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Counseling Centers: Trainees, Registered Interns, and Licensed Practitioners

Counseling Centers: Trainees, Registered Interns, and Licensed Practitioners

If you are seeking a low-cost, face-to-face option for counseling, a fantastic option is community counseling agencies. While we’ve already gone into detail on community counseling in a prior article, we wanted to focus a bit more on what you can expect from this kind of setting with regard to the counselors you may work with. In this article, we’ll be focusing on the types of counselors and the level of training they’ve received prior to working with you. Note that every state operates a bit differently, so some terms may change based on where you live.

Counselor trainees (also referred to as students) are typically Master’s- or Bachelor’s-level counseling students who are completing an internship with the counseling agency as part of their educational training. In general, counselor trainees have the least direct practice experience; however, this is supplemented by a very high level of supervision and their current enrollment in a counseling education program. Because trainees are not able to provide independent services, you may be formally assigned to the trainee’s supervisor and provided a mix of care from both counselors. While it is essential that trainees are provided the opportunity to receive practice experience, be mindful of the limited work a trainee has completed. Also, trainees are usually assigned to agencies for a short period of time (4 – 8 months); if you are seeking a longer-term relationship, a counselor trainee will likely not be able to provide this.

Registered interns or associates (sometimes referred to as registered clinicians) are the next level up. These practitioners have completed their counselor program successfully, meaning they have undergone both rigorous educational requirements and many hours of direct practice as a counselor trainee. As a post-graduate, all states require both direct practice work, clinical supervision, and a post-graduate licensing exam prior to a counselor becoming a “licensed practitioner.” This is the transitional period that registered interns practice within, and depending on the state, may remain in for several years. Although these interns require less supervision than counselor trainees, they are required to meet regularly for clinical supervision with an independent practitioner (usually at least one hour per week) in which cases are reviewed and guidance provided. These counselors, while still “getting their feet wet” to an extent, are often extremely dedicated to completing licensure and will provide a level of service similar to a fully licensed professional.

Licensed counselors and practitioners are those professionals who have completed all formal training and educational requirements for their state and license type, and who are now fully licensed to provide clinical counseling services independently in their state of practice. These counselors have the most experience and may also provide clinical supervision to new trainees and interns, depending on how long they have practiced. Typically, this level of counselor is highly experienced, may offer practice and counseling specialties, and is most likely to remain in their practice long-term.

However, with all levels of experience, not every counselor will offer the same insight, personality, or outlook that you might need from counseling. No matter how experienced your assigned counselor is, consider the following as you receive treatment. If the answer to these are no, it may be worth reaching out and requesting a new assigned counselor from your agency:

  • Does my counselor seem prepared for my appointments, remembering things we have discussed in the past?
  • Does my counselor follow-up with me on assigned “homework” or things I’ve mentioned as important events in my life?
  • Does my counselor allow me the space and comfort to share openly about my thoughts and feelings?
  • Does my counselor seem equipped to offer me suggestions, readings, or other insight into ways I can improve my mental health or other presenting issue?
  • Am I walking away from most sessions feeling more empowered, more confident, or more guided in the next steps I should be taking?

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Jennifer Novack
Posted on 06/18/2017 by Jennifer Novack

Jennifer is a writer for OpenCounseling. She has worked at a number of state and non-profit organizations, providing counseling, training, and policy development