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How to Become a Child Counselor

November 29, 2016

Photo of a child counselor working with a young girl.

Most mental health needs in young people are unmet, according to The Lancet. The stigma associated with mental disorders and a shortage of mental health professionals prevent these individuals from receiving the care they need. Yet, most mental disorders begin during youth and are first detected later in life.

One in five children ages 13 to 18 have or will have a serious mental illness, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness. Between 8 and 11 percent of youth have a mood disorder, an anxiety disorder or a behavior or conduct disorder.

Child counselors are an important part of helping young people with mental health needs. The following sections identify their role and details of this career path, including how to become a child counselor.

Responsibilities of a Child Counselor

A child counselor helps young people who have mental and emotional disorders. This role also helps young people with other mental health needs, such as problems that stem from situations like poverty, abuse, trouble in school, divorce and the death of a loved one.

Many clients receive psychotherapy, which involves therapeutic conversations and interactions between a therapist and a child or family. These activities include or are based in one or more mental health theories that guide the counselor’s ability to understand and help the client.

The American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry lists several psychotherapies for children and adolescents that counselors use.

  • Cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) teaches children that thoughts cause feelings and moods that affect behavior. Therapy helps the child identify harmful thought patterns and then seeks to replace this thinking with thoughts that result in more appropriate feelings and behaviors. CBT mixes cognitive theory and behaviorism.
  • Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) emphasizes taking responsibility for one’s problems and helps the person examine how he or she responds to conflict and negative emotions. DBT is typically seen as a form of CBT.
  • Family therapy includes the child or adolescent, along with parents, siblings and grandparents. It focuses on helping the family function in more positive and constructive ways.
  • Group therapy involves multiple clients led by one or more therapists. It uses group dynamics and peer interactions to aid in understanding mental illness and/or to improve social skills.
  • Interpersonal therapy (IPT) is a treatment specifically developed and tested for depression. IPT focuses on the link between interpersonal events and the client’s emotional state.
  • Play therapy uses toys, games, drawing and other materials to help a child recognize, identify and verbalize feelings. Through play and talk, the child has an opportunity to better understand and manage their conflicts, feelings and behavior.
  • Psychodynamic psychotherapy focuses on issues that motivate and influence a child’s behavior, thoughts and feelings. Psychodynamic psychotherapy can be based on one or more theories of the psychodynamic model.

Salary and Job Outlook for Child Counselors

The median annual wage for mental health counselors is $41,880, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The highest 10 percent earn more than $68,790 and the lowest 10 percent earn less than $26,300.

Employment of mental health counselors is projected to grow 20 percent by 2024. This figure is nearly three times greater than the average for all occupations.

How to Become a Child Counselor

Child counselors need to be licensed in the state where they practice. Information on state boards regulating mental health counselors is available through the National Board for Certified Counselors. Licensure requires the following.

  • A master’s degree, typically in clinical mental health counseling, psychology or a related mental health field.
  • 2,000 to 4,000 hours of post-degree supervised clinical experience.
  • A state-recognized exam.
  • Annual continuing education classes.

An online master’s degree in mental health counseling from Grace College prepares graduates for work in counseling environments. This faith-based program teaches students how to apply Scriptural truth and principles in practice.

A majority of coursework takes place in a fully online format. Students attend an annual seven- to 10-day residency on campus in scenic Winona Lake, Indiana. The program is accredited by the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP).