Careers and Salaries in Counseling

Updated May 18, 2023 | Tessa Cooper

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Careers and Salaries in Counseling

People with a passion for problem-solving, listening, and helping others often enjoy working in the growing counseling field. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects employment for community and social service professionals to increase 12% from 2020-2030. According to the BLS, these professionals earn a median salary of $45,760 per year.

Individuals can pursue various counseling careers. This guide covers the similarities and differences between different careers in counseling, including earning potential.

Questions About Counseling Careers

What degree do I need to become a counselor?

Counselors need at least a bachelor's degree in counseling or psychology. Mental health counselors must hold at least a master's degree to practice independently.

Which states do counselors get paid the most?

Mental health counselors in Utah earn the highest average salary, at 66,190 per year, according to BLS data. Professionals in Alaska and the District of Columbia earn average annual salaries of $65,090 and $64,920, respectively.

What are the highest-paying counseling jobs?

Counselors who earn a doctoral degree can become psychologists. These professionals earn a median salary of $81,040, according to BLS data.

What Do Counselors Do?

Counselors meet with clients in person or virtually. They actively listen to clients explain their feelings, and they ask leading questions to encourage conversations. Counselors often meet with clients individually. However, marriage and family therapists may host group sessions.

These professionals offer practical advice and help clients develop healthy coping suggestions to deal with mental health issues. Many counselors work with clients on a short-term basis. They may refer clients to therapists for long-term help.

Counselors cannot write prescriptions for mental health medications. They may work with therapists and psychiatrists to create comprehensive treatment plans.

Exact job responsibilities vary between specific counseling careers. For example, school counselors work in educational settings and offer career guidance and assistance to children with learning barriers. Substance abuse counselors primarily work with older teens and adults. They offer practical suggestions for abstaining from addictive behaviors.

How to Get Hired as a Counselor

After completing the necessary education requirements, learners can begin applying for counseling positions.

Employers often prefer candidates with degrees from accredited schools. The Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs accredits counseling programs.

Job applicants need a quality resume with references. Students can request recommendation letters from counseling professors. Many employers prefer to hire counselors with a master's degree or additional credentials.

Licensure requirements vary by state. The National Board for Certified Counselors provides information about each state's requirements.

Many counseling jobs require a clean background check and drug test. During the interview process, applicants should practice the active listening and optimal interpersonal communication skills that many employers value.

After gaining professional experience, some counselors start their own practice. To gain clients, self-employed counselors rely on marketing efforts and word-of-mouth referrals.

What Are the Education Requirements for Counseling?

Most counselors hold at least a master's degree, which meets the education requirement for state licensure. However, associate or bachelor's degree-holders can have successful counseling careers. A doctorate can lead to more opportunities than a master's.

This section covers the requirements for each counseling degree and highlights correlating professional opportunities.

An associate in counseling requires about 60 credits, which most full-time learners complete in about two years. Many community and public colleges offer associate degrees in the field.

Associate degree-seekers gain foundational counseling knowledge. Learners discover how to maintain records and client confidentiality. Coursework briefly covers counseling and psychology theories and common mental health disorders. However, curricula primarily emphasize practical counseling applications.

Graduates of associate programs can become counselors' assistants. However, most graduates continue to a bachelor's program.

This degree requires about 120 credits, and full-time learners typically graduate in four years.

Students can pursue a bachelor of arts or a bachelor of science in counseling. BS programs focus on STEM topics and logic-based counseling approaches. BA curricula emphasize the humanities and require more general education classes.

A bachelor's in counseling qualifies holders to work as school counselors and entry-level counselors. Counselors with a bachelor's degree must work under a licensed counselor's supervision.

A master's in counseling requires about 60 credits. Most learners earn the degree in two years.

Master's programs in the field explore practical counseling applications and psychology theories. Students learn about the parts of the human brain connected to thoughts and emotions. Coursework highlights mental health disorders, such as obsessive-compulsive disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, and depression.

Most master's programs require a thesis. This research-based project features a large essay component. During their thesis, students test a theory or contribute new knowledge to the counseling field.

After obtaining a master's degree in counseling, graduates can apply for state licensure. Licensed counselors can practice independently and can open their own practice.

A terminal degree, a doctorate in counseling requires 90-120 credits. Students often need 4-6 years to finish doctoral-level coursework, depending on their enrollment status. However, degree-seekers may need longer to complete their dissertation.

Doctoral programs emphasize research. Learners often apply for grants to conduct research that fills industry knowledge gaps. Individuals with a doctorate in counseling can become college professors and psychiatrists.

Counseling Specializations

People seek counseling for various reasons, and aspiring counselors can tailor their studies to specific roles. Many programs offer concentrations and minors that align with certain career goals. Common counseling minors include sociology, psychology, and human development.

The following list features three of the many available counseling specializations. Counselors in some of these specializations may need additional credentials. The BLS provides job outlook and salary information for these specializations.

  • School Counselors

    School counselors assist students facing challenges such as emotional disorders, learning disabilities, and home-life troubles. These counselors contribute to individualized education programs and help students overcome learning barriers. They may also conduct sessions during which students talk about their feelings. High school counselors commonly provide career guidance. These professionals can also work as college admissions counselors.
  • Mental Health Counselors

    Mental health counselors can work in clinics, hospitals, and private practices. These professionals assist people with emotional, behavioral, and mental disorders. They provide temporary treatments and offer practical advice for coping with these conditions. For example, they may suggest healthy habits to enhance mental health. These counselors often work individually with clients. They may also facilitate group counseling and support group sessions. Mental health counselors may refer clients to psychiatrists and therapists.
  • Marriage and Family Counselors

    Marriage and family counselors often work with couples and their children to create healthy bonds. They maintain neutrality when discussing conflicts and create a safe space where people can share their emotions. These professionals help clients set goals and shift their mindsets and behaviors. They help people empathize with one another. These counselors often work with people after events such as affairs.

Career and Salary Outlook for Counselors

When choosing a career path, aspiring counselors should consider their strengths and interests. They may also factor in job availability and salary potential. This section highlights three counseling positions and their typical responsibilities.

Career and salary outlook vary based on factors including location and experience level.

  • Substance Abuse Counselors

    Substance abuse counselors work with people dealing addictions to drugs, alcohol, or prescription medications. These professionals connect clients with community support groups and help individuals avoid relapsing.
  • Rehabilitation Counselors

    These counselors work with people with physical or developmental disabilities. They create plans to help people with disabilities live as independently as possible. They coordinate care plans with family members and healthcare providers. These counselors often work at rehabilitation facilities and senior citizen centers.
  • School and Career Counselors

    These counselors typically work in schools and career centers. Job responsibilities vary by setting. Middle school counselors introduce learners to common career paths. High school counselors help students select a college and major. College counselors may help learners search for job postings, host mock interview sessions, and review resumes.
Salary Potential and Growth Rate
Career Median Annual Salary Projected Growth Rate (2020-2030)
Substance Abuse Counselors $48,520 23%
Rehabilitation Counselors $38,560 10%
School and Career Counselors $60,510 11%

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

Resources for Counselors

This organization unites professional counselors throughout the country. Members receive liability insurance and education discounts. The organization's website features licensure information and mental health resources. This organization curates resources for professional counselors. On its website, counselors can learn about counseling software, continuing education, and professional networks. This organization delivers counseling certification. The board offers study materials and practice exams. NBCC also advocates for counselors by engaging in government affairs. This page on the American Counseling Association's website lists resources for individuals pursuing counseling careers. Visitors can find information on niche counseling careers, such as vocational rehabilitation roles and federal positions.

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