What do you think of master's in community counseling programs?

PizzaButt

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I have applied to a number of master's in community counseling programs. I am wondering what others' thoughts on this career path are. My goal is to be a master's level therapist in private practice--I'm not interested in teaching or research, but instead want to do straight therapy. I decided on master's in community counseling programs so that I could get a solid mental health foundation and also get licensed to practice independently after I graduate and get my supervision hours finished.

I also considered applying to clinical social work programs, but decided against it because of several reasons. They are 1) clinical social work seems to be one more year longer than master's in community counseling programs; 2) social worker programs don't have as many mental health courses offered as do counseling programs--instead, most of the curriculum is general social work classes, which I am not interested in. I felt that I would get a more solid mental health curriculum in community counseling programs; and 3) I am not interested in case management and that seems to be what many of the entry-level social work jobs involve, as opposed to counseling jobs, which focus more on actual therapy/counseling.

Any thoughts about community counseling programs or the pros and cons of this degree over a clinical social work degree?
 

biogirl215

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Hi,

I'm an undergraduate student (BA Psych and a BSW), but I have an internship where I work with many graduate students, both in MA Counseling and MSW programs. Both can provide solid clinical background, particularly if you choose a more clinically focused MSW program (look at each program's curriculum and emphasis on their website). MSW licensure (LCSW) generally is easier in terms of insurance and especially in government jobs (VA's, military base, etc) and in some cases hospital work. By all means, not all MSW's do casework--many do straight clinical work, and some MA Counseling students do case work. It depends on interest, job availability, etc.

I'm not sure what you mean by MSW programs being "a year longer"--almost all non-advanced standing MSW programs are two years, as are all almost all MA Counseling programs.

What do you want to do--private practice, work in a hospital, work for an agency, etc.?
 
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PizzaButt

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Thanks for your reply.

My career goal is to have a private practice, so I'm thinking a licensable master's degree is all I'll need.

I did look into clinically-focused MSW programs but I found that very little of their coursework is mental health related. The first year of these programs is all social work courses, which I'm not interested in, and their mental health course offerings don't seem as comprehensive as the counseling programs I've looked at.

I've spoken to a number of master's in counseling graduates who are LPCs (licensed professional counselors), and they told me that LPCs are now licensed in 49 states and that they are able to accept nearly all forms of insurance once licensed. I understand that many hospital-based jobs and government jobs prefer social workers, but my goal is private practice. Still, I am wondering if perhaps social work might be a better path for me, though I feel that the curriculum of master's in counseling programs is a lot stronger in terms of being all mental health classes. In other words, in the master's in counseling programs all 60 credit hours will be mental health related--in MSW programs, the first year is not mental health related, so I feel that is a disadvantage of going the MSW route. In addition, I feel that the counseling programs offer a lot more in terms of counseling opportunities and supervision.

Any other thoughts?
 

justme08

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Hi, I'm researching this as a career changer. I'm working on my undergrad in Psych at the moment, and leaning towards a Masters in Mental Health Counseling (community/agency counseling). Like you I'm more interested in these courses than SW. But, I worry about finding a post grad, pre lic. position as most of these seem to be for MSW. I realize you would like to go private practice, do you already know someone to supervise you before you become licensed?

Also I liked the VA jobs that seem to only go to LCSW. For some reason in my current area the only jobs for LPC's are a bit dangerous as in all house visit type - sorry if people find that offensive (my current field is legal so I've done my share of interviewing and otherwise hanging out in unsavory neighborhoods - and would prefer not working in that environment).

So, I researched the American Counseling Association site and I see they are making strides with legislation regarding the VA and Medicare and gaining equal footing with the Social Workers.
 
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PizzaButt

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I am also a career changer. I have done a lot of research on this career path--talking to a number of practitioners in the field with both social work master's degrees and counseling master's degrees, doing lots of online research, etc.

I too share your concern about post-graduate positions. That is one of the things I definitely want to find out more about. I don't want to graduate with this degree and find that I have limited employment options, especially since I'm married and am limited to staying in my current area for jobs. I also have learned that if you do not find free supervision in your post-grad employment opportunity (where you're getting your hours toward licensure), that you might have to pay for this supervision from a private practitioner, and that some of these practitioners charge their full fee (though some charge a partial fee). When I heard this it really concerned me, though I assume it would be the same for MSWs or doctoral grads as well. The key is to find a site to get your hours in that offers free supervision.

Besides that, I am very pleased with everything else I've learned about the field. I've looked at the American Counseling Association web site extensively, as well as other sites for local LPC organizations. In addition, I have spoken to a number of practitioners in the field, and have discussions scheduled with many more in the next few weeks. I guess overall I feel that I would get a much stronger mental health foundation with counseling than with social work. Also, the first year of social work courses does not interest me at all.

It was explained to me by an LPC practitioner in the field that many of the positions that prefer a social worker are actually more case management in nature, and that someone with an LPC might not necessarily want those kinds of positions anyway because they aren't as counseling-related.

Anyhow, I am interested in having a private practice, and so I guess this employment-conundrum would only really apply for the first few years. However, when I've looked on the Psychology Today find a therapist feature, I've noticed that there are a lot fewer LPCs who have private practices than LCSWs. I have wondered why that might be. Both can be licensed--and from what I've heard from private practice LPCs, insurance reimbursement is not a major issue, so I'm not sure why there is this discrepency.
 

biogirl215

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My guess if that you want to go to the private practice route, either degree will be fine. It's really a matter, in that case, of a) which is cheaper, b) which program you like more, and c) where you think you can best find post-graduation supervision (i.e., are there a lot of LPCs in your area or more LCSWs).

I'm not quite sure what you mean, however, by MSW programs not having any mental health-related courses--plenty of the clinically-focused MSWs I've looked at have plenty of them...?
 
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PizzaButt

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I just meant that in the curriculum for the MSW, the first year is just regular social work classes, and then the second year is when you take the clinically-focused mental health classes, but I felt that when looking at the curricula and comparing the two, that the master's in counseling offered far more options in terms of mental health classes (since that is the entire curriculum) plus you take many more credit hours in that versus social work, so I feel that going the MSW route doesn't prepare you nearly as well in terms of coursework for mental health counseling.

Another issue that has come up is CACREP accreditation (the national counseling accreditation) when it comes to counseling master's programs. How important is this? I've heard it's important from both students and practitioners, but what if you move to an area that does not have a CACREP-accredited program. Then is it still important?
 

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*sigh*

I had a nice response to this thread this morning, and it got eaten in the server outage. So to summarize because I don't have time to look it all up again..

1. There's a lot of overlap in the coursework between the two programs, even in the first year.
2. Some social workers never do case management, some counselors do it their entire careers. Don't pigeonhole each profession. Most post-masters entry-level jobs can be done by either.
3. If CACREP is like the CSWE, then yes- getting into a CACREP-accredited program should be HIGHLY PRIORITIZED. Most if not all states require social work licensees to have attended a CSWE-accredited program. If counseling requirements are not already there, my suspicion is they're on their way.
4. In looking at the CSWE and CACREP eligibility requirements this morning (can be found online at their respective websites), MSW programs must require a minimum 900 hours of field palacement to graduate. Counseling programs must require minimum 100 internship + 600 practicum hours to graduate, which is 200 hours LESS than social workers in the field. (I might have the practicum and internship numbers backwards, but the gist is that the total came to 700.) Individual schools may require more than those minimums, whether SW or counseling.
5. Also of note as I was looking at the requirements, MSWs must be supervised by MSWs in field placement. Per CACREP, counseling students may be supervised by someone "in a related field", which would include MSWs and psychologists. Theoretically you could spend all 700 of your counseling field hours being supervised by someone who isn't a counselor.
 
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PizzaButt

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Thank you for your replies; this is a very helpful discussion.

I am still wondering which would be the better path for me: master's in counseling or MSW. I want to have a private practice, but I would also like the security of knowing that I have an in-demand degree (seems like the MSW more so than the master's in counseling), just in case I want to do something else. On the other hand, I really have no interest in the first year MSW curriculum (which is generalist classes versus the clinical mental health classes). I guess I like the counseling curriculum where the whole two years are mental health.

I don't know where I am going to end up practicing--that makes things harder. Minnesota is at the top of my list, though, so I researched the licensure requirements there, for both professions. Minnesota does not require people to have graduated from a CACREP program in order to get licensed. Minneapolis, interestingly, only has one CACREP-accredited program--and it's Capella University, which I have never heard of. UMN's program is not even CACREP-accredited, which I find interesting.

I am interested to hear more about the philosophies behind master's in counseling vs. MSW. It seems like the MSW is the more flexible degree--but on the other hand, I don't know if I'm interested in anything outside providing therapy. I'm not sure what else falls into the LCSW's purview outside therapy that would still be mental health related. I've read about case management, but I'm not sure what this means exactly. I've also read about medical social work, but again I'm not sure what falls under this scope. Adoption work sounds interesting, but when I've looked at job ads for that they want LCSWs. Why is that?
 

WannaBeDrMe

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Thank you for your replies; this is a very helpful discussion.

I am still wondering which would be the better path for me: master's in counseling or MSW. I want to have a private practice, but I would also like the security of knowing that I have an in-demand degree (seems like the MSW more so than the master's in counseling), just in case I want to do something else. On the other hand, I really have no interest in the first year MSW curriculum (which is generalist classes versus the clinical mental health classes). I guess I like the counseling curriculum where the whole two years are mental health.

I don't know where I am going to end up practicing--that makes things harder. Minnesota is at the top of my list, though, so I researched the licensure requirements there, for both professions. Minnesota does not require people to have graduated from a CACREP program in order to get licensed. Minneapolis, interestingly, only has one CACREP-accredited program--and it's Capella University, which I have never heard of. UMN's program is not even CACREP-accredited, which I find interesting.

I am interested to hear more about the philosophies behind master's in counseling vs. MSW. It seems like the MSW is the more flexible degree--but on the other hand, I don't know if I'm interested in anything outside providing therapy. I'm not sure what else falls into the LCSW's purview outside therapy that would still be mental health related. I've read about case management, but I'm not sure what this means exactly. I've also read about medical social work, but again I'm not sure what falls under this scope. Adoption work sounds interesting, but when I've looked at job ads for that they want LCSWs. Why is that?
Again, and in another response to you I might hav etouched on this, it's going to vary tremendously by your state... and I can only speak to my state and the few surrounding areas.

LCSW's are the independently licensed clincial social workers... in this state, they are required to have completed a CWSE accredited program 3000 hrs of post-masters clinical work with supervision from an lcsw with at least 5 years of experience (I think, i can't remember honestly), and past the ASWB clinical exam.

opportunities available to lcsws (and i know at least one or more people who do exactly these tings to put some realism to it) include independent private practice, private practice witin a group, non-profit agency practice, policy positions at state level, exec director positions at non profits, communications/lobbyist/advocate positions, legislative assistants in government, VA positions in clinical therapy, va positions as social workers (linking/referring/assessing), domestic violence, rape crisis, hospital inpatient psychiatric, hospital ED assessment, hospital discharge planning, hospital neonatal supports, child life department specialists, hmm... cancer center volunteer coordinator, school social workers, college counseling centers, private family pratice social worker, dss (how could i forget), outpatient substance abuse, mediators for state and private agencies, adoption case managers, adoption evaluators, adoption mediators, inpatient substance abuse, and the majority of us, in my state, work in private, prison services, day treatment facilities, community ACT teams, mobile crisis units, phone triage/crisis counselors, residential treatment facilities for adolescents, homeless shelters, outpatient agencies that provide an array of services including community support services, mental healt, cap-dd services, intensive in home services, clinical outpatient services, and some residential treatment positions... and im sure im forgetting some... oh, court advocates within the judicial system (guardian ad litum, domestic violence)

that being said, counselors can do a lot of those same things...minus a few that require specific lcsw credentials... tehre are also things lcsw's cant' do... we can't be school counselors in this state... we probably won't get to be admissions counselors or career counselors either... almost defientiely not voc rehab counselors (but sometiems), obviously can't be school psychologists

as far as philosophies behind... I don't really understand your question... could be me though, i'm very tired

re: the curriculum for generalist year... just pick a clinical MSW program if that's an option... i think there are more than a few across the country now... they have nearly entirely clincially oriented curriculums

to add to pinq's post above... not only are field requirements different... post grad requirements are as well (at least in my state) in my state... all of the counseling programs break their grad hours up between face to face and other... they only require that like a 1/3 of their hours are face to face with clients... the others, from what my friends say... are agency stuff, nto sure, havent' done it myself...

then, post grad, the lpc's here are allowed to count like 800 hrs of internship or something, that leaves them 1200 hrs to complete over 2 years... could be a money saver for you if supervision costs or an issue... but...sometimes it can go wrong, for example... i have one colleague who thought it was awesome to brag that she had her lpc after only seeing clients for 1400 hrs..i don't tink that's awesome, i think that's not fair to the clients

I'm not trying to bash counselors because I think I've come off that way before... but in my state, it is simply true that a lot of LPC's have far less supervised training than LCSW's and LPA's. If it's offensive, I'm sorry, it sort of offends me too but probably in a different way. Some lpc's are amazing and gifted and wonderful... and probably did more supervised hours than ive ever done...

both degrees have to pass an exam and do some paperwork but i can't speak to their's... hour's was just updates and case study projects...i also don't know wehther or not they can bill befor ethey get their license???? i have no idea b/c i haven't ever asked or worked with ones at agencies who didn't already have their lpc...they probably can, but I don't know...as of rigt now, provisional oscial workers can bill under some codes but only medicaid... and of course, direct pay or sliding scales.... but they tried to take that away from us a few years back... and migt try again

so, that's long, but that's all the info i have... between my responses to you, i'm absolutely tapped out i think :) good luck!!! good job on investigating! thanks for te opportunity to destress via shared information!
 
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PizzaButt

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opportunities available to lcsws (and i know at least one or more people who do exactly these tings to put some realism to it) include independent private practice, private practice witin a group, non-profit agency practice, policy positions at state level, exec director positions at non profits, communications/lobbyist/advocate positions, legislative assistants in government, VA positions in clinical therapy, va positions as social workers (linking/referring/assessing), domestic violence, rape crisis, hospital inpatient psychiatric, hospital ED assessment, hospital discharge planning, hospital neonatal supports, child life department specialists, hmm... cancer center volunteer coordinator, school social workers, college counseling centers, private family pratice social worker, dss (how could i forget), outpatient substance abuse, mediators for state and private agencies, adoption case managers, adoption evaluators, adoption mediators, inpatient substance abuse, and the majority of us, in my state, work in private, prison services, day treatment facilities, community ACT teams, mobile crisis units, phone triage/crisis counselors, residential treatment facilities for adolescents, homeless shelters, outpatient agencies that provide an array of services including community support services, mental healt, cap-dd services, intensive in home services, clinical outpatient services, and some residential treatment positions... and im sure im forgetting some... oh, court advocates within the judicial system (guardian ad litum, domestic violence)

that being said, counselors can do a lot of those same things...minus a few that require specific lcsw credentials... tehre are also things lcsw's cant' do... we can't be school counselors in this state... we probably won't get to be admissions counselors or career counselors either... almost defientiely not voc rehab counselors (but sometiems), obviously can't be school psychologists

re: the curriculum for generalist year... just pick a clinical MSW program if that's an option... i think there are more than a few across the country now... they have nearly entirely clincially oriented curriculums
Thanks for all this info; this is a very helpful discussion! I was very interested to read all the things LCSWs can do. Does anyone know which of the above job functions LPCs can't do--what job functions absolutely require the LCSW credential? I would imagine there are probably not LPCs in legislative or policy functions.

I am still really torn about this. I have looked into clinical social work programs, but at the programs I am interested in there is still the generalist year and then only in the second year does it take the clinical track and you take the mental health courses. I am limited in geography because I am married and we are settled in our area.

I guess I still feel like the master's in counseling programs offer way more mental health courses and training in counseling techniques than do social work programs--the types of courses in master's in counseling programs interest me a lot more than taking a full year of generalist social work classes, which I have no interest in whatsoever--on the other hand, I may want the flexibility that the social work degree provides.

On the other hand, I am very seriously considering going for a doctorate after I get my master's and work for a few years--either a PhD in clinical, a PhD in counseling psych, a PhD in counseling or a PsyD, though the last option is the least attractive to me because of the cost. Given this, I have been told getting a master's in counseling might be a better option.

Any other thoughts?
 

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There are also DSW degrees, or doctorates in marriage and family therapy, or in counselor education, etc.

Some PhD programs will want applicants to explain why they want a PhD when they could practice with a master's degree. I think that it is better training, but there are additional training options available post-master's too, such as specific training in modalities one might want to specialize in. The doctoral degrees in most of these fields, including psychology for the most part, are really teaching and research degrees. Although psychologists do have the advantage of being able to do psychological testing. Other mental health professionals can do testing too, but are more limited and may have supervision requirements. In my mental health counseling program we had one somewhat watered down psychometrics class. That is probably more than most MSWs get.

There are LPCs in legislative and policy functions. My instructors have insisted that we can do anything that any other mental health professional can do, except for prescription drugs. Some employers may need convincing, however.
 
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PizzaButt

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I think that it is better training, but there are additional training options available post-master's too, such as specific training in modalities one might want to specialize in.
Thanks for your response. I have started to learn a little about this, but would love to learn more. How does one find out about these post-master's training opportunities in one's area of interest (mine is behavioral health). Is there a central area that would list these types of opportunities?
 

Rapunzel

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Well, everyone has to do continuing education, so there are seminars and workshops offered all over, and once you graduate and start working you will probably be inundated with flyers and announcements. You can also look up training centers for various specialties that you may be interested in. Such as if you want to do EMDR you could contact the EMDR International Association (google it) and sign up for training. They have it available at various locations. http://www.emdria.org/displaycommon.cfm?an=1&subarticlenbr=505 The same for anything else that you would like to specialize in.
 

WannaBeDrMe

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Well, everyone has to do continuing education, so there are seminars and workshops offered all over, and once you graduate and start working you will probably be inundated with flyers and announcements. You can also look up training centers for various specialties that you may be interested in. Such as if you want to do EMDR you could contact the EMDR International Association (google it) and sign up for training. They have it available at various locations. http://www.emdria.org/displaycommon.cfm?an=1&subarticlenbr=505 The same for anything else that you would like to specialize in.

My recommendation to all of my students that I mentor includes the following:

Negotiate continuing ed fees as a part of your contract. Your site will mandate some trainings and they will pay for those... but beyond that, they might not even give you days off to attend the other trainings needed for your licensure.

There are agencies, however, that are awesome and will give you paid leave and cover the cost of travel/fees for any continuing ed...

Remember that when you are applying... and interviewing... training is critical to continued development... especially as a master's level clinician. You will be required by your license to have so many contact hours, continuing ed, or whatever your field chooses... and those can be EXPENSIVE even for the boring ones.