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How to Become a Rape Crisis Counselor

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Rape crisis counselors, also referred to as sexual assault counselors, play unique and important roles in helping victims through the trauma recovery process. They work in a variety of settings, including colleges and universities, hospitals, mental health clinics and advocacy agencies. Counselors interested in becoming professional rape crisis counselors should should already possess postsecondary degrees in relevant fields, such as social work, counseling, marriage and family therapy or psychology.

Perform a Self-Evaluation

Working as a rape crisis counselor differs from providing psychotherapy or "regular" counseling. Even with the relevant education and a strong desire to help people in need, you should realize the challenges of this field. For example, according to the Minnesota Center Against Violence and Abuse, it's not uncommon for rape counselors to experience distressing emotions associated with secondary trauma syndromes such as compassion fatigue, secondary traumatic stress or vicarious traumatization. Ensure that you have the personal resources to manage stress and emotions, such as cultivating a strong support network or seeking your own psychotherapy.

Complete Specialized Training

Most rape crisis counselor positions require candidates to have completed training in crisis intervention procedures. While most graduate human services programs offer some training in this area, you should also complete a specialized course offered by your local rape crisis center. Rape crisis intervention training includes information about the impact of sexual assault, techniques to support victims and procedures to follow in specific circumstances. Organizations such as the Office for Victims of Crime Training and Technical Assistance Center also offer online victims assistance training programs free for qualified candidates.

Gain Volunteer Experience

Volunteering in a rape crisis center provides you with training, experience and the chance to network with other professionals in the field. National organizations such as RAINN -- the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network -- or Planned Parenthood offer possible volunteer opportunities in different settings, such as the National Sexual Assault Hotlines or working directly for Planned Parenthood or RAINN affiliates. You can also contact your local college or university counseling center to inquire about available opportunities.

Get Certified

Completing volunteer training through your local rape crisis center often leads to provisional or basic certification as a counselor advocate. Requirements for this certification include completing a certain number of hours of training and engaging in yearly continuing education. Although it's not usually required for employment, professional counselors who want to demonstrate their expertise may also wish to complete the National Advocate Credentialing Program on the intermediate or advanced levels, which offers more in-depth training on relevant topics, such as interview techniques, DNA evidence and police investigation of rape.


Ashley Miller is a licensed social worker, psychotherapist, certified Reiki practitioner, yoga enthusiast and aromatherapist. She has also worked as an employee assistance program counselor and a substance-abuse professional. Miller holds a Master of Social Work and has extensive training in mental health diagnosis, as well as child and adolescent psychotherapy. She also has a bachelor's degree in music.

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