How to Become a Behavioral Counselor

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Updated May 1, 2024 · 5 Min Read

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Behavioral counselors are in high demand. Explores the role and path to become a behavioral counselor.

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Mental health professionals play a key role in helping people understand their emotions and manage their mental health. Behavioral counseling can tremendously impact people's lives, affecting their relationships, families, and work. Learn more about the role and path to becoming a behavioral counselor.

What Is a Behavioral Counselor?

Behavioral counselors are licensed therapists who work with people to identify unproductive behavior. They use a variety of methods to help people achieve long-lasting behavior changes.

Behavioral counselors can work with individuals who experience various issues, including addictions, depression, and behavioral conditions. In some states, behavioral counselors need a state-issued license to practice.

Featured Online Counseling Programs

Learn about start dates, transferring credits, availability of financial aid, and more by contacting the universities below.

How to Become a Behavioral Counselor

Some states require licensure and the hours for postgraduate supervised experience vary. It is crucial that you contact your state board to understand the requirements in your state.

Typically, behavioral counselors first earn a bachelor's degree before completing a master's program and sitting for the National Counselor Examination (NCE).To take and pass the exam, you must hold at least 48 semester hours or 72 quarter hours of graduate-level coursework from an accredited program.

  1. 1

    Earn a Bachelor's Degree

    Behavioral counselors begin their career with a bachelor's degree in subjects like social work, psychology, or related health or science fields. You gain basic knowledge that is required for admission into an accredited graduate program.

  2. 2

    Earn an Accredited Graduate Degree in Counseling or a Related Field

    You may choose to spend time in an entry-level position or apply to a master's in counseling program. One of the most common is a master of science in counseling psychology. It is crucial to understand your state's specific requirements to practice as a behavioral counselor.

  3. 3

    Complete Post-Graduate Supervised Experience

    After you have earned your master's degree, you must complete at least 3,000 documented hours of supervised post-master counseling work experience to be eligible for the NCE. Some states may require more supervised clinical hours.

  4. 4

    Pass the National Counseling Examination

    The NCE may be taken independently or as part of your state license. You must graduate from a Council For Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP) accredited program, have a master's or doctoral degree, a professional endorsement, and at least 3,000 hours of documented clinical experience.

    To take and pass the NCE, you must hold at least 48 semester hours or 72 quarter hours of graduate-level coursework from an accredited program.

Behavioral Counselor Licensure

The National Board For Certified Counselors (NBCC) administers the NCE used by all 50 states and districts for licensure. Individuals should contact their state licensure board with questions about requirements and testing since the application process varies.

Your state may require the NCE and the National Clinical Mental Health Counseling Examination (NCMHC). The NCE is typically taken to receive your first level counselor license, allowing you to practice under supervision. The NCMHC will allow you to practice independently.

The NBCC directory has the information you need to contact your state board and submit the correct registration. You must submit your registration through the Credentialing Gateway before registering for the examination you use for state licensure.

Supervised experience is necessary to sit for the examinations, but states can require more than the minimum 3,000 hours. Each state is allowed to set the number of continuing education requirements to renew your license. Most states require renewal every two years.

Behavioral Counselor Outlook and Salaries

The areas with the highest concentration of behavioral counselors include outpatient care settings and offices of other healthcare practitioners. These are also areas where the annual average salary is higher than in residential facilities, including mental health and substance abuse facilities. The top-paying industries for behavioral counselors are religious organizations, businesses, and insurance-related activities.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median salary for substance use, behavioral, and mental health counselors is $25.82 with a median annual salary of $53,710.

After being credentialed, licensed, and achieving specialized knowledge and certifications, behavioral counselors can advance their careers by opening a private practice, moving into teaching, conducting research, or working in administrative or management positions.

Behavioral Counselor Salary Breakdown
Annual Salary Percentile Median Annual Salary
10% $36,700
25% $44,600
Median (50%) $53,710
75% $70,130
100% $89,920
Source: BLS, 2023

Frequently Asked Questions About How to Become a Behavioral Counselor

What are the pros and cons of becoming a behavioral counselor?

Behavioral counselors may enjoy a high degree of job satisfaction, including considerable flexibility in setting their hours and working around family commitments.

You have a choice of employment opportunities in clinics, schools, inpatient care facilities, and privately run practices. While some people thrive in a flexible environment others may consider it to be inconsistent or unpredictable. Some find the work to be lonely since much of it is a one-sided relationship with your clients.

Is there a difference between behavioral counselors and therapists?

There are key differences between behavioral counselors and therapists, including the approach taken and treatment prescribed. Behavioral counselors address specific issues and behavioral struggles, while a therapist seeks to delve deeper and understand the complete story behind an individual's behavior.

What are the goals of behavioral counseling?

The goal of behavior counseling is to reinforce positive behaviors while using strategies to eliminate unwanted ones. Some of the techniques employed are classical conditioning and operant conditioning, which includes cognitive behavioral therapy. Anxiety disorders, panic disorder, phobias, and other mental health conditions often respond favorably to behavioral counseling.

Are behavioral counselors in demand?

There was a critical need for mental health counselors before the COVID-19 pandemic, and that need has grown significantly since 2020. There's a shortage of behavioral counselors to help meet the rising demand for treating conditions such as depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, and anxiety.


Page last reviewed on September 19, 2023

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