How to Become a Child/Pediatric Counselor
Children account for a large portion of the population, and they thus account for many people who need counseling. Child/pediatric counselors help children who struggle with physical abuse, substance abuse, trauma, and other serious issues. Counselors also help children prepare for their future even when these issues aren't present. Child/pediatric counselors specialize in helping children under 18 years old.
You'll first have to complete a couple of academic degrees before completing the professional requirements to be a child/pediatric counselor. A bachelor's and master's degree will be required:
- Bachelor's Degree: This refers to a four-year undergraduate program that's a prerequisite for a master's degree. You can major in a relevant field, such as general counseling, behavioral therapy, social sciences, child psychology, or something similar. It's not required to complete one of these majors, however. Bachelor's programs require a high school diploma or equivalent.
- Master's Degree: A two-year graduate program is a prerequisite for licensure. Your master's degree program must be in counseling or a related area, and it has to be accredited by CACREP or a similar organization. Most states require a 60-credit master's degree, but some have lower requirements.
Master's degrees have a practicum that's ~600 hours of hands-on experience. This is different from the supervised hour requirement (see below).
Depending on your current situation and career aspirations, several other degree programs might be of interest:
- Associate Degree: A two-year program that may count toward part of a bachelor's degree program. You can major in psychology or any subject. Just make sure an associate degree will reduce your bachelor's requirements. You could use an associate degree to make your academic record more competitive when applying to bachelor's programs. You could alternatively keep your tuition costs lower by completing an associate degree at a local community college.
- Graduate Certificate: A one-year program at most, which you may complete after earning a master's degree. A graduate certificate could help you specialize in child/pediatric counseling, especially if your master's degree doesn't offer such a specialization track.
- Doctorate Degree: A three to six-year program you may complete after a master's degree. Some clinically-focused doctorate degrees require several years of professional experience as well. Earning a doctorate, such as a psychology Ph.D. or PsyD, could prepare you for the highest positions in child/pediatric counseling or deep research in the field.
After completing your required academic work, you'll still need to go through several other steps before becoming a licensed child/pediatric counselor.
The most extensive requirement is ~1,500 to ~3,000 hours of supervised counseling experience. You'll work under a licensed counselor; most of the work must provide direct client counseling services. Expect to spend one to three years completing this requirement.
Your supervised hours can be in any counseling field, but working with children would be best. You might consider working short stints in several settings where children need counseling services.
The National Clinical Mental Health Counseling Exam is the standard licensure examination for counselors. Some states accept other licensing exams, though; a few even have their own supplementary examination. You'll have to pass the exam before becoming licensed.
The licensure exam is a general exam for all counselors. It's not specific to pediatric counseling.
Because each state sets its specific requirements, you'll need to check what's required for licensure. Check with the state where you intend to work.
After becoming licensed, you're ready to apply for a child/pediatric counselor job. You may find a job through your master's program, its practicum, or your supervised hours or by perusing job boards.
What Careers Can I Pursue with a Child/Pediatric Counselor Degree?
A child/pediatric counselor degree provides the foundational knowledge for working with children of all ages and situations. With this degree, you could pursue jobs in:
- Child behavioral therapy
- Pediatric mental health counseling
- Pediatric substance abuse counseling
- Teen and adolescent counseling
- Gender and sexual identity counseling
- Other child counseling disciplines
Where Can I Work With a Child/Pediatric Counselor Degree?
You'll be able to work in many different settings with a child/pediatric counselor degree. For example, child counselors are employed in schools, hospitals, juvenile detention centers, children’s homes, homeless shelters, domestic violence shelters, adoption nonprofits, and social service centers. Although this is less common, you could also go into private practice.
Salary.com reports a child counselor’s median salary is $43,812 annually. Most counselors make between $36,391 and $51,513. Counselors who want to work with children but earn more should consider becoming a school counselor, for which the average annual salary is $59,695 per Glassdoor.