How to Become a Crisis Counselor

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A crisis counselor speaks with a client.
A personal crisis can take many forms. It can entail coping with a breakup or the loss of a job, or something wider in scale, such as dealing with a natural disaster or a pandemic. Enduring a crisis can lead to emotions and behaviors that negatively affect an individual’s quality of life.

The role of a crisis counselor (also known as a crisis intervention counselor) is to help individuals navigate these situations. These mental health care professionals help people cope with the complex emotions associated with a crisis. The profession dates back to World War II, when counselors were employed to help soldiers deal with the psychological effects and mental toll of war, a condition now known as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Today, crisis counselors provide supportive aid and coping strategies to people in need to help them reclaim their sense of well-being. It can be one of the most rewarding careers in mental health care.

Those interested in how to become a crisis counselor should know that investing in the right education is key. An advanced degree, such as a Master of Arts in Counseling (MAC), can provide an ideal starting point for a career as a crisis counselor.

How Crisis Counselors Help

Crisis counselors work with clients who are enduring crises or are attempting to overcome trauma. However, crises take many forms, and no two people experience them the same way.

Some crises are associated with life events, such as losing a job or going through a breakup or divorce. Even pregnancy can cause a crisis, with prospective parents experiencing anxiety over the fear of not being able to provide for a child.

Many crises are associated with loss. This could be the loss of a loved one, or the loss of a home to eviction or a natural disaster. Some forms of loss are intangible, such as the loss of a sense of security after being the victim of a crime.

Personal traumas can lead to crises as well. Physical abuse, verbal abuse, and other forms of harassment make people feel vulnerable, afraid, and unsafe. Coping with a serious illness, such as cancer, often makes people feel helpless or hopeless. As previously mentioned, post-traumatic stress disorder is another reason why people may seek the help of crisis counselors. An estimated 3.6% of U.S. adults suffer from PTSD, according to the National Institute of Mental Health.

Depending on the client, their crisis, and the thoughts and emotions they are experiencing, a crisis counselor tailors treatment to the individual by using skills such as analytical and active listening. They also use empathy to connect with clients, working with them to develop coping and support strategies to help them move forward.

Most importantly, crisis counselors ensure their clients’ safety. Many clients enter treatment feeling threatened or unsafe. In some cases, such as situations involving domestic abuse, the trauma is ongoing, and counselors may help their clients get away from their abusers.

In some severe cases, a client may become so overcome with negative emotions that they experience suicidal feelings. Crisis counselors use suicide intervention tactics and advanced coping mechanisms to help these clients.

Collectively, crisis counselors need to master a specific set of skills to be effective. These include:

  • Recognizing the signs and symptoms of trauma
  • Active and analytical listening
  • Empathy
  • Communication
  • Patience and calmness

Crisis counselors also need to preserve their own mental and emotional strength to work with clients undergoing severe emotional stress. The job is highly rewarding, but it can be draining. Crisis counselors should take care of themselves and their own mental health to avoid burnout.

Crisis Counselor Requirements

As anyone researching how to become a crisis counselor likely knows, a passion for helping individuals who need emotional support is a prerequisite for the role. The next step is establishing the right educational foundation. Earning a degree is essential before counselors can work with clients.

Many crisis counselors have a bachelor’s degree in counseling, sociology, psychology, or social work. Some crisis counselors take their education further, providing an opportunity to benefit both their clients and their careers. Crisis counselors with an advanced degree, such as a Master of Arts in Counseling, often have more employment opportunities and earn higher salaries.

After earning a degree, graduates need to gain supervised clinical experience working under a crisis counselor to pursue a counseling license. Supervised work with real clients in crisis lays the groundwork for performing the role autonomously. It’s also one of the main crisis counselor requirements for licensure. Licensure requirements vary by state, so graduates should check with their local counseling regulatory board for their state’s exact licensure requirements.

Although not required, many crisis counselors earn certifications relevant to their field. For instance, the American Institute of Health Care Professionals (AIHCP) offers a Crisis Intervention Counseling Certification, which can help counselors stand out when applying for jobs.

Crisis Counselor Salary

Substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors earned a median annual salary of $48,520 in May 2021, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). The BLS reports that jobs for these counselors are expected to grow by 23% between 2020 and 2030 — the national average for all occupations is just 8% — making it one of the more in-demand professions.

Various factors can influence a crisis counselor’s salary, including their experience level and the region where they work. Crisis counselors in New York City, Washington, DC, and Dallas, Texas, for example, earned 27%, 38%, and 51% more than the national average, respectively, in May 2022, according to Payscale.

Helping People Regain Their Well-Being

Crisis counseling is a critical part of helping people overcome trauma. Students who are interested in how to become a crisis counselor should explore degrees that can prepare them to enter the profession. Bradley University’s online Master of Arts in Counseling program and its Clinical Mental Health Counseling concentration is an excellent place to start. The program’s blend of academic theory and hands-on experience can provide the right learning environment for those pursuing a career as a crisis counselor, with courses such as Loss and Grief Counseling, Human Growth and Development, and Crisis Intervention.

Explore the program and find out how it can help you achieve your professional goals.


Recommended Readings:

How to Become a College Counselor

How to Become a Grief Counselor

Top Counseling Careers: Job Outlook, Salaries, and Qualifications



American Institute of Health Care Professionals, Crisis Intervention Counseling Certification

Choosing Therapy, “Midlife Crisis: Signs, Coping, & Getting Help”

Choosing Therapy, “Quarter Life Crisis: Signs, Causes, & How to Cope”

Chron, “What Are the Responsibilities of a Crisis Intervention Counselor?”

National Institute of Mental Health, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

Payscale, Average Crisis Counselor Hourly Pay

Psychology Today, “World War II and Mental Health”

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Substance Abuse, Behavioral Disorder, and Mental Health Counselors

VeryWell Mind, “How Crisis Counseling Can Help People Coping With Trauma”

Veterans Crisis Line, Signs of Crisis