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How to Become a Counselor for Troubled Teens

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Teenagers often struggle with all sorts of behavioral issues, including aggression, lack of motivation, trouble at school, drug abuse, depression and anxiety. Trained counselors can help troubled teens sort out their problems and get back on a track towards happiness and success. These individuals are skilled at interacting with kids in this age group and understand their unique problems, needs and desires. To become a counselor for troubled teens, you need the right training and work experience for the career.


Start planning to be a counselor for troubled teens while still in high school. Focus your academic work in areas of the humanities and social sciences, such as psychology, sociology, anthropology and English. Become a counselor or student advisor if your school offers these programs, or see if there’s a community center in your area that offers these services. Use these opportunities to develop your counseling skills.

Apply to college. Choose a college with strong psychology, education or social work undergraduate departments. Consider important factors such as cost of the program, distance from your home, career services, campus life and community service commitment.

Obtain a bachelor’s degree in psychology or closely related discipline. Some schools offer programs specifically for counselors, but a degree in education, psychology, human services or social work will also qualify you for the job, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). If available, take classes in areas like human growth and development, counseling techniques, research and program evaluation, professional ethics, abnormal psychology, crisis intervention, behavior modification and group counseling methods.

Gain professional experience through internships, volunteer work and jobs. While in college or upon graduating, look for these kinds of entry-level opportunities to get your feet wet as a counselor. Inquire in places where you’ll be working with troubled teens, such as juvenile delinquent institutions, rehabilitation centers, community outreach organizations, high schools, summer enrichment camps and social services.

Get a master’s degree. Many employers and state organizations require all counselors to have a master’s degree in counseling. The master’s degree allows students to deepen their knowledge of the field and specialize in their chosen area. Choose a master’s program that provides training for work with troubled teens. Complete your capstone research project on a topic related to working with troubled teens. Fulfill the supervised clinical requirements for the degree.

Get licensed to work as a counselor in your state. License requirements vary by state, work setting and specialty, according to the BLS. In most cases, license applicants need to meet the minimum hours of supervised clinical experience, pass a state-approved written examination and complete continuing education classes to maintain licensure.

Look for a job. Put together a solid professional resume and cover letter. Start sending out applications to the types of organizations mentioned in step 4.


Charlie Higgins is journalist, editor and translator based in Buenos Aires, Argentina. He has written for a variety of lifestyle and niche market websites, including International Food Trader, The Olive Oil Times, microDINERO, Sounds and Colours, Connecting Worlds and The Buenos Aires Reader.

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