Become a Crisis Counselor – Education & Licensure Guide

Unlike mental health counseling or substance abuse counseling, which can mean frequent or ongoing meetings with a counselor to work on continuing issues, seeing a crisis counselor generally means developing a short-term relationship with a provider. The American Counseling Association says that the primary purpose of an individual meeting one-on-one with a crisis counselor is to help “restore some sense of control and mastery after a crisis event or disaster.”

When a crisis occurs, it is often unexpected and short in duration, such as a natural disaster or a loved one losing their life in an accident or by suicide, and it is not unusual for those affected to have difficulty coping or regaining a sense of normalcy. Meeting with a crisis counselor after a traumatic event can be a one-time meeting that can range anywhere from 15 minutes to two hours, or be a few meetings on a short-term basis. The American Counseling Association suggests that meeting one to three times with the same crisis counselor is common.

The goals of crisis counseling are more immediate than ongoing mental health counseling. The first goal is to ensure that the immediate threat has passed. Second, the crisis counselor should ensure that the affected individual is stable and has a short-term plan. Third, they should provide or recommend resources, if any are available. 

Becoming a crisis counselor is a little different than the steps to take to become a clinical mental health counselor, substance abuse counselor, or school counselor. Read on to learn more about how to become a crisis counselor.

How to Become a Crisis Counselor

There are opportunities to be trained as a volunteer crisis counselor. The Crisis Text Line explains that people who wish to volunteer to answer texts from people in crisis can be trained to do so in 30 hours. Within that time, the prospective volunteer will learn reflective listening, collaborative problem-solving, and crisis management.

To be a volunteer in this or a similar situation, many times, the person just needs to have a desire to help others, regardless of their educational background or employment. The Crisis Text Line says that to be a volunteer, they require only that prospective volunteers in the United States have a social security number, be at least 18 years old, provide two references, have access to a reliable personal computer and the internet, submit to a background check, and complete the 30-hour training.

This volunteer experience can be invaluable to people who wish to go on to a career as a crisis counselor. This training helps an individual stand out when interviewing for jobs or applying to schools.

Beyond volunteer experience, educational qualifications for someone to earn a degree in crisis counseling generally mean completing a bachelor’s degree in social work, psychology, counseling, education, or some related human service field.

Those degree programs can easily lead to acceptance in a master’s program for a master’s degree in counseling, in which crisis counseling can often be a focus.

Education of a Crisis Counselor

There are various organizations and colleges that offer crisis counseling certificates and degrees.

The American Institute of Health Care Professionals Inc. (AIHCP) offers a Crisis Intervention Certification program for qualified professionals. Attaining this certification requires completion of an official, established education program, which must have a minimum of 275 hours of lecture/study in crisis intervention courses. Candidates who successfully complete a program within a two-year period are eligible to apply for certification as a Crisis Intervention Counselor.

The AIHCP also offers continuing education courses in Crisis Intervention Counseling and Consulting. Applicants to their program must be working in a healthcare or mental health care field already, or hold a bachelor’s degree or higher in psychology, human services, or another health-related field.

Other requirements to be considered for this Crisis Intervention Counseling Certification are to be either a licensed registered nurse, social worker, healthcare professional, counselor or psychologist, or an ordained minister/clergy. Currently practicing crisis counselors, those employed in criminal justice or fire sciences, certified or licensed emergency medical technicians (EMT), or those employed in disaster response or disaster relief may also qualify.

Many schools offer educational opportunities in this field.

Liberty University

For instance, Liberty University offers a 100 percent online bachelor of science in psychology with a focus on crisis counseling. Liberty’s program is 120 credits and takes 3.5 years to complete. Liberty offers education from a Christian perspective, but there are other secular programs with similar focuses, for both bachelor’s and master’s degrees.

The curriculum of this bachelor’s degree will include courses such as general psychology; social psychology; behavioral modification; psychology of personality; statistics in psychology; physiological psychology; psychology & Christianity; abnormal psychology; and acute stress, grief & trauma. Notably, students in this program will be able to gain real-world experience by completing a 125-hour internship.

Graduates will be ready for a variety of careers such as community relations managers, crisis hotline operators, psychiatric technicians, rehabilitation specialists, and victim advocates.

  • Location: Lynchburg, VA
  • Accreditation: Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC)
  • Expected Time to Completion: 3.5 years
  • Estimated Tuition: $390 per credit

Walden University

Another online school, Walden University, offers a master of science in clinical mental health counseling with a specialization in trauma and crisis counseling. Students through this specialization will be able to master the intervention strategies, treatment models, and theories needed for counseling and supporting families and individuals in crisis.

Made up of 100 to 106 quarter credits, this online program includes coursework in theories of counseling; techniques in counseling; multicultural counseling; diagnosis and assessment; group process and dynamics; psychopharmacology; vicarious trauma and compassion fatigue; and crisis management.

Applicants to the program must have a bachelor’s degree or higher along with a completed online application and official transcripts.

  • Location: Minneapolis, MN
  • Accreditation: The Higher Learning Commission (HLC); Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP)
  • Expected Time to Completion: 24 months
  • Estimated Tuition: $48,370 total

Supervised Hour Requirements for a Crisis Counselor

Each state has its own requirements for what is approved for licensing as a counselor. Most states consider a job as a crisis counselor to fall under the broader career category of clinical mental health counselors, domestic violence counselors, or substance abuse counselors.

In order to be licensed as a clinical mental health counselor, states require the licensure of a student who has completed a program at an accredited school. The accrediting body of counseling education in the United States is the Council for Accreditation of Counseling & Related Educational Programs (CACREP).

In most cases, a state’s licensing body expects a student to complete a minimum of  600 hours of internships and practicum. Walden’s program, for instance, requires 80 credits of core courses, 10 credits of specialization courses, 100 hours of a practicum, and 600 hours of internship.

Licensure of a Crisis Counselor

Different states have different requirements for licensure in order to practice as a licensed mental health counselor. Some states, such as North Carolina, have three levels of licensure options.

The North Carolina Board of Licensed Clinical Mental Health Counselors, for instance, offers a license for counselors who are only allowed to practice under supervision. The LCMHCAs must complete a minimum of 3,000 hours of supervised professional practice in order to qualify to practice without supervision as an LCMHC (non-restricted) licensee. The next level of licensure is the LCMHCS, which is an independent, unrestricted license.

The state of Georgia, by contrast, has only two levels of licensure: the Associate Professional Counselor, which is the title required for a student to complete their supervised work experience, and the fully licensed Licensed Professional Counselor.

Virtually all states require a minimum of a master’s in counseling along with hundreds of hours of supervised field experience to gain licensure. California’s Board of Behavioral Sciences, for instance, requires completion of a board-certified course of study with at least 60 semester units of instruction along with 15 semester units of advanced coursework and a minimum of 280 supervised hours providing face-to-face clinical counseling of individuals, families, or groups.

Regardless of a state’s individual educational requirements, many states require that potential licensees take and pass a certification exam. After the number of supervised field hours is met, the licensee is then qualified to take the state test and complete their certification.

The Georgia Composite Board of Professional Counselors, Social Workers, and Marriage and Family Therapists requires a minimum of 1,000 hours of directed work experience per year and a minimum of 35 hours of supervision per year.

Crisis Counselor Licensure Renewal Requirements

Just as each state has its own licensure and certification requirements, each state has its own renewal requirements. North Carolina, for example, requires 40 hours of continuing counselor education for renewal. A minimum of three hours of that is required to be in ethics. Each licensee should check their state’s requirements.

The state of Georgia changed its licensure requirements, as given above, in 2018. Always check the licensing requirements of the state in which you wish to work to be sure of their current guidelines.  

According to AtHealth, a provider of continuing education materials for mental health professionals, Georgia requires 35 clock hours of continuing education every two years, with a minimum of five hours directly related to ethics in the field of the professionals’ specialty. Of the remaining 30 hours, a minimum of 15 must be from the core course material, and a maximum of 10 hours can be earned online for each renewal period.

Many states have changed their requirements for continuing education in light of the global coronavirus pandemic, especially in regard to performing study and work online. Georgia’s Board, for instance, modified its requirements in April 2020 to require licensees to obtain at least one hour of training in providing telehealth services or telehealth supervision.

What Do Crisis Counselors Do?

According to Wake Forest University’s counseling blog, the idea of crisis counseling is a relatively new one. Mental health experts recognized that soldiers who served in World War I needed help dealing with what they had witnessed. At the time, counselors realized that soldiers who received immediate mental health treatment re-entered society much more successfully than those who received no treatment at all.

A crisis counselor is focused on an individual’s immediate needs, rather than ongoing deep personal reflection, although that form of ongoing treatment may certainly be recommended as well. Unlike ongoing psychotherapy, crisis counseling usually lasts anywhere from a few weeks to less than three months. The idea is to help an individual deal with the immediate stress, find some immediate relief, and teach them some coping skills to deal with their intense feelings related to whatever crisis they experienced.

A crisis counselor’s intervention can take many forms:

  • A suicide intervention center or hotline
  • A veteran’s hotline specifically for PTSD
  • A sexual assault shelter or hotline
  • A domestic violence shelter or hotline
  • A natural disaster recovery center
  • A center for gun violence recovery
  • A foster child care agency

Regardless of what situation crisis counselors find themselves working in, they are likely going to be expected to maintain case notes on each client, develop partnerships and alliances with other service providers, recommend those providers, increase public awareness of PTSD and mental health crises, provide stability, and coping skills. This can be done in face-to-face sessions in a clinical setting such as a hospital or medical center; counseling center; school, or over the phone.

Depending on the job setting, a crisis counselor may need to provide outreach to the community, facilitate support groups or meetings, arrange for emergency medical services or law enforcement services as needed, develop a plan for an individual client and/or a family, work with school counselors or with community programs, or plan home visits.

How Much Do Crisis Counselors Make?

These numbers represent data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics from May 2022.

Community and Social Service Occupations

  • Number employed in the U.S.: 2,313,620
  • Average annual salary (mean): $55,760
  • 10th percentile: $32,360
  • 25th percentile: $38,840
  • 50th percentile (median): $49,380
  • 75th percentile: $64,750
  • 90th percentile: $83,600

Substance Abuse, Behavioral Disorder, and Mental Health Counselors

  • Number employed in the U.S.: 344,970
  • Average annual salary (mean): $56,230
  • 10th percentile: $34,580
  • 25th percentile: $39,810
  • 50th percentile (median): $49,710
  • 75th percentile: $64,400
  • 90th percentile: $82,710

Other Types of Counselors

  • Number employed in the U.S.: 37,270
  • Average annual salary (mean): $49,770
  • 10th percentile: $31,930
  • 25th percentile: $36,730
  • 50th percentile (median): $43,390
  • 75th percentile: $52,770
  • 90th percentile: $75,340

Crisis Counselor Professional Associations & Resources

  • The National Domestic Violence Hotline
  • National Network to End Domestic Violence
  • National Center for Victims of Crime
  • The American Bar Association Commission on Domestic & Sexual Violence
  • Asian-Pacific Institute on Gender-Based Violence
  • Asian Task Force Against Domestic Violence
  • Center for Survivor Agency and Justice
  • Community United Against Violence
  • Faith Trust Institute
  • Incite! Women of Color Against Violence
  • Jewish Women International – Domestic Violence in the Jewish Community
  • The Childhood Violent Trauma Center
  • The National Center on Domestic and Sexual Violence
  • The National Clearinghouse on Abuse in Later Life
  • The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence
  • The National Council on Child Abuse and Family Violence
  • National Latino Alliance for the Elimination of Domestic Violence
  • The Pennsylvania Coalition Against Domestic Violence
  • The Northwest Network of Bi, Trans, Lesbian and Gay Survivors of Abuse
  • National Indigenous Women’s Resource Center
  • Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration Disaster Distress Hotline
  • FEMA Helpline
  • Mental Health America
  • American Psychological Association
  • Child Aware of America
  • The National Child Traumatic Stress Network
  • Domestic Violence Resource Center
  • National Suicide Prevention Hotline
  • National Institute of Mental Health
  • Crisis Text Line
  • RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network)
  • End Rape on Campus
Vanessa Salvia

Vanessa Salvia


Vanessa Salvia is an Oregon-based freelance writer and editor with a bachelor’s degree in chemistry. As fun as rigorous studies in math and science were, Vanessa took an independent path and developed a prolific career covering lifestyle and healthcare topics for magazines and newspapers, important industries such as concrete construction and building waterproofing, and even hard science. You can get in touch at Sage Media and Marketing.