Counseling may not be a difficult career field in terms of requiring a lot of advanced mathematics or laboratory science courses to graduate, but it is challenging in other ways. You need a great deal of compassion and patience as well as excellent communication skills. Although working as a licensed professional counselor generally requires a master’s degree, not all graduate degrees in counseling are equally difficult. Some of the easiest options include online counseling degree programs, programs in career and school counseling and generalist studies in mental health counseling.
Aspects of Counseling Education that Can’t Be Made Easier
For a counseling degree program to achieve accreditation from the Council for Accreditation of Counseling & Related Educational Programs (CACREP), it must meet certain standards. As a result, a certain accredited program can’t be easier than other accredited program in terms of the minimum number of credit hours or fieldwork hours needed. CACREP sets standards for different specializations within counseling, so all programs in a given specialization must at minimum include studies in the same foundations, contextual dimensions and strategies and skills for professional practice.
That said, there’s nothing to stop a school from elevating its graduation requirements above the minimum standards set by CACREP. If you’re looking for the easiest degree in counseling, you might prefer a school which requires only 600 hours of internships experience, the minimum required by CACREP, over a school with loftier requirements such as 1,000 internship hours.
Ultimately, students need to weigh the pros and cons of programs of different levels of difficulty. While you don’t necessarily want a difficult program just for the sake of making it harder to graduate, you do want the program that will best prepare you for your career.
Online Counseling Programs
One way to make a graduate education easier is to earn your degree online. CACREP does accredit online master’s degree programs, although many of these programs follow a hybrid structure that includes some on-campus work as well as distance learning. In an online or hybrid program, attendance is easier in that you don’t have to commute to and from campus with the same frequency you would for a traditional on-campus class. Many, though not all, online courses are asynchronous, which means that the material can be completed on your own schedule rather than at a specified time. This flexibility makes it much easier to earn your degree if you are also juggling numerous other work, family and life obligations, even though the curriculum itself is just as difficult as a face-to-face program would be.
Online counseling degrees still require students to complete supervised fieldwork experiences that include direct service with clients, so choosing the distance learning option doesn’t mean every aspect of your education will take place online.
Career Counseling and School Counseling Degrees
Historically, CACREP required master’s degree programs in most specializations to consist of at least 60 credit hours of coursework to qualify for accreditation. Career counseling and school counseling programs were the exceptions and were considered eligible for accreditation as long as the curriculum included at least 48 credits – making them easier in the sense that they require less coursework.
As of July 2020, this standard will change, and school and career counseling programs will also require 60 credits for accreditation, according to CACREP’s current standards. While the extent of coursework needed to earn a degree in these fields is changing, the focus of the subject is not. Compared to fields of counseling that are likely to be more emotionally intense, like substance abuse and addiction counseling, career counselors may have an easier time connecting with their clients. As they work to help clients find and prepare for their best career paths, they may not require as much emotional stability as a counselor who is trying to help clients with a history of substance abuse issues maintain sobriety and avoid relapses.
The demands on school counselors, in particular, are high. Often, school counselors are responsible for everything from establishing and running school programs to guiding students in college searches and application processes.
General Mental Health Counseling Degrees
If you consider specialized fields of study to be the most difficult, then a more general degree in mental health counseling is among the easier options for aspiring counselors. Mental health counselors work in a variety of settings, with different patient populations and different areas of focus. For example, a person with a background in mental health counseling may work with children who were victims of a trauma or senior citizens who are struggling with depression – and potentially both, in certain employment settings. Many mental health counseling programs have a generalist curriculum that includes studies in psychopathology, diagnosis and treatment of mental health disorders and the strategies, techniques and tools used in counseling diverse populations of individuals, families and groups from different cultures.
Some mental health counseling programs allow students the opportunity to narrow their focus somewhat by choosing concentrations in an area such as trauma or rehabilitation.