Although there is no close connection between the fields of mathematics and the community and social service field of counseling, students should still be prepared to take some math coursework. At the undergraduate level, students must meet general education requirements and potentially some studies in research and statistical analysis. Graduate programs may also include math elements in certain specialized coursework as well as advanced research and statistics coursework.
Understanding the Educational Path to a Counseling Career
If you want to work in a role such as marriage and family therapist, school counselor, mental health counselor or rehabilitation counselor, you will need a master’s degree in that field, according to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Prior to going to graduate school for any of these fields, you must earn your bachelor’s degree. Undergraduate students can choose general or specialized programs of study to prepare for their graduate studies in counseling. Some students choose to major in psychology or sociology. Others choose colleges that offer bachelor’s-level programs in subjects like substance abuse counseling, clinical mental health counseling and behavioral health counseling. The math requirements differ between the undergraduate and graduate levels of study.
Specialized counseling programs at the undergraduate level are uncommon, especially compared to ubiquitous degree programs like psychology. The American Psychological Association recognizes 2,832 accredited four-year colleges with psychology programs.
Math Requirements for Undergraduate Students
At the undergraduate level, students must complete studies in a broad range of subjects. Colleges routinely require students to take at least one or two math courses as part of their general education requirements, or mandatory studies in fields like the liberal arts and sciences, the humanities and communication. Undergraduate students majoring in counseling often take classes such as Fundamentals of Mathematics or Probability and Statistics for Liberal Arts to meet these requirements. As part of their major coursework, students may have to take classes with a math or science component, such as psychopharmacology, research design, psychological assessment techniques and statistics for counselors.
In most counseling degree programs, students will spend most of their major coursework to studying topics like counseling theories and practices, human development, psychological methodologies and counseling in individual, family and group settings.
Curricula of Graduate Counseling Programs
Graduate coursework builds on the foundational knowledge students developed as undergraduates. As a result, the subject matter you study in a master’s degree program is typically both more advanced and more specialized. Instead of filling up your course schedule with general education classes and introductory coursework, you may take classes such as couples and family counseling, career counseling, counseling addictive disorders and crisis management. Counseling programs can range from general in nature to specialization tracks as narrow as trauma and crisis counseling, forensic counseling and military families and culture.
Math coursework is less prevalent in many master’s degree programs in counseling, but as with undergraduate major coursework, some degree of math knowledge is needed for certain classes. A class in research methodology and program evaluation, for example, would require students to use analytical skills in interpreting research and to understand quantitative data and designs in research.
If you choose to study counseling psychology, rather than traditional counseling, in graduate school, you may find that your curriculum includes more extensive studies in math. Psychology, the science of thought processes and behavior, often emphasizes research and the scientific method more than counseling degree programs do. Students in a counseling psychology degree program may be asked to take coursework in advanced statistics, such as an applied multivariate statistics class. The subject matter covered in such a class might include multivariate data screening strategies, data analysis and the use of computer-based statistical analysis programs.
Much of a graduate counseling curriculum focuses on gaining hands-on clinical counseling experience through practicums and internships. Upon graduation, aspiring counselors must complete 2,000 to 4,000 hours of postdegree supervised experience, the BLS reported.
The Most Important Qualities for Counselors
While it is important for aspiring counselors to develop at least basic familiarity with research methods and statistical analysis methods, being good at math is not among the strengths most needed for success in this field. Even in areas of counseling that require strong analytical skills, such as school and career counseling, what is important is being able to interpret the results of assessments accurately so that you can help students or clients with their career choices, the BLS reported. You don’t need highly technical abilities in analysis for this career path.
Instead, the BLS lists qualities such as patience and compassion as among the most important attributes counselors can possess. After all, showing empathy is crucial for connecting with clients and building trust. As a process, counseling can take time, so counselors must be patient as they work to help clients develop new insights and change ingrained behavior patterns.
Other important qualities for counselors include listening skills, speaking skills and interpersonal skills, the BLS reported.