Counseling (also sometimes known as “Professional Counseling”) is a broad field with many areas of interest, all sharing the overarching focus of helping through the healing relationship. According to the Council for the Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP), counseling is “a professional relationship that empowers diverse individuals, families, and groups to accomplish mental health, wellness, education, and career goals.” To counsel is to use talk therapy to work toward the positive development and change of individuals, couples, families, or groups who are seeking professional care. Whereas some fields may have a tendency to focus on problems and pathology (e.g., psychiatry, clinical psychology), this field is more prone to placing emphasis on human strengths, assets, and resilience–while often addressing many of the same issues. Note that while they have similar titles and somewhat overlapping philosophies, Counseling is indeed distinct and separate from Counseling Psychology. Finally, it should be highlighted that Counseling has numerous sub-field specialties (e.g., Clinical Mental Health Counseling, School Counseling, Addiction Counseling, Rehabilitation Counseling), so check out the bottom of this page for more details about each branch.

Counselors are people who are interested in the betterment and empowerment of other people. Because there are many different specialties, there are a variety of contexts, goals, and populations with which Counselors work (e.g., K-12 students, hospital patients, community members, career-seekers), but all essentially have one thing in common, “a desire to help people work through life’s challenges.” Further, to be an effective Counselor requires “a strong desire to interact with people, exceptional communication skills, and an ability to complete a graduate degree. Choosing to become a professional counselor is a commitment to yourself, to others, and to society as a whole.”

Counselors work in a wide diversity of settings! Again, because there are numerous sub-field specialties, the day-to-day work contexts of a Counselor can vary quite a bit. Some examples would include outpatient treatment clinics, school systems, hospital/medical centers, state-funded vocational settings, government agencies, higher education offices, and more.

In order to become a Counselor, one needs a minimum of a Master’s degree. Thus, one would first need a Bachelor’s degree (with common choices of major including Psychology, Social Work, or Human Development if a specific Counseling option is not available), followed by the M.A., M.S., or M.Ed. degree in Counseling. Learn more about what to expect from your Counseling studies in this book by Tyler Kimbel and Dana Heller Levitt titled A Guide to Graduate Programs in Counseling.
License: To practice in the state of Michigan, one needs to earn the title of Licensed Professional Counselor (typically abbreviated “LPC” alongside someone’s name). This requires a Master’s degree in Counseling, completion of a certain number of supervised hours of practice (usually 100 on practicum and 600 on internship pre-degree), and the passing of the National Counselor Examination. For local information about training and licensure, check out this online Counseling Degree Guide or this Knowledge Center entry from the ACA on Michigan requirements. There is also the option to earn an “LLPC,” a limited version of the license, for those along the way to full licensure.
Training: There are many available graduate programs in this field, including several here in the state of Michigan (e.g., MSU, WMU). Give consideration to the various sub-field specialties before applying! Remember, of course, that one need not complete their education in the state of Michigan in order to eventually work here–just be sure to pursue training at programs which are CACREP-accredited and to file your paperwork with the Michigan LARA Board of Counseling when ready to begin.

Counselors are often motivated by their passion for serving people. When asked what motivates her to do her job well, one LPC said simply “the people!” Like many other mental health helping professions, this career path is a great fit for those that find others’ inner lives interesting, who have a strong desire to help enact change, and who are fulfilled by a job rich with deep interpersonal interaction.

Relevant State-Level Organization
Michigan Counseling Association

Relevant National Organization
American Counseling Association
National Board for Certified Counselors


Brief Descriptions of Board-Certified Counseling Specialties
As noted above, there are several unique specialty tracks within the broader field of Counseling, each with their own board-certification process. To see details about each, explore this CACREP page and read on below!

-Addiction Counseling: Focuses on working with those affected by substance abuse/dependence and other addictive/habit-forming issues in terms of prevention, treatment, recovery, and relapse-prevention. Learn more from the Michigan Association of Alcoholism and Drug Abuse Counselors and the Michigan Certification Board for Addiction Professionals.

-Career Counseling: Focuses on vocational issues at the intersections of education, skills, interests, and personality, often using assessments to help individuals discover where they would fit best in terms of employment and career growth. Learn more from the Michigan Career Development Association.

-Clinical Mental Health Counseling: Focuses on mental health treatments and applying principles of diagnosis, intervention, prevention, and referral for a wide array of disorders. Learn more from the Michigan Mental Health Counselors Association and the American Mental Health Counselors Association.

-Counselor Education and Supervision: Primarily doctoral level training, this sub-field focuses on skills needed to train future counseling professionals and conduct the scholarly work necessary to further develop the field as whole. Learn more from the Michigan Association of Counselor Education and Supervision.

-Marriage, Couple, and Family Counseling: Focuses on applying a family systems perspective to counseling work with individuals, couples, families, or groups, across a wide variety of mental health issues. Learn more from CACREP.

-Rehabilitation Counseling: Focuses on treating those with disabilities, to enhance their independence and bolster engagement with the community, through a variety of skillsets including talk therapy, case management, vocational training, technology-assisted methods, and other approaches often framed around assets and strengths. Learn more from the National Council on Rehabilitation Education, the National Rehabilitation Association, the Michigan Rehabilitation Association, and Incompass Michigan.

-School Counseling: Focuses on working with K-12 students to promote their academic, career, and personal/social development through a variety of approaches spanning direct intervention, teacher/family consultation, and other forms of guidance. Learn more from the American School Counselors Association and the Michigan School Counselor Association.

-Student Affairs College Counseling: Focuses on higher education settings and the application of professional counseling skills to various contexts such as student housing, multicultural services, university administration, leadership/orientation, policy-making, and others. Learn more from the Michigan Association for College Admission Counseling.