How to Become a Child Counselor

  1. Complete a bachelor’s degree in a behavioral, social science, psychology field, or another field
  2. Earn a master’s degree in counseling with a focus on child and adolescent development
  3. Complete graduate and postgraduate internship experience for certification/licensure requirements
  4. Pass any required exams for certification/licensure and apply for licensure
  5. Apply for and earn additional certifications
  6. Continue your education and stay up to date on child and adolescent counseling trends and changes.

Children and adolescents progress through many life changes and challenges in their family, peer groups, schools, and other environments. Treating young clients requires appropriate training, a special level of patience and the ability to connect with both children and their families.

Children and adolescent counselors provide their clients with coping skills to achieve emotional and mental health. The challenges facing their young clients include attention disorders, learning difficulties and behavioral issues, as well as the emotional impact of divorce, death, serious illness, or emotional trauma brought on by child abuse, familial issues or bullying. Teenage clients also present a wide array of concerns such as dealing with peer pressure, eating disorders, self-mutilation, drug abuse, sexual confusion, depression, anxiety and in some cases the early signs of a serious mental illness.

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NYU Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development

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Master of Arts in Counseling for Mental Health and Wellness

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What is a Child Counselor?

Professional and mental health counselors that work with children and adolescent populations are experienced and educated from many different backgrounds. Some may be licensed professional counselors, others clinical mental health counselors or even child psychologists. Child and adolescent counselors may take a holistic approach to treating their clients that may include counseling with the young client’s parent(s) or relevant family members. The counselor evaluates a young client’s frame of mind, while exploring their family dynamic, social circle and schooling to understand how their everyday environment impacts their mental health. 

School counselors provide similar support to children but focus more on how their social, personal, and academic development affect their experience with education. School counselors should obtain their master’s degree in school counseling rather than specialize in child and adolescent counseling/therapy. While both careers address the same populations, each approach concerns in a different manner.

Some of the concerns that children and adolescents may present in counseling sessions may include:

  • Learning Disabilities
  • Behavioral Concerns
  • Substance Abuse
  • Sexuality
  • Identity Crisis
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Stress
  • Social Issues
  • Eating Disorders
  • Poverty
  • Domestic Violence

Child and adolescent counselors encourage clients to discuss their daily experiences and emotions and help them process their reactions and adjust to major life changes, such as divorce or death. A skilled and successful practitioner will teach their clients to develop skills to change their behavior, cope with life’s challenges, and make good decisions. Often a child and family counselor will coordinate treatment with other practitioners, such as a psychiatrist and/or social worker. As appropriate, they will refer young clients to treatment facilities or community programs.

Featured: Interview with Michele KambolisChild and Family Therapist and Registered Clinical Counselor in British Columbia.

Steps to Become a Child Counselor

Step 1: Complete a bachelor’s degree in a behavioral, social science, psychology field, or another field.

Earning your bachelor’s degree in psychology, social work, or another behavioral field is typically the first step. Some students may enroll in counseling or psychology courses to learn about child development theories, counseling skills, human development, and approaches to child therapy and counseling.

Step 2: Earn a master’s degree in counseling with a focus on child and adolescent development.

Child and adolescent counselors earn their master’s degree in counseling or a related field to fine tune their education with regards to child development theories, counseling techniques with children, review of mental, behavioral, and emotional disorders, educational and psychological testing and measurement, and individual, group, and family therapy.

Step 3: Complete graduate and postgraduate internship experience for certification/licensure requirements.

As a crucial aspect of CACREP-accredited counseling degrees, graduate supervised counseling experience allows students to dive into their future licensed role as a child counselor. This experience with postgraduate clinical hours provides crucial insight into work with children postgraduate.

Step 4: Pass any required exams for certification/licensure and apply for licensure.

Some states and/or counseling programs require the passing of a counselor examination for graduation or certification/licensure such as the National Counselor Examination (NCE) and/or the National Clinical Mental Health Counseling Examination (NCMHCE). Check the available licenses and required examinations for counselors in your state through the National Board of Certified Counselors (NBCC).

Step 5: Apply for and earn additional certifications.

In working with children and adolescents, some universities and organizations offer additional certifications, specifically in child psychology, grief counselingchild life, and trauma-informed treatment.

Step 6: Continue your education and stay up to date on child and adolescent counseling trends and changes.

To both maintain state licensure and be relevant in changes and trends, counselors specializing in child and adolescent populations are required to obtain continuing education hours from various formats. The Society for Clinical Child & Adolescent Psychology and the American Psychological Association offer ways for child and adolescent counseling professionals to expand their practice and work with children.

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What are the licensing requirements?

Requirements for a state license typically include completion of a counseling master’s degree program from an accredited university, two years of supervised postgraduate clinical experience and a passing score on a state -administered licensing exam. Additionally, practicing counselors may be required to take continuing education to maintain their license. Specific licensure requirements vary by state. See state license requirements.

Career Outlook for Child Counselors

Child and adolescent counselors work in a variety of settings, including private practice, mental health centers, public and private schools, residential care facilities, outpatient care centers, psychiatric hospitals and more. Counseling children and adolescence may be viewed more as a population/demographic preference for counselor’s, therefore, sessions may occur with marriage and family therapists, licensed professional counselors, clinical social workers, or child psychologists. Counseling with this population can also occur in schools with school counselors or psychologists.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), employment of marriage and family therapists and mental health counselors is projected to grow 23 percent from 2020 to 2030. The BLS  also reports that the median annual salary for mental health counselors is about $48,520 and the median salary for marriage and family therapists is about $49,880 as of May 2021.

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Master’s in Child Counseling Programs

Bellevue University

Master of Science in Clinical Mental Health Counseling

Bellevue, Nebraska

Name of Degree: Master of Science in Clinical Mental Health Counseling

Enrollment Type: Full-Time

Length of Program: 2 years

Credits: 60

Concentrations: N/A

Admission Requirements:

  • CV/resume
  • Two letters of recommendation
  • Statement of interest
  • Official transcripts
Learn more about the Master of Science in Clinical Mental Health Counseling from Bellevue University

Lock Haven University

Department of Social Work and Counseling

Master of Science in Clinical Mental Health Counseling

Lock Haven, Pennsylvania

Name of Degree: Master of Science in Clinical Mental Health Counseling

Enrollment Type: Full-Time

Length of Program: 2 years

Credits: 60

Concentrations:

 Child and Adolescent Counseling,  Military and Veterans Counseling,  Clinical Mental Health Counseling

Admission Requirements:

  • Bachelor’s degree
  • Two references
  • Statement of purpose
Learn more about the Master of Science in Clinical Mental Health Counseling from Lock Haven University

Last updated: May 2022