5 Specific Experiences That Will Make You a Good Counselor

Working in the counseling profession is almost a double-edged sword. You need experience before you can become a licensed counselor, but you usually need counseling experience before you can get professional experiences. Licensed counselors working in the United States usually need at least a master’s degree, which will require that students do fieldwork before they graduate. Before you enroll in one of those programs, you can gain valuable experience that will help you get into a better program.

Drug and Alcohol Centers

Drug and alcohol treatment centers offer opportunities for psychology students and other studying social sciences. Though you may not land a full-time job while in college or even right out of college, you can do volunteer work that will help you become an addictions specialist. Many centers hire those with a bachelor’s degree to do some counseling work with individuals or groups. Counseling Today highlights the case of Josh Riley and how he worked at one of these centers to gain work experience before searching for a full-time counseling job.

Related resource: Top 10 Masters in Counseling Degree Programs

Peer Mentor Groups

Gaining counseling experience while still in college may seem difficult, but one of the best ways to gain experience that will help you in the counseling profession is at peer mentor groups. College students often have a hard time making the transition from high school and living at home with their parents to live in a dorm at college. That is why many schools pair incoming freshmen with peers who acts as their mentors. You’ll have the chance to talk with them about their experiences and help them feel more confident about going away to college.

Residence Halls

While enrolled in college, consider applying to work as a resident adviser in one of the residence halls on campus. A resident adviser, also called an RA, is someone responsible for overseeing a group of students living in a specific area of the building or on a specific floor. You’ll hold meetings with those students to talk about issues the college brought up, to help them learn ways to stay safe on campus and to address issues brought up by other students. As an RA, you’ll have the chance to do some peer counseling and mentoring with those students too.


Doing volunteer work is a good way to gain practical and valuable experience, and many shelters in larger and smaller cities have a need for volunteers. You might volunteer at a shelter that offers housing and therapy for women and children who are the victims of domestic abuse. These shelters often offer classes and lessons to help victims recover from that abuse and to take steps to walk away from their abusers. Volunteering at a homeless shelter lets you work with those who had a run of bad luck or other problems that led to them losing their homes.

Mental Health Clinics

If you want to work with people struggling with mental health diseases and conditions, you can look for professional and volunteer experiences available at mental health clinics. Free and public clinics accept all people living in an area or region, and many have a sliding scale system that bases treatment costs on what patients can afford to pay. Working in a mental health clinic will give you an inside look at how people suffering from these diseases think and act.

Licensed counselors work with patients struggling with addictions to drugs and alcohol, those who were victims of abuse and those suffering from certain diseases. While you can gain some experience while working on your master’s degree, you can also gain experience in college and later that will help you succeed in the counseling profession.