Counselors help families strengthen their relationships, guide young adults researching career options, and assist people in recovery from substance use disorders. A counseling career appeals to people with strong listening and communication skills who want to work in a meaningful occupation.
This article introduces common counseling career paths, including opportunities for school counselors, mental health counselors, and career counselors. This page also offers counselor salary data and counselor job outlook information to help prospective counselors enter the field.
What kinds of jobs can you get with a counseling degree?
A counseling degree prepares graduates for careers as marriage and family therapists, mental health counselors, and school counselors. These counseling career paths require a master’s degree.
What do you do as a counselor?
Counselors meet with clients to understand their emotional, behavioral, and mental challenges. They advise clients through counseling and refer them to services when needed.
How do I start a career in counseling?
Many careers in counseling require a master’s degree. However, graduates with a bachelor’s degree can pursue opportunities as a behavioral disorder or substance abuse counselor.
Most counseling programs offer concentrations to focus the degree. For example, students can train in mental health counseling, school counseling, or substance abuse counseling. This section covers the educational requirements and career responsibilities for different counseling specializations.
A concentration in mental health counseling emphasizes treatment approaches to improve clients’ mental health. Students learn about common mental health conditions, such as anxiety, depression, and stress. They also examine relationship issues, learn about different counseling techniques, and study the ethical responsibilities of counselors. Learners apply their theoretical counseling training by completing a supervised clinical internship.
This concentration prepares students to pursue careers in hospitals, juvenile detention facilities, mental health centers, and private practice. In every state, mental health counselors need a master’s degree and complete an internship to earn a license.
During a school counseling program, learners study individual and group counseling techniques, how to implement school counseling programs, and the role of counselors in academic and social development. Learners often complete an internship at a local K-12 school.
School counselors work in elementary, middle, and high schools. Their job duties vary depending on the school level. For example, elementary school counselors emphasize core social and emotional learning skills, while high school counselors prepare students for higher education and the workforce. Public school counselors often need a license or certification from the state to practice.
A marriage and family counseling concentration emphasizes personal relationships and the role of counselors in helping couples and families strengthen their relationships. Students learn about cognitive behavioral therapy, group counseling techniques, and family-centered approaches to counseling. Degree-seekers also study common behavioral and emotional challenges that families face.
With this concentration, graduates can work as marriage and family therapists. The field requires a master’s degree in counseling, marriage and family therapy, or a closely related discipline. Marriage and family therapists may work in mental health centers, hospitals, employee assistance programs, and private practice.
Many counseling programs offer substance abuse counseling concentrations. During the concentration, students build individual and group counseling skills while learning about addiction and substance use disorders. Graduate students apply their coursework during a supervised counseling experience.
With a substance abuse counseling concentration, graduates can pursue a counseling career as an addiction counselor or substance abuse counselor. In this role, counselors help clients recover from substance use disorders. Substance abuse counselors work in inpatient and outpatient recovery facilities, healthcare settings, and crisis intervention organizations. They often coordinate with social workers, healthcare professionals, and psychologists to support clients.
A career counseling concentration trains students to measure clients’ abilities, interests, and skills through aptitude tests. Enrollees learn how to identify relevant career paths, help clients choose a profession, and connect clients with educational programs to build their job skills. Students also learn about key job search abilities, including the interview process.
During a career counseling program, graduate students complete an internship to strengthen their skills. Training as a career counselor prepares graduates for opportunities in higher education, educational services organizations, and secondary schools. Career counselors also work in social assistance programs.
Outlook and Salary Potential in Counseling
A career in counseling can involve working with young learners as a school counselor, helping couples strengthen their relationship as a marriage and family therapist, or assisting people with disabilities as a rehabilitation counselor. Other counselor career paths include substance abuse counseling, behavioral disorder counseling, and mental health counseling. The median counselor salary varies depending on the position and education.
Substance Abuse, Behavioral Disorder, and Mental Health Counselor
Substance abuse counselors treat clients managing substance use disorders, while behavioral disorder counselors work with clients who have behavioral problems. Mental health counselors support clients facing mental health problems. All of these counselors create treatment plans and offer support.
Marriage and Family Therapist
Marriage and family therapists work with couples and families to strengthen their communication skills and overcome problems in their relationships. They meet with clients to provide counseling, support clients in making decisions, and assist clients in developing healthier coping mechanisms. Marriage and family therapists may also refer their clients to community resources.
School and Career Counselor
School and career counselors help students and adults strengthen their skills and develop their career prospects. School counselors focus on academic and social abilities, including helping high schoolers apply to college and consider career choices. Career counselors work with clients to explore career options and meet the requirements for their desired career path.
Rehabilitation counselors help people with disabilities live independently. They evaluate clients’ abilities to create treatment plans and connect clients with services. Rehabilitation counselors may also advocate for hiring people with disabilities and assist clients in looking for jobs.
How much substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors earn depends on the state in which they work and their employer. These figures show the top five states by salary according to the BLS.
Education Requirements to Enter a Counseling Program
Before earning a counseling degree, applicants must meet the requirements to enter the program. At the undergraduate level, applicants generally need a high school diploma or the equivalent, standardized test scores, and recommendation letters. Counseling programs may set additional requirements, such as a minimum GPA or prerequisite coursework.
At the graduate level, applicants typically need a bachelor’s degree from an accredited school. Some programs recommend an undergraduate major in counseling, psychology, social work, or a closely related field. Many programs also ask for GRE scores. Applicants may also need to complete foundational courses in counseling before entering a master’s program.
After gaining admission to a master’s in counseling program, graduate students complete coursework in core counseling areas and their specialization. Counseling students also complete a supervised counseling experience to strengthen their client-focused skills.
Most counselors need a state-issued license to practice. In addition to a license, professional certification can help counselors advance their careers. The National Board for Certified Counselors offers several certifications for counseling professionals like general counselors, school counselors, and clinical mental health counselors.
National Certified Counselor
Counselors with a master’s degree can become board-certified counselors by completing the NCC requirements. Candidates must provide proof of a degree, postgraduate supervised experience, and a professional endorsement. The credential also requires at least 3,000 hours of postgraduate work experience and passing scores on the National Counselor Examination or the National Clinical Mental Health Counseling Examination.
National Certified School Counselor
The NCSC credential recognizes school counselors who meet educational and experience requirements. Candidates must show the completion of supervised field experience and postgraduate supervised experience. The credential also requires a professional endorsement, at least 3,000 hours of work experience, and passing scores on the National Counselor Examination or the National Clinical Mental Health Counseling Examination.
Certified Clinical Mental Health Counselor
The CCMHC credential recognizes national certified counselors with at least 60 credits of graduate-level counseling education from a regionally accredited school. Candidates must also provide proof of clinical training as part of a supervised field experience. Additionally, candidates must submit a professional endorsement and earn passing scores on the National Clinical Mental Health Counseling Examination.
How Much Does a Counseling Degree Cost?
A bachelor’s or master’s degree in counseling can cost thousands of dollars. Degree-seekers can lower the cost of their degree by researching in-state public schools and online programs with tuition discounts for fully online students.
By taking counseling classes online, graduate students can often continue working or choose an accelerated program to earn their degree sooner. The flexibility of an online option can help counseling students save money and enter their career faster.
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