Crisis Counselor

Traumatic life events occur all too often. Be it a natural disaster, war, school shooting, terrorist attack, workplace assault, or domestic violence, people who experience these events need psychological first aid from crisis counselors. Crisis counselors have received specialized training on how to assist clients who are in the midst of or have endured a traumatic event. This specialized care is centered around helping the client deal with their immediate problem and how to move through the necessary next steps. Often these therapeutic relationships have a short duration, but the care provided and skills taught will help clients for years to come.

Crisis counselors are employed in a variety of settings including crisis support lines (phone, text, or chat), emergency rooms, humanitarian organizations, clinics, and even the military. As crisis counselors are specialized mental health counselors, they are required to be licensed in all 50 states. Licensed counselors have earned either a master’s or a PhD in counseling. Mental health counselors are in high demand with an anticipated 22 percent increase in this profession between 2018 and 2028, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS 2019). This translates to over 68,000 new jobs, and counselors earn $49,950 per year on average.

Becoming a crisis counselor can be rewarding as they get to help people overcome immediate mental health challenges during some of the hardest times of their lives. Continue reading to learn more about this growing career.

Crisis Counselor Specializations & Degree Types

Crisis counselors have typically earned a master’s in counseling. There are various options when it comes to degree types and counselors may earn a master’s of arts (MA) in counseling, master’s of science (MS) in counseling studies, or an MS in professional counseling. There are a few programs across the country that offer a specialized degree in crisis or trauma counseling. In the absence of a specialized degree, prospective crisis counselors can take additional courses such as the crisis intervention continuing education program offered by the American Institute of Health Care Professionals (AIHCP) to gain the necessary skills to enter this field.

Admissions Requirements for Crisis Counselor Programs

Crisis counseling master’s programs require applicants to have completed at least a bachelor’s degree. While students can complete a bachelor’s in any field, most students earn a degree in a counseling-related field such as psychology, education, sociology, or even social work. In addition to proof of a degree, students are required to submit an application, a personal statement, letters of recommendation, an application fee, and (sometimes) GRE scores.

Crisis Counselor Program Accreditation

Students should ensure the program they enroll in is regionally or nationally accredited as most state licensing boards require applicants to have completed their education at an accredited institution.

In addition to regional accreditation, there are two counseling specific accrediting bodies. The first is the Council for Accreditation of Counseling & Related Educational Programs (CACREP) which accredits master’s and doctoral programs. The second is the Master’s in Psychology and Counseling Accreditation Council (MPCAC) which is just for master’s-level programs.

On-Campus Crisis Counselor Degree Programs

The Chicago School of Professional Psychology

The Chicago School of Professional Psychology offers a unique master’s of arts (MA) in counseling psychology with a trauma and crisis intervention concentration. Graduates are prepared to respond to a variety of crises such as natural disasters, terrorist attacks, or personal trauma to provide psychological first aid.

Required coursework for this program includes classes such as adolescents and treatment of trauma, assessment and treatment of adults with traumatic disorders, and traumatic stress: causes, contexts, and effects. Students are also required to complete a nine-month practicum of at least 700 hours, of which 280 hours must be direct client contact. Practicum sites are chosen based on their ability to provide services to a diverse population.

Admission requirements include a personal essay, letters of recommendation, an online application, and official transcripts. GRE scores are optional.

  • Location: Chicago, IL
  • Duration: Two years full time, three years part-time
  • Accreditation: Council for Accreditation of Counseling & Related Educational Programs (CACREP)
  • Tuition: $1,198 per credit-hour

Thomas Jefferson University – College of Health Professions

While not labeled as a crisis counseling degree, the master’s of science (MS) in community and trauma counseling program at Thomas Jefferson University’s College of Health Professions provides graduates with the necessary skill to provide trauma-informed therapy. These techniques and skills can be applied to crisis situations as well as long term therapeutic counseling relationships.

This 60-credit program offers a traditional weekday format for classes or a nontraditional evening and weekend model that allows students to meet career or family obligations while completing their degree. Graduates of this program can meet the requirements for licensure in Pennsylvania and several other states.

Admission requirements include GRE scores, an online application, personal essay, letters of recommendation, and official transcripts.

  • Location: Philadelphia, PA
  • Duration: Two to three years
  • Accreditation: Council for Accreditation of Counseling & Related Educational Programs (CACREP)
  • Tuition: $1,190 per credit-hour

Online or Hybrid Crisis Counselor Degree Programs

Liberty University – School of Behavioral Sciences

The online master’s of arts in human services counseling (crisis response and trauma) degree from Liberty University prepares graduates to help communities and individuals respond to emergencies, tragedies, and trauma. This program is founded on best practices and field research backed by scientific study. As Liberty is a Christian college, there are biblical ethics and worldview applied to the counseling methods.

Students can complete the required 30 credit-hours in a year-and-a-half. Courses required for this program include PTSD and combat-related trauma, complex trauma and disasters, and acute stress, grief, and trauma. This program does not fulfill the requirements for licensure; however, it can be completed simultaneously with the master’s of arts in clinical mental health counseling, which does meet licensure requirements.

  • Location: Lynchburg, VA
  • Duration: One and a half years
  • Accreditation: The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC)
  • Tuition: $565 per credit-hour

Regent University – School of Psychology and Counseling

The online master’s in arts in human services (trauma and counseling) at Regent University’s School of Psychology and Counseling prepares students to provide mental health services to those experiencing crisis. Whether it be first responders, people in natural disasters, or those experiencing personal trauma, graduates will have the necessary skills to help those people gain confidence and control.

This program can be completed in as little as three semesters full-time, or a more flexible six-semester option for students attending part-time. Classes are all offered online in a variety of formats including asynchronous chat rooms, real-time lectures, and online discussion groups.

Students are required to complete 30 credit-hours in courses such as community and crisis counseling, grief and bereavement, and issues in counseling. Over 86 percent of students in this program receive financial aid. There is no GRE required for admission.

  • Location: Virginia Beach, VA
  • Duration: One to two years
  • Accreditation: The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC)
  • Tuition: $595 per credit-hour

How Long Does it Take to Become a Crisis Counselor?

After high school, it takes eight to sixteen years to become a licensed crisis counselor. The length of time it takes varies based on the type of degree(s) pursued, as well as required supervised practice hours.

How To Become a Crisis Counselor – Step-by-Step Guide

Step 1: Graduate from High School or Obtain a GED (Four Years)

Completing high school or a GED is the first step towards a career as a crisis counselor. Not only does it give students the foundation needed to succeed in college, but it also demonstrates the ability to complete a course of study. Students who want to be crisis counselors should focus on high school courses such as English and psychology to prepare them for further studies.

Step 2: Complete a Bachelors’ Degree (Four Years)

A bachelor’s degree is necessary to pursue a career in crisis counseling as most master’s programs require one. While some master’s programs are flexible around the course of study, most programs are looking for counseling-related degrees such as psychology, health sciences, or education.

To improve graduate school admission chances, students can volunteer for crisis-related mental health work such as answering calls on crisis support lines, working in the university’s sexual assault center, or providing help in response to a natural disaster.

Step 3: Obtain an Advanced Degree (Two to Eight Years)

A master’s in counseling is the most common degree pursued for a career in crisis counseling. Another degree option is to complete a doctorate in counseling, although this option takes significantly longer. Most programs include a supervised practicum element that helps prepare students for licensure.

Step 4: Complete Supervised Practice (Two to Four Years)

All states require prospective licensed counselors to complete supervised clinical practice. Hours required vary from state to state and can be as little as 2,000 or as much as 4,000.

While completing supervised practice hours, graduates will perform all the duties of a counselor under the supervision of a licensed counselor. Cases will be reviewed on a regular basis to ensure patients’ needs are being met and to hone the new counselor’s skills. Prospective crisis counselors can perform their supervised hours in clinics and agencies that provide emergency mental health services to gain the necessary work experience to enter this field.

Step 5: Pass State Licensing Exam (Timeline Varies)

Licensing exam requirements vary by state. Most states use either the National Counselor Examination (NCE) or the National Clinical Mental Health Counseling Examination (NCMHCE). Some states allow applicants to choose which test they take. Testing is typically completed once all supervised practice hours have been completed.

Step 6: Apply for a State License (Timeline Varies)

Once education, practice hours, and testing have been complete prospective crisis counselors can apply for state licensure. All 50 states require counselors to be licensed. Requirements vary by state, so applicants should contact their local board to ensure they meet all the requirements.

What Do Crisis Counselors Do?

Crisis counselors are employed in a variety of settings where psychological first aid is provided such as telephone crisis counseling centers, private practices, humanitarian aid organizations, university counseling centers, and live chat counseling services. While job duties can vary based on the specific job title or place of employment typical duties can include:

  • Responding to natural disasters, terrorist attacks, school shootings, or other traumatic events to provide psychological first aid
  • Answering phone calls, texts, or chats from people experiencing a mental health crisis
  • Providing immediate mental health support help in the form of talk therapy in person or over the phone or through electronic means
  • Listening to clients as they process traumatic events
  • Offering positive reinforcement and coaching to clients who are utilizing coping mechanisms that are working
  • Educating clients on skills to help them process and manage emotions from an emergency situation
  • Relaying critical information about emergency situations to affected parties including families and loved ones
  • Maintaining clients records

Crisis Counselor Certifications & Licensure

Crisis counselors are mental health counselors with specialized training and are required to be licensed in all 50 states. The title and licensure earned varies by state but can include licensed mental health counselor (LMHC), licensed professional counselor (LPC), licensed professional clinical counselor (LPCC), and licensed clinical professional counselor (LCPC). Typical requirements to qualify for licensure include:

  • Proof of graduating from a CACREP-accredited master’s in counseling program (including any state-specific course requirements)
  • Proof of 2,000 to 4,000 supervised contact hours
  • Payment of licensure fee
  • Passing the licensure exam(s)

Certifications are typically done through the National Board for Certified Counselors (NBCC). While there is not a nationally recognized specialized certificate or license for crisis counselors, there are educational certificates that can be earned to demonstrate competency in this field such as the crisis intervention continuing education program offered by the American Institute of Health Care Professionals (AIHCP).

How Much Do Crisis Counselors Make?

Crisis counselors fall under mental health counselors, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS May 2019). There are over 139,000 mental health counselors in the US and the profession is anticipated to grow 22 percent nationally from 2018 to 2028—much faster than the anticipated growth among all occupations during that period. Salary percentiles are:

  • 10th percentile: $26,950
  • 25th percentile: $33,560
  • 50th percentile (median): $42,840
  • 75th percentile: $55,440
  • 90th percentile: $70,100
Kimmy Gustafson

Kimmy Gustafson


At, Kimmy Gustafson has delivered in-depth and insightful articles since 2019, aiding prospective students to navigate the complexities of choosing the right healthcare degree. Her recent work includes topics such as the ethics of gene editing and physician assistant’s fight for autonomy.

Kimmy has been a freelance writer for more than a decade, writing hundreds of articles on a wide variety of topics such as startups, nonprofits, healthcare, kiteboarding, the outdoors, and higher education. She is passionate about seeing the world and has traveled to over 27 countries. She holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Oregon. When not working, she can be found outdoors, parenting, kiteboarding, or cooking.

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