Many counselors obtain master’s and even doctoral degrees in their specific field. Doing so may entail writing a thesis or dissertation and performing a certain number of hours of supervised clinical work. Upon successful completion of these requirements, the student may be granted a graduate degree from their college or university. Some states have additional certification requirements. The prospective counselor needs to thoroughly research his state, and even county certification and licensing requirements. As there may be additional testing and/or work experience that must be successfully completed before the counselor is legally and professionally authorized to practice.

Beyond the mandatory state or county certification and licensures, many counselors continue their education voluntarily to obtain a more specialized certification. These certifications can be obtained from an independent professional certification organization, such as the National Board for Certified Counselors (NBCC) or the National Certified Counselor (NCC) designation. The NBCC, founded in 1982, is an independent, not-for-profit organization with over 54,00 certified counselors in the U.S. and 50 countries.

For those who have specialized in rehabilitation counseling, there is the Commission on Rehabilitation Counselor Certification (CRCC), the world’s largest rehabilitation counseling organization dedicated to improving the lives of individuals with disabilities. They set the standard for competent delivery of quality rehabilitation counseling services through its nationally accredited and internationally recognized Certified Rehabilitation Counselor (CRC) certification program that serves all rehabilitation counseling professionals. The CRC designation is an indication of an advanced level of specialized education and training, an adherence to rigid standards of ethical practice, and an ongoing commitment to lifelong learning.

It’s also important to differentiate between licensure and certification. State licensure allows the individual to practice in that state as a professional counselor. Having counselor certification alone does not authorize the individual to practice. In order to practice counseling in a particular state, the individual must obtain a license from the state where he/she wishes to practice. The state, as a governing authority, sanctions the licensure, which exists to protect the health, safety, and welfare of the residents of a particular state. Counselors must meet the qualifications set by their state of practice in order to receive licensure.

Another major difference is that licensure is mandatory for employment, whereas certification is strictly voluntary. Why bother with being certified then? For prospective employers or clients, certification demonstrates your desire to excel as a professional. As a certified counselor, you must abide by the NBCC Code of Ethics and complete continuing education. Also, only those with a qualifying master’s degree and experience may apply, though students may apply while participating in their master’s program. The advantage of applying while in school is that you can take the National Counselor Examination for Licensure and Certification (NCE) in the familiar surroundings of your college campus and have your scores sent to your state licensure board.

There are certifications specific to your counseling field, for example the National Clinical Mental Health Counseling Examination (NCMHCE) consists of 10 clinical simulations. The NCMHCE is a requirement for anyone who wants to practice mental health counseling in many states and those meet the requirements and pass the exam will have the designation of Certified Clinical Mental Health Counselor (CCMHC). Other  certifications are: National Certified School Counselor and  Master Addictions Counselor.

As stated, certification does require continuing education and organizations as the American Mental Health Counselors Association provides discounts on education programs for members. Recorded webinars are offered free to members also. There is the American School Counselor Association, International Association of Marriage and Family Counselors, International Association of Addiction and Offender Counselors, and National Employment Counseling Association. All of these have a nominal annual membership fee, and each one is a resource to further advance your career in the profession of counseling.