,000 more than MS degrees. Degree-seekers at public schools saved an average of $26,600 on their education compared to peers at private universities.

Degree-seekers need to budget for more than tuition and fees. Many online and on-campus programs require commuting to a practicum or internship site. Students also pay for textbooks and other education-related materials. Some online programs charge technology fees, as well.

Although online degree-seekers may pay additional fees, online learning features many financial benefits. Students do not commute to class or relocate to another state. Some public schools waive out-of-state tuition for fully online learners. However, prospective degree-seekers should check whether an out-of-state master’s program meets their state’s requirements for counselor licensure.

Career and Salary Outlook for Online Counselors

A professional’s salary outlook depends on what career in online counseling they pick. The BLS reports that substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors earn a median $48,520 annual salary. This salary exceeds what the typical U.S. worker makes by about $2,700. Those working for a government agency or hospital earn more than the profession’s median salary.

Online counselors in other specializations besides school counselor make a median $45,160 annually. The top 10% earn more than $76,780. Top-paying employers include religious organizations and grantmaking services. Location also affects salary. New Jersey, North Dakota, and New York feature the best-paying positions in the United States.

Experienced counselors working as postsecondary teachers earn a median $79,640 yearly salary. Unfortunately, those specializing in counseling or a related field, such as psychology, earn slightly less. States with the best-paying positions include California, the District of Columbia, and New York. Employers in Oregon and Massachusetts also feature well-paying postsecondary psychology teacher jobs.

Certifications and Licensure for Online Counselors

States regulate the counseling profession through licensure. Typical credentials include licensed clinical counselor and licensed professional clinical counselor. Some states offer a temporary license to new professionals working on experience hours. Licensure requirements vary somewhat by state. In New York, licensure candidates with a master’s receive a limited permit lasting two years. They then complete 3,000 hours of supervised experience.

New York residents meeting the experience requirement then take the National Clinical Mental Health Counseling Examination (NCMHCE). Many states require this test or the National Counselor Exam. Those who pass the NCMHCE become a licensed mental health counselor (LMHC). LMHCs renew their license every three years by completing 36 continuing education hours.

Counselors in New York and other states enhance their license with professional certifications. The National Board of Certified Counselors (NBCC) awards board certification to professionals with at least two years of work experience. Candidates must also pass an exam. NBCC offers specialty certifications in different counseling subfields, as well.

Resources for Online Counselors

Individuals wanting to become an online counselor visit the ACA website to learn about the profession. Master’s degree-seekers join ACA to receive discounted liability insurance, career guidance, and other helpful resources. NBCC offers the NCC credential to experienced professionals. The NCC program helps workers explore more careers in online counseling and attract new clients. NBCC members receive additional benefits. Online counselors join AMHCA for career-planning resources, a job board, and in-person and virtual networking opportunities. Other benefits include continuing education classes. Students enjoy a membership fee discount. APA accredits top counseling and psychology doctoral degrees nationwide. Visitors use the website’s search function to find online and in-person programs. APA also helps doctoral graduates locate local internships and postdoctoral residencies.

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