Certificate in Counseling Guide

Counseling certificates teach aspiring and licensed counselors specific counseling skills and knowledge. Due to the shorter curriculum of most counseling certificate programs, applicants are generally required to take courses only in the specialty they seek licensure in or an area of specialization within the major counseling fields: clinical mental health counseling, marriage and family therapy, school counseling, rehabilitation counseling, or substance abuse counseling.

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Why Earn a Certificate in Counseling?

A master’s degree is typically considered the terminal degree for counseling professionals in most specialties. Certificate programs allow students to meet licensure requirements or develop specialized skills without completing an additional graduate degree. Already licensed counselors may complete a certificate program to earn a dual license in another counseling modality, gain proficiency in a particular area of their counseling field, or meet continuing education requirements.

Certificate programs designed to meet state licensure guidelines can provide graduates with expanded employment opportunities only available to licensed counselors, while certificate programs in special counseling topics may make graduates more qualified for specialized positions.

Choosing a Certificate in Counseling Degree Program

There are numerous types of counseling certificates to choose from and the best option for you will depend on many factors. Some certificates are designed for individuals seeking licensure while others are designed for licensed counselors. Certificate programs can be found in five of the main counseling categories. Each state has different requirements for counseling licensure and continuing education; you should ensure your chosen program meets your state’s requirements.

Another consideration for choosing a counseling certificate program is whether to complete your studies on-campus or online. Online certificate programs accommodate the needs of working professionals and other busy students. If you choose an out-of-state program, be sure to check whether it will meet licensure or continuing education requirements in your licensing state.

Admission Requirements

Admission requirements vary by school and program. Undergraduate certificates in counseling may require an associate’s degree or a high school diploma/GED to apply. Graduate certificates in counseling typically require a related master’s degree for admission. Other common requirements include a minimum GPA, a statement of purpose, and letters of recommendation.

Licensure With a Certificate in Counseling

By completing a certificate in counseling, you may open up new employment opportunities in one of the major counseling-related fields. Specific career opportunities will be based on your state and the licensure requirements, but license titles that may be available for you with your certificate include:

  • Licensed Clinical Supervisor (LCS)*
  • Licensed Drug and Alcohol Counselor (LDAC)
  • Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (LMFT)*
  • Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor (LPCC)*
  • Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC)*
  • Licensed Rehabilitation Counselor (LRC)*
  • Licensed Substance Abuse Counselor (LSAC)

*Typically in addition to a master’s degree.

For more information about licensing with a master’s in counseling, check with your state’s board of professional counselors or see our guide to counseling licensure by state.

Types of Certificates in Counseling

Counseling is a broad field with many specializations to choose from. Licensed counselors can complete certificate programs to gain specialized knowledge or earn a dual license in another area of counseling. Certificate programs are available in all the major areas of counseling specialties and typically range in length from six months to a year of full-time study, though many of these programs are designed to be taken part-time. They may include a practicum or internship as part of the curriculum. Learn more about counseling certificate programs in each of these fields below.

Marriage and Family Therapy Certificate

Certificate programs in marriage and family therapy (MFT) allow practicing counselors to become dually licensed to provide MFT services or can bridge the gap if your master’s in MFT doesn’t meet licensing standards. MFT certificates can also help licensed marriage and family therapists (LMFTs) learn more about a specific area of practice. Certificates leading to licensure are offered in marriage and family therapy or marital and family therapy while areas of specialization in MFT include couples therapy, family therapy, child and adolescent development, and systems theories. A certificate in marriage and family therapy may require students to complete supervised work experience as this is a common licensure requirement. To learn more, read our MFT degree guide.

Mental Health Counseling Certificate

Mental health counseling certificates teach the psychotherapeutic assessment and treatment of mental and emotional disorders in individual and group settings. Certificates in this area of specialization include clinical mental health counseling, mental health counseling, and professional counseling. In every state, a master’s degree in mental health counseling is required for state licensure; certificate coursework can help candidates with a graduate degree that does not meet licensure requirements or licensed counselors interested in focusing their practice in a specific area, such as child and youth mental health, co-occurring disorders, and mental health and aging. Learn more about opportunities available to counseling degree and certificate holders in our Mental Health Counseling Degree Guide.

Rehabilitation Counseling Certificate

Rehabilitation counseling certificates teach students to assess and help clients living with disabilities adapt to daily life and develop functional abilities. Certificates in this field are offered in rehabilitation counseling and related fields such as rehabilitation studies and disability studies among others. State licensing requirements vary and applicants should determine whether a certificate program meets the guidelines if they hope to earn licensure as a rehabilitation counselor. Earning a certificate in rehabilitation counseling may also increase employment opportunities or enable graduates to command a higher salary. If you’d like to learn more about degrees and certificates in rehabilitation counseling, read our rehabilitation counseling degrees guide.

School Counseling Certificate

School counseling certificates prepare graduates to work with students of all grades ranging from pre-K to 12th grade and provide guidance and support related to personal, academic, and behavioral issues. Some states require school counselors to complete educator preparation programs and earn teaching experience before they are eligible for school counselor roles. A master’s degree is required for full licensure in all states, but candidates with a master’s degree in a subject other than school counseling may complete a school counseling certificate to meet licensure requirements. Review our guide to school counseling degrees to learn more about the degree and certificate options in this specialty of counseling.

Substance Abuse Counseling Certificate

Substance abuse counseling or addiction counseling certificates teach specialized knowledge in substance abuse, addiction, chemical dependency, and recovery issues and how to help clients and their loved ones address these challenges. Certificate programs can also help substance abuse counselors gain hands-on training and may provide greater employment opportunities. Although in some states a high school diploma is acceptable for entry-level practice, many states require prospective substance abuse counselors to complete specific training in substance abuse and addiction. Completing a certificate may be one way to meet these requirements. Certificates are offered in substance abuse counseling, substance abuse studies, addiction counseling, addiction studies, and chemical dependency counseling. Read our Substance Abuse Counseling Degree Guide to learn more about these options.

On-Campus Counseling Certificate Degree Programs

Clark College

Clark College in Washington offers an undergraduate Certificate of Completion (CP) in Addiction Counselor Education that requires a minimum of an associate degree to apply. This National Association of Alcohol and Drug Abuse Counselors (NAADAC)- and National Addiction Studies Accreditation Commission (NASAC)-approved 60-credit program is intended to equip people who are already in counseling or a related field to deliver substance abuse services to clients. Students in the CP program are from many fields, including law enforcement, healthcare, corrections, social services, and teaching. Graduates will be prepared to take the Washington Chemical Dependency Professional exam and to provide quality care to patients suffering from addictions. The CP-Addiction Counselor Education can be completed in 12 months of full-time study. Clark also offers a related Associate of Applied Science (AAS) qualifying students to become certified in Washington as Chemical Dependency Professionals (CDPs) and an Associate of Arts (AA) for future transfer students.

Indiana State University

Aspiring mental health counselors may be interested in the graduate-level Mental Health Counselor Certificate offered by Indiana State University (ISU). This program is designed for individuals with a 48-credit master’s degree in counseling who require additional graduate-level coursework in counseling to meet Indiana counseling licensure requirements. The certificate curriculum focuses on providing additional hours of clinically supervised work experience and meeting any coursework deficiencies according to Indiana state regulations. As state guidelines vary, prospective applicants practicing in other states should confirm whether the ISU program meets out-of-state licensure requirements. Applicants must have pre- and post-degree clinical experience and provide clinical supervision references. Financial aid may be available to qualified students.

Johns Hopkins University

Johns Hopkins University (JHU) in Baltimore offers a part-time, post-master’s Certificate in Clinical Mental Health Counseling for applicants with a master’s degree in counseling or a related field. Students must complete 15 credits in a maximum of three years with applications accepted for the fall and spring terms. Courses are chosen in consultation with an academic advisor to ensure each student meets their study and career goals. Course examples include Appraisal and Testing for Counselors, Diagnosis in Counseling, and Counseling Techniques. The application package includes college and university transcripts, a resume, a reflective essay, two references, and the online application form. JHU also offers a Master of Science in Counseling with concentrations in school counseling or clinical mental health counseling.

St. Thomas University

St. Thomas University (STU) in Biscayne, Florida, has a Post-Master’s Certificate in Marriage and Family Therapy designed to help counseling professionals develop in-depth understanding of marital, family, and systems theories. The program may appeal to licensed social workers, nurse practitioners, mental health counselors, and school counselors seeking dual licensure as a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (LMFT). The curriculum includes 18 credits of graduate coursework; examples of courses include Theory and Practice of Counseling Couples and Human Sexuality Counseling. Applicants should have a master’s degree in counseling or a related field, such as social work or psychology. STU also offers master’s degrees in Guidance and Counseling, Marriage and Family Therapy, and Mental Health Counseling.

University of Massachusetts Boston

The University of Massachusetts Boston offers a Certificate in Rehabilitation Counseling designed for applicants with a graduate degree in a related field, such as behavioral health, occupational therapy, and disability studies. The program prepares students to take the Commission on Rehabilitation Counselor Certification (CRCC) exam through a curriculum of seven courses that cover topics such as rehabilitation foundations, case management, and counseling theory. Applicants must have a 3.0 undergraduate GPA, related experience, and a letter of reference. New students are admitted in the spring and summer terms. The University of Massachusetts Boston also offers a Master of Science (MS) degree in Rehabilitation Counseling.

Online Counseling Certificate Degree Programs

University of North Carolina-Charlotte

Prospective school counselors may wish to consider the University of North Carolina-Charlotte’s Post-Master’s Certificate in School Counseling. This certificate is intended for professionals with related graduate degrees, such as mental health counseling or marriage and family therapy, who would like to earn state licensure as a school counselor. Students are admitted for a summer term start date and complete all certificate requirements online. Out-of-state applicants are accepted but are responsible for ensuring the certificate meets state requirements in their practice location. Applicants must have an accredited counseling degree and apply with three letters of recommendation, a statement of purpose, and all college and university transcripts, including undergraduate study. Completed application packages are due in March.

University of South Dakota

The University of South Dakota (USD) offers a Certificate in Mental Health Counseling to help mental health counselors who do not have a 60-credit graduate degree meet state licensure requirements. Students take four courses, comprising 12 credits, fully online; course topics include clinical supervision, crisis intervention, and psychopathology. These online courses are based on the same content as USD’s on-campus CACREP-accredited Master of Arts (MA) in Clinical Mental Health Counseling. New applicants are admitted during the fall, spring, and summer terms, although not all courses are offered during each term. Applicants must have a 3.0 GPA in their undergraduate and graduate degrees and submit three letters of reference. Work experience in the mental health counseling field is considered advantageous. USD also offers an MA degree with a specialization in school counseling and a PhD in counseling education and supervision.

Utah State University

The post-graduate Certificate in Rehabilitation Counseling offered at Utah State University (USU) is a one-year online program that prepares students for the CRCC exam. It is designed for applicants with graduate-level training in a field other than rehabilitation counseling, such as behavioral health, psychology, or human services. Applicants must have at least 36 months of related work experience including 24 months of supervised rehabilitation counselor work. The program includes eight courses comprising 22 credits including courses such as Psychosocial Aspects of Disability and Rehabilitation Services and Resources. Applications are accepted for fall, spring, and summer start dates.

Careers With a Certificate in Counseling

More information about counseling careers for those with a certificate in counseling, including educational requirements, state licensure guidelines, average salaries, and job outlooks, can be found on our career pages:

Frequently Asked Questions

Can I complete an online certificate in counseling in another state?

An online certificate in counseling can offer flexibility while providing students with the same qualifications as an on-campus program. You may want to consider programs in your home state as they are more likely to meet state licensure requirements. If you choose an out-of-state program, you are responsible for ensuring the program meets the licensure requirements in your state. Visit our guide to counselor licensing for more information.

What specializations are offered in counseling certificate programs?

Counseling certificates are designed to provide mental health professionals with additional skills and knowledge in a particular area of practice. Some programs may fulfill dual licensure requirements for those who are already licensed in one area of counseling. For example, a licensed professional counselor (LPC) may complete a certificate in marriage and family therapy to become eligible to offer this service. Other certificate programs may offer specializations in particular demographics or populations, such as child development, or allow counselors to learn more about particular counseling modalities, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy.

How much does a certificate in counseling program cost?

Due to their shorter program length, certificates in counseling tend to be cheaper than a bachelor’s or a master’s degree in counseling. Certificate programs vary in the number of required courses, which also impacts the overall cost of the degree as most programs require students to pay on a per-credit-hour basis. One consideration for prospective applicants is that certificate program students may not be eligible for financial aid because they often do not meet course load requirements for financial aid. Prospective applicants should consider this when choosing a certificate program.

How long is a certificate in counseling?

Most certificate programs are designed to help students complete the required coursework faster than degree programs. The length of the program will be determined by many factors, but generally certificates in counseling can be completed in as little as six months or one year of full-time or part-time study. Certificates are offered in a structured, cohort style in which students progress through the program together or in a flexible manner that allows them to choose their courses each term and take breaks during the program if necessary. Most certificate programs have a maximum length of time in which the course requirements must be met, such as three years from the start date.

Can I become licensed with a certificate in counseling?

Generally speaking, counseling certificates are designed to meet specific skills and knowledge gaps, but not to prepare graduates for state licensure. For example, a licensed clinical mental health counselor may complete a certificate in marriage and family therapy to provide additional services to clients. On their own, certificates in counseling do not provide the coursework or work experience needed to meet counseling licensure requirements but they may enable individuals with relevant experience to meet licensure requirements more quickly.