How to Become a Lifestyle Counselor

Overview

People turn to a lifestyle counselor to help them cope with challenges at all stages of their lives. Clients look to lifestyle counselors to provide information about lifestyle changes that can relieve stress and possibly prevent disease. Lifestyle counseling is offered by social workers who help people solve and cope with problems in their everyday lives. Lifestyle counselors are not to be confused with lifestyle coaches, who may deal with similar issues but do not require a formal education.

Lifestyle counselors, like all social workers, can work in a variety of settings like clinics as well as in private practice. Most entry level direct service social work positions like lifestyle counselors require a bachelor’s degree, but some positions and settings require a master’s degree. Clinical social workers who are lifestyle counselors diagnose and treat mental, behavioral and emotional issues, and must be licensed. Licensing requirements vary by state.

A lifestyle counselor will look at the client’s strengths and support networks and work with them to determine goals. After assessing the situation, the lifestyle counselor will develop a plan to improve the client’s sense of well-being. Some clients come to a lifestyle counselor to handle challenges like illness, unemployment and divorce. Lifestyle counselors may also help out after a crisis like a natural disaster. To perform their duties effectively, lifestyle counselors should have good people skills and be highly organized.

Work Environment

Social workers who are lifestyle counselors may work in a variety of settings, including substance abuse clinics, colleges and universities, clinics and in private practice. They meet with clients in an office or they may visit a client at home. Lifestyle counseling is provided by counselors who are child, family and school social workers; healthcare social counselors; and mental health substance abuse counselors. Most work full time, and they may be asked to work evenings and weekends to accommodate the client’s schedule.

Requirements

Education

To become a social worker who specializes as a lifestyle counselor, individuals must complete a bachelor of social work (BSW) at the minimum. Some employers will hire employees with a degree in a related field like psychology. According to the Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, clinical social workers, who diagnose and treat mental, behavioral, and emotional issues must hold a master’s degree and a license.

The BSW program covers topics like dealing with diverse populations and human behavior. Programs incorporate supervised fieldwork or internships. A master’s degree in social work, the MSW, typically takes two years, although there are programs that allow holders of a BSW to complete their coursework in one year. Programs preparing students for a graduate degree allow students to develop skills needed for clinical assessments, managing a large workload of clients, and supervisory responsibilities. Programs on the graduate level also require students to complete supervised fieldwork or an internship. Aspiring lifestyle counselors who hold a bachelor’s degree in another field may enter the MSW program, as long as they have completed coursework in areas including psychology, political science, sociology and economics. Some schools offer a Master in Counseling degree.

Licensing

Every state has a licensing or certification requirement, although state requirements vary. Lifestyle counselors who are clinical social workers must be licensed, typically by obtaining a master’s degree in social work and completing two years or 3,000 hours of supervised clinical experience upon graduation. To receive their license, the clinical social worker must pass an examination.

Licenses for lifestyle counselors who are nonclinical social workers are available in most states, although they are often optional. Further information about state licenses may be obtained from the Association of Social Work Boards.

Skills and Qualities

To become a successful lifestyle counselor, an individual should be compassionate toward their clients and be empathetic to people who may be in a stressful situation. Lifestyle counselors must be able to listen to their clients and comprehend their needs when they talk about the challenges in their lives. They should be able to work with different types of clients and form productive relationships with them by using their people skills. They must also work well with colleagues. After listening to their clients, lifestyle counselors must be capable of using their problem solving skills to develop solutions that are both practical and innovative to have the best chance of solving a client’s problems.

A lifestyle counselor with a heavy workload will need strong organizational skills to manage multiple clients and document their treatment. To provide effective service to their clients, the lifestyle counselor will need excellent time management skills when dealing with multiple clients.

Salary

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median average wage of all social workers was $42,489 in 2010, with the top 10 percent earning over $70,390.

Job Outlook

Employment of social workers is expected to grow by 25 percent from 2010 to 2020, which is faster than the average for all other occupations.

Related Reading

Further Reading

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