Best Online Certificate in Counseling

Maura Deering, J.D.
Updated May 20, 2024
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Counseling degree-holders interested in state licensure and national certification or delving into specialties can pursue short-term certificates in counseling. Online certificates offer a flexible, cost-saving, and relatively quick route to building expertise in a subfield of counseling. Enrollees can complete some programs in less than a year.

Learn about counseling certificate concentration options, program admission requirements, career opportunities, and potential salaries.

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Online Certificate in Counseling Program Overview

A certificate in counseling can complement a bachelor’s or master’s degree in counseling and develop expertise in a counseling subfield. Online counseling certificate programs offer a shorter path to career advancement and knowledge than full degrees, with available options like addiction counseling, marriage and family counseling, rehabilitation counseling, and school counseling.

Although an online certificate program alone will not prepare you for licensure, counseling certificate programs are flexible and offer a range of benefits. In many states, earning a certificate can help you meet the requirements to become a licensed professional counselor, certified school counselor, or counseling educator. Some individuals may pursue counseling certificates while working toward graduate degrees. Many licensed counselors may complete an online certificate program to meet their continuing education requirements.

Full-time students can complete certificates in counseling in as little as two semesters. Certificates typically require 9-30 credits, depending on the subfield.

Admission Requirements

Common admission requirements for online counseling certificate programs include:

  • A master’s degree in counseling or a related field, depending on the certificate program and subfield
  • Official transcripts
  • Minimum 3.0 GPA
  • A resume
  • Two professional recommendations
  • A personal/professional essay
  • Prerequisite counseling coursework
  • An interview

Online vs. Traditional Certificate in Counseling Programs

Online counseling certificate enrollees may log into synchronous virtual classes at set times or complete their coursework asynchronously, which allows access to course materials and recorded lectures at any time. Clinical experiences often occur in learners’ local areas, though some schools may assign settings.

Synchronous delivery mimics the classroom experience with real-time learning and live interaction via streaming platforms. Asynchronous learning requires self-motivation and organization to meet assignment deadlines with little oversight.

If you earn your certificate in counseling through an accredited program, you can receive the same instructional quality, whether online or on-campus. Learners should ensure the certificate program meets state board of counseling requirements. You can also look for online certificate programs accredited by the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs or a comparable organization.

Online Certificate in Counseling Program Concentrations and Specializations

Below are descriptions of common counseling certificate subfields that can help you qualify for credentials, build expertise, and advance your career.

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    Trauma Counseling

    Trauma counseling certificate programs foster an understanding of the effects of trauma on clients’ behavioral, cognitive, emotional, and neurological systems. Topics may include complex trauma, grief, and self-care, along with cultural- and gender-appropriate assessment and interventions.

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    Addiction Counseling

    Addiction counseling students learn about the theories, techniques, and core functions of substance misuse counseling. Courses and clinical experiences emphasize best practice standards and evidence-based research.

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    Education Counseling

    Education counseling certificate programs train school administrators, advisors, staff, teachers, and tutors, along with non-education professionals who support students and families. Coursework covers lifespan development; professional counseling, identity, and ethics; and counseling theories and techniques.

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    Rehabilitation Counseling

    Rehabilitation counseling certificates prepare professionals to help clients with cognitive, developmental, emotional, physical, and psychiatric disabilities to live independently, hold jobs, and function as part of communities.

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    Marriage and Family Therapy

    Depending on state regulations, completing marriage and family therapy (MFT) certificates may qualify graduates for MFT licensure. The program trains students in assessment, intervention, and evidence-based systemic theory. MFTs help couples, families, and individuals work through relationship issues and challenges.

Career and Salary Outlook for Counselors

Licensed counselors can pursue various career paths. Professionals in the following four careers work toward the same goal of improving clients’ lives. Each position requires specialization during a master’s program or earning an online certificate after graduation.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports strong job growth projections and salaries for several counseling professions. A certificate in counseling program prepares students well for exploring the various job opportunities in the field.

Substance Use, Behavioral Disorder, and Mental Health Counselor

Substance use, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors provide similar counseling services to different populations in need. They develop treatments, track client progress, and refer patients for other mental health resources. Primary work locations include mental health centers, hospitals, and residential mental health facilities.

School and Career Counselor

School and career counselors work in K-12 schools and colleges. They meet with students to discuss long-term career goals. Students experiencing poor academic performance can turn to these counselors to discover the root causes and find remedies. The profession involves detailed recordkeeping and collaborating with teachers and administrators.

Rehabilitation Counselor

Some people have disabilities from birth, while others begin living with disabilities later in life. Rehabilitation counselors work with both groups, helping them handle everyday tasks. Like their peers in other counseling subfields, rehabilitation counselors create treatment plans and work with other professionals to provide clients with the resources they need.

Marriage and Family Therapist

All families experience conflict on some level. Couples and families who cannot resolve their differences can meet with marriage and family therapists. These counselors ask clients to express their frustrations and emotions, which may indicate the causes of conflicts within families. They help families develop and use techniques to reduce friction and live happier lives.

Career Salary Potential
CareerMedian Annual Salary (May 2023)Projected Growth Rate (2022-2032)
Substance Use, Behavioral Disorder, and Mental Health Counselor$53,710+18%
School and Career Counselor$61,710+5%
Rehabilitation Counselor$44,040+2%
Marriage and Family Therapist$58,510+15%
Source: BLS

What’s the Difference Between a Certificate, Certification, and Licensure in Counseling?

Understanding the differences between certificates, certification, and licensure in counseling is crucial for professionals in the field, as each designation holds distinct implications.

Counselor Licensure

Counselors need to meet state licensure requirements to practice independently. Different counseling positions all follow unique licensure steps. All candidates should earn master’s degrees in counseling, pass the examination, and gain supervised work experience.

Counselor Certificate

A counseling certificate indicates the successful completion of a specific training program or course, which typically emphasizes a particular skill or topic. However, it does not grant a license or permit autonomous practice. Instead, completing these programs showcases enhanced proficiency in a specialized field.

Specialty Certifications

Certification in counseling typically involves meeting specific educational and professional requirements in a certain specialty set by a certifying organization, such as the National Board for Certified Counselors (NBCC).

Popular certifications, like the national certified counselor (NCC) credential, signify a higher level of expertise and skill within the field. These credentials are often voluntary but can enhance professionals’ credibility and marketability. Certification is typically granted after successfully passing an exam, though some may include experience requirements..

Frequently Asked Questions About Online Certificates in Counseling

No — a certificate is not required to become a counselor, nor is it a replacement for an academic degree required for practice. Students who earn online counseling certificates may already work as counselors. A certificate in counseling imparts additional knowledge and skills that can improve your career opportunities or meet continuing education requirements.

Page last reviewed on May 2, 2024

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