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Can a Felon Become a Counselor?

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Getting a job after their release from prison is quite challenging for felons. Jobs they once had are lost and careers may be gone. Felons may think no one will hire them, but there are resources available.

They will have to be willing to start a different career.

This blog post will address the issue of whether or not a felon can become a counselor.

  • What is a Counselor?
  • What Education/Training Does a Counselor Need?
  • How Much Does a Counselor Earn?
  • An Opportunity for Felons?
  • Recommended Action


What is a Counselor?

A counselor is a person trained to give advice to people who suffer from depression, anxiety, family issues, and other problems of daily living. A counselor provides treatment and support to help a person acquire the necessary skills to improve their functioning.

A counselor works in a variety of settings such as mental health centers, community health centers, hospitals, and other outpatient clinics. The duties of a counselor include the following:

  • Evaluation of a person’s mental and physical health, possible addiction problems, and readiness for treatment
  • Assists a person in developing treatment goals and plans
  • Reviews and recommends treatment options
  • Helps a person to develop skills for healthy behavior
  • Works with an individual to identify problem behaviors or situations
  • Guides a person in developing coping strategies
  • Refers someone to other resources for additional services

There are many essential skills to be successful as a counselor:

  • Compassion and caring to help people deal with the stress of their problems
  • Listening skills to allow a person to share the difficulties they face
  • Patience to deal with a person’s emotions
  • Communication skills to be able to share vital information with an individual
  • Knowledge of various conditions and effective treatment options
  • Organizational skills to be able to keep up with the necessary paperwork
  • Effective time-management skills important in maintaining a hectic schedule in a stressful environment

What Education/Training Does a Counselor Need?

The basic educational requirements for a counselor is a high school diploma or a GED. Typically, a bachelor’s or master’s degree is required for most work in the field of mental health. For anyone interested in becoming a counselor, it is recommended he or she contact the particular state for exact requirements.

In order to become a licensed counselor, all states require a master’s degree and 2000 to 4000 hours of supervised clinical experience. Not all states require a degree, but typically applicants will have to pass the state exam to become licensed. Anyone wanting to become a counselor but who does not hold a degree is required to complete at least 270 hours of appropriate coursework.

An applicant must also complete 300 hours of supervised experience at an accredited school or college. Training must be provided by a qualified credentialed counselor. In order to become a licensed counselor (LPC), he or she will need at least an associate’s degree and all necessary supervised clinical hours along with passing a licensing exam.

How Much Does a Counselor Earn?

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics indicates that there are approximately 260,000 licensed counselors. This occupation is expected to show a 20% growth by 2026. The median salary for a counselor in 2016 was $42,150 annually. The median is that salary which half of the counselors receive more than and half receive less.

Geographic location, certification, experience, and specialization could have a significant impact on these earnings. A counselor on the East or West coast as well as in the Southwest region of the U.S. typically receives a higher salary than for one in other areas.

An Opportunity for Felons?

A felon can pursue any degree he or she wants. Approximately 60% of colleges consider criminal history in their admissions process, although there is no standard policy regarding a background check. Any felon that wants to get a degree can find a college that will accept him or her. A felon may have difficulty getting accepted into many schools, but there are programs that will accept a felon.

While the requirements for felons becoming a counselor differ somewhat depending on the state, typically, there are certain important factors. These criteria will be considered as to whether a crime relates the occupation of a counselor:

  • Nature and seriousness of the crime
  • Relationship of the crime to the duties of a counselor
  • Whether a counselor license might offer opportunity for further criminal activity
  • Relationship of the crime to the duties and responsibilities of a counselor
  • Extent and nature of past criminal activity
  • Age when the felony was committed
  • Amount of time since last criminal activity
  • Amount of time since release from incarceration
  • Conduct and work history before and after the conviction
  • Evidence of rehabilitation
  • Other evidence of fitness, including letters of recommendation from law enforcement officials and employers

It is important to be honest when applying for licensing as a counselor. If a felony isn’t disclosed but is found on a background check, this constitutes fraud and is punishable. It is a crime to falsify an application which could result in being sent back to prison.

In order to be successful as a counselor it is essential for felons to be honest about their background. They are already viewed with negative perceptions of being dishonest, untrustworthy, and unwilling or unable to follow directions from authority figures.

Having their record expunged can give them the chance needed to begin with a clean record and succeed in becoming a counselor. Expunging a criminal record allows anyone to honestly state on an application that he or she has not been convicted of a crime.

Recommended Action

It is a significant challenge, but it might be worth it for a felon that wants to become a counselor. Having his or her record expunged and also documenting any training programs or additional education could make the essential difference in a felon succeeding. Spending time in a volunteer role in the counseling field initially to gain experience could be essential.

Having support from family, friends, or previous employers can make a huge difference. A felon doesn’t have to be defined by his or her crime. We are not defined by our mistakes but by how we recover from them. He or she can begin again and live an honest life no matter how difficult it might seem.

What do you think about this blog post? Are you or someone you know been in the situation of trying to become a counselor with a felony? What was that like for him or her, and how did he or she achieve success? Please tell us in the comments below.


3 thoughts on “Can a Felon Become a Counselor?”

  1. Thanks for the info…. I feel boxed in a corner by society and my local community simply because of my felony status. I want to make a difference in my community and make lasting changes so young people that have made mistakes won’t have to feel as I do. An outcast, untrustworthy, undependable etc. ..

  2. Hi Kate, just finishing my Master’s in counseling. I have. Felony but I’m willing to keep hoop hopping! I’m in CA. What state are you in?

  3. I got a Master’s in Counseling in 2016 and just got a felony conviction. My school knew I had two misdemeanors, but it didn’t affect anything. I put my career on hold to work in politics after I graduated and I haven’t applied for my Provisional license. I’m extremely lucky, because if I’d have been licenced, the State would have yanked it. Now I’m just going to have to wait a couple more years and I’ll be able to get licensed. I did all my internship hours in schools with kids 6-18, so I’ll have to find another area… Probably drug & alcohol. The Dean of my Alma Mater said you can murder someone and get licensed in my state, it just involves jumping through a lot of hoops. I was an exceptional student and intern and I have a good reputation with my peers and professors, so there will be opportunities for me, even if it’s not in my area of experience. I’m very very lucky I graduated before my felony and haven’t gotten my license. So, yes, you can be a counselor with a felony. Some states only require an Associate’s Degree to be a substance abuse counselor, too.


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