Graduate Certificate Programs in General and Specialized Counseling
Graduate certificate programs provide students and mid-career professionals who hold at least a bachelor’s degree with pathways to acquire advanced knowledge and specialized skills without having to complete an entire graduate degree program. In the field of counseling, there are a number of areas of specialization that can lead to professional advancement, including but not limited to sports and performance counseling, trauma and grief counseling, and college and career counseling. Many accredited colleges and universities offer graduate certificate programs in these counseling specializations, as well as in general counseling practices.
These programs are typically designed for graduate students and counselors, educators, psychologists, therapists, and other professionals who have studied and/or worked in social and behavioral science fields, hold a bachelor’s or a master’s degree, and want to add new counseling skills and proficiencies in less time than it takes to earn a master’s or doctoral degree. Some counseling graduate certificate programs are designed to accommodate students who hold a bachelor’s degree, while others require a minimum of a master’s degree and may also require applicants to be licensed in a counseling field, such as clinical mental health, rehabilitation, or school counseling.
Note: For detailed information on clinical mental health, rehabilitation, and school counseling, refer to the Graduate Certificate Programs in Clinical Mental Health and Rehabilitation Counseling and Graduate Certificate Programs in School Counseling pages.
General and Specialized Counseling Fields Explained
Counseling is a diverse field in which trained professionals provide formal assistance, guidance, and, when appropriate, therapy to adults, children, students, couples, families, and groups who are experiencing difficulties in their personal or professional lives and seeking help in overcoming social, psychological, and behavioral issues. While the fundamental principles and practices of various counseling specializations are founded on the same body of scientific evidence and behavioral and social science research, the application of these principles and practices can vary based on a number of factors, such as the population group being served and the therapeutic goal of the counseling.
For example, trauma and grief counseling generally requires a different professional approach than sport and athletic counseling, and counseling college-age students and adults often presents different therapeutic challenges than working with young children. As a result, professional counselors and therapists commonly seek to cultivate skills in one or more counseling specializations to complement their general training. Graduate certificate programs in sports counseling, trauma counseling, college and career counseling, and play therapy represent one way that counselors can add a new specialization through formal academic training without having to complete a full graduate degree program.
Identifying and Classifying General and Specialized Counseling Graduate Certificate Programs
GraduateCertificates.com researches graduate certificate programs in counseling and classifies programs based on several relevant factors, including the focus of their curricula. Programs are classified as graduate certificate programs in counseling provided that they are academic programs offered by an accredited college or university, they consist of a relatively small cluster of graduate courses in counseling, and they require applicants to hold a minimum of a bachelor’s degree. Programs that meet these criteria and provide training in addiction and substance abuse, applied behavior analysis (ABA), clinical mental health and rehabilitation counseling, and school counseling are classified separately by those designations on this site.
Programs that meet criteria for graduate certificate programs in counseling and which offer general training in non-clinical counseling or narrower training in one of the counseling specializations listed below are classified as graduate certificate programs in general and specialized counseling.
- Career Counseling
- College Counseling
- Counselor Education (non-clinical)
- Grief Counseling
- Play Therapy
- Sports Counseling
- Trauma Counseling
Note: While graduate certificate programs in counseling are generally designed to prepare students for work in the field of counseling, professional counselors may also be required to hold a license to practice counseling issued by the state in which they intend to practice*.
General and Specialized Counseling Graduate Certificate Coursework
Graduate certificate programs in counseling are typically comprised of four, five, or six master’s-level graduate courses that focus relatively narrowly on practical counseling skills and their application. These courses commonly draw on and/or overlap with courses offered as part of a graduate degree program in counseling, often a master’s in counseling program. Many programs require one or two general counseling courses that cover theories and techniques of individual and group counseling and the ethical and professional practice of counseling. However, specific course requirements vary by program and by specialization. For example, graduate certificate programs in trauma counseling typically feature courses in trauma treatment and recovery strategies for children and adults. Sports counseling graduate certificate programs commonly require courses that cover common mental health issues faced by student athletes. Finally, a career counseling graduate certificate program generally includes coursework in the relationship between work, identity, and mental wellness.
In addition to didactic courses, some graduate certificate programs in general counseling and counseling specializations include an optional or required internship or practicum to provide students with an opportunity to accrue supervised practice hours in a setting that aligns with the focus of the program. Most programs give students the option of completing site-based hours at locations that are convenient for them. Internship and practicum hours can typically be used to fulfill supervised practice requirements for licensure in counseling fields that require licensure.
The courses listed below are drawn from actual graduate certificate programs in counseling and are meant to provide a representative overview of the types of courses students typically complete as program requirements and/or electives.
- Contemporary Concepts in Counselor Education
- Human Development Across the Lifespan
- Mental Health and Wellness
- Professional and Ethical Orientation to Counseling
- Social and Cultural Dimensions of Counseling
- Theories and Techniques of Counseling
- The Role of the Professional Counselor
- Trauma, Grief, and Recovery
Online Graduate Certificate Programs in General Counseling and Counseling Specializations
Graduate certificate programs are generally designed to be convenient and flexible enough to accommodate mid-career professionals who are interested in adding new skills and proficiencies while continuing to work full time. One way that schools accomplish this is by offering programs online. For students not familiar with online programs, not all online programs are the same. There are different online instructional methods and various ways of structuring programs, as detailed below. Regardless of these variations, online graduate certificate programs represent a means for accredited colleges and universities to extend the reach of a program to students who live outside of commuting range of a school’s campus and to meet the needs of working professionals who are not able to attend weekly campus-based classes.
Online graduate certificate in counseling programs provide students with the same types of coursework and training as their campus-based counterparts but do so using internet-based distance learning platforms, commonly referred to as learning management systems (LMSs). LMSs can be used to stream live lectures and instructional presentations, a mode of real-time instruction that is known as synchronous instruction. Synchronous online instruction is similar in concept to traditional classroom-based instruction in that classes have scheduled times at which they begin and end and students are required to participate in classes at those times using a computer and webcam.
LMSs also support on-demand streaming of pre-recorded lectures and instructional presentations, a mode of online instruction that is referred to as asynchronous instruction. Asynchronous instruction is less rigid and more flexible than synchronous instruction, but it does not provide as much structure and requires students to exercise more self-discipline and self-motivation in order to ensure coursework is completed on time.
Another consideration for those who are exploring options for earning a graduate certificate in general counseling or a counseling specialization online is campus visits. Some online programs hold orientations, workshops, seminars, and other types of instructional sessions on campus. These campus-based requirements are generally short in duration and held at times that are convenient for students travelling from out of town in order to attend. But they can cause scheduling conflicts for some students. GraduateCertificates.com classifies programs that offer all of their coursework online, and programs that offer most of their coursework online but which require no more than three campus visits per year as online programs. Programs that require four or more campus visits are classified as blended/hybrid programs, as these programs are more evenly split between campus-based and online requirements. While blended/hybrid programs represent a more convenient and flexible alternative to fully campus-based programs for students who live near the school offering the program, they are less practical for students who live further away.
Note: Required on campus visits are different from programs that require students to complete clinical hours in the form of an internship or practicum. For programs that require clinical hours, online students are expected to complete these requirements in person at a local agency. Students should reach out to prospective programs that require clinical hours, especially programs offered by out-of-state schools, to discuss the practicum placement process before applying.
Examples of Online Graduate Certificate Programs in General and Specialized Counseling
Each of the schools listed below currently offers an online graduate certificate program in general counseling or a counseling specialization other than clinical mental health, rehabilitation, school, or addiction counseling. These programs are meant to provide a representative overview of the types of programs that are offered online by accredited colleges and universities.
North Carolina State University (NCSU) offers an online Graduate Certificate in Counselor Education program through its College of Education and its division of Online and Distance Education. The 13-credit program consists of four graduate courses in counseling, all of which can be completed in one year without having to attend any campus visits. This is a post-baccalaureate program that is designed for K-12 and college teachers and administrators, human service workers, and other individuals who hold a bachelor’s or a master’s degree and who are interested in cultivating general counseling proficiencies. Graduates from the program are qualified to work as paraprofessionals assisting licensed counselors and/or to apply the principles and practices of counseling in other types of work. For more information on this program, visit NCSU’s Online and Distance Education division at online-distance.ncsu.edu.
San Diego State University (SDSU) offers an online Graduate Certificate in Mental Health Recovery and Trauma-Informed Care program through its College of Education and its Department of Counseling & School Psychology. This is a post-baccalaureate certificate program that is designed for students who hold at least a bachelor’s degree and who are interested in learning about trauma treatment and recovery for work in schools, social service agencies, and community organizations. The certificate program can also serve as a steppingstone to the hybrid Master of Arts in Education (MAE) program with concentration in counseling offered by SDSU. Students can complete the certificate program’s four courses, which confer 12 graduate credits, in five months without having to attend any campus-based sessions. For more information on the program, visit SDSU’s College of Education at education.sdsu.edu.
California University of Pennsylvania (Cal U) offers an online Sports Counseling and Athlete Mental Wellness Graduate Certificate through its Department of Counselor Education. The program consists of four graduate courses, each of which confers three credits, and all of which are offered during Cal U’s summer term in order to accommodate educators and coaches. This is a post-baccalaureate certificate program that is designed for counselors and counselors in training, educators, coaches, and professionals in sports-related fields who are interested in adding sports counseling to their skillset. Students in the program are not required to attend any campus-based sessions. For more information on the program, visit Cal U at www.calu.edu.
Marshall University offers an online Certificate of Advanced Studies in Violence, Loss, and Trauma program through its College of Education and Professional Development. This is a post-master’s graduate certificate program that is designed for students who hold a master’s or doctoral degree in behavioral health and science fields, although students who are currently earning a graduate degree in a qualifying field of study may also be eligible for admission to the program. The certificate program consists of six graduate courses, conferring 18 credits that overlap with Marshall’s Master of Arts (MA) in Counseling program. Students can complete the certificate program without having to attend any campus visits. For more information on the program, visit Marshall University at www.marshall.edu.
More Graduate Certificates in General and Specialized Counseling
*While licensing requirements vary by state and by specialization, all 50 states and the District of Columbia require counselors who provide psychotherapy and other clinical mental health and rehabilitation counseling services in the absence of formal supervision to be licensed professional counselors (LPCs), and a master’s degree is the minimum level of educational attainment required to become an LPC. Similarly, school counselors who work with K-12 children are required to hold a master’s degree and a state license.
Most states also require addiction/substance abuse counselors to be licensed, although a master’s degree is not required for this type of counseling in every state. Other counseling specializations, including career counseling, college counseling, grief counseling, sports counseling, and trauma counseling may be exempt from licensing requirements provided practitioners are not engaged in the provision of direct clinical counseling services as defined by the state. Counseling that involves working with children, such as art or play therapy, generally requires a state license. For details about licensing procedures and requirements in a specific state, contact the licensing board in that state.
Additional Graduate Certificates in Counseling and Psychology
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