By Roy Petitfils, M.S., L.P.C.
Why do you want to be a counselor?
The answers to this question will guide you in selecting a specific field, courses of study, which school is best for that field, and also motivate you to make it through to ultimately earning your license to practice counseling.
Some common answers are:
- “I want to help people.”
- “I want to make a difference.”
- “Counseling was helpful to me and I want to give that to others.”
- “I’ve always been interested in psychology.”
There are no right or wrong reasons. There are only real reasons. Save yourself some time now by realizing that all human motivation is a mixed bag. You’ll have some very personal, deep, existential, and practical reasons while also having some shallow and selfish reasons.
Write down all of your reasons on paper. After writing them down, discuss your various motivations with a trusted friend, advisor, mentor, counselor, or guide. Allow them to ask you questions. Allow them to continuously support you, challenge you, and help you as you go through this process. Remember, two heads are better than one.
I had an entire support team to help me through this time of discernment. I would strongly recommend finding people who are already doing what you want to do. Buy them lunch or coffee and ask them why they became a counselor, what they like and don’t like about their job, and what they wish they’d have done differently.
What is your current lifestyle?
Are you young? Get as much education as you can afford while you’re willing and used to living cheaply. Open up worlds to yourself that you didn’t know were there.
If you’re able to afford to go to (grad) school full time, you may consider pursuing a doctoral degree. More of these schools now have online and “night class” programs that weren’t as prevalent in the early 2000’s when I was in grad school. Some offer a combination Masters and Doctoral Degree combo that takes less time than doing each individually.
Ask yourself, your family, or support group, “As a single, married, mother, father, employee, student what is the best course of study that makes sense with my career and lifestyle goals? Is grad school doable in my current circumstance?” “If so, what type of education would fit my needs best?”
What are my options?
I personally interviewed counselors of all degrees and courses of study. I already knew a general reason for why I wanted to be a counselor. The reasons have morphed and evolved over the years, but it’s a mix of emotional, generous, selfish, and practical reasons. I wanted to counsel, write, and speak in the areas of psychology and spirituality. Knowing this helped me to decide on a Masters Degree with an LPC licensure. It was the most cost-effective, gave the most appropriate licensure/certification, and provided the right educational coursework for me to be on the path that I wanted to follow.
Some common Fields of Work in Mental Health:
Psychiatrist: is a Medical Doctor (M.D.) who goes to Med school and then specializes in Psychiatry. While some psychiatrists do talk therapy, their primary intervention is prescribing and helping patients manage their medication.
Psychologist: has either an MS, Ph.D., or PsyD in the field of psychology or applied psychology (such as counseling psychology or forensic psychology).
M.P.: is a psychologist who has taken extra coursework and training to prescribe psychotropic medication (antidepressants, etc). Many of these psychologists do some talk therapy but have moved their practices to a combination of longer sessions (talk therapy) and shorter sessions (prescribing and management).
Masters Level (MS, MA and MSW)
For those wanting to pursue the Master Degree level, here are a few of the more common Licensure options:
LPC Licensure: To obtain your LPC (Licensed Professional Counselor) or LMFT (Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist), you would need a Masters Degree in either Counseling, Counselor Education, or Marriage and Family Counseling.
LCSW or Social Work Licensure: There are many different types of jobs available for Social workers ranging from case management all the way to therapy if they pursued Licensure (LCSW – Licensed Clinical Social Worker).
LMFT Licensure: This is a License in Marriage and Family Therapy which requires a certain amount of coursework in Marriage, Family, Systems Therapy, and specialized supervision.
LAC Licensure: (Licensed addiction counselor). This License allows one to specialize in working with those suffering from addiction, in both private and public health care clinics and hospitals.
Becoming a Catholic or Christian Counselor
Some choose to study counseling at a Catholic University. Some have formally studied theology, religion, or spirituality in other programs or at their Bachelors level and received their Master’s degree from a non-Catholic/Christian institution. Others have gotten both degrees from Catholic institutions or have studied their faith independently and have gotten their degrees from a non-Catholic institution.
So, What Makes someone a Catholic or Christian Counselor?
Any licensing board will require you to adhere to a code of ethics (a list of what is right and wrong for counselors to do and not do). In addition to a code of ethics, Catholic or Christian counselors are guided by certain precepts of faith, religion, or spirituality that do not conflict with the code of ethics set forth by their licensing board.
So, for instance, I am guided by a Christian anthropology. This means that my view of the human person is through the prism of the person of Christ and what we know about our humanity as revealed by Christ. Practically speaking, I see people as being created good, equal, and made in the image and likeness of God. I don’t see people as inherently sick or needing me or psychotherapy to fix them. I believe people have within them all they need to overcome and persevere through the challenges they face. I may help them in discovering what’s in them or help them utilize the “raw material” within them in ways that can be helpful.
For more than 20 years, Roy Petitfils has ministered among youth and young adults in parish, diocesan, and school settings. Today, Roy divides his time between counseling adolescents in private practice, speaking to teens and adults about mental health issues and the role of faith, spirituality, and religion, and consulting with organizations who seek to positively influence adolescents.
Roy shares his natural humor, contagious enthusiasm and common sense approach to matters of faith at conferences and workshops. He hosts the popular podcast “Today’s Teenager” to help adults understand, reach and influence teens. He has spoken at TEDx, published several books and articles. Roy lives with his wife, Mindi, and their two sons, Max and Ben in Youngsville, LA.