Becoming a Counselor: Job Description & Salary Information

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Get the truth about a counselor's salary, education requirements and career prospects. Read the job description and see the pros and cons of becoming a professional counselor.
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Pros and Cons of a Career in Counseling

Counselors assist people in confronting challenges and making decisions by listening to their concerns and needs. Find out the pros and cons of the profession to decide if becoming a counselor is right for you.

Pros of Becoming a Counselor
Job growth predicted in all specialties (29% growth for mental health counselors from 2012-2022)*
Counseling specialties available (substance abuse, school, mental health and rehabilitation)*
Opportunity to help others deal with personal challenges*
Development of speaking and listening skills, along with compassion and patience*

Cons of Becoming a Counselor
Low wages for training required (2014 median wages of about $41,000 for mental health counselors)*
High preparation required (most counseling specialties require a master's degree)*
High workloads and unpredictable hours (nights, weekends and holidays)*
Challenges clients face can create stress*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS)

Career Information

Job Description

All counselors assist people in confronting challenges and making decisions by listening to the concerns and needs of their clients. They provide advice on treatment methods and plan strategies to improve their clients' daily lives. However, there are several specialized fields for you to choose from on the path to becoming a counselor.

Specializations

Substance abuse and behavioral counselors provide treatment and support to those dealing with addictions, such as alcoholism, or behavioral disorders, like eating disorders, as well as with the resulting physical and emotional ramifications brought on by these issues. Similarly, mental health counselors help those facing significant mental and emotional crises, such as depression, anxiety and other mental health problems.

Marriage and family counselors address mental and emotional health issues, as well as coordinate treatment solutions for couples or families. Rehabilitation counselors work with those facing physical or emotional disabilities in order to help them cope with the limitations of their disability and deal with the social challenges they may encounter. Additionally, school and career counselors work with students and parents to help select appropriate educational paths for students to excel.

Job Growth and Salary

According to the BLS, counseling career paths are projected to see growth from 2012-2022, with mental health counseling seeing an increase of 29% and marriage and family therapists expecting 31% growth. This is largely due in part to counseling visits being a less costly alternative to sessions with a certified psychologist or psychiatrist, as well as to a general increase in the tendency for people to seek out mental, emotional or career counseling than in the past decades. The field with the lowest growth between 2012 and 2022 is school and career counselors, which may see average growth of 12%. Salaries are relatively low and range from a $34,000 median annual wage for rehabilitation counselors to a $53,000 median annual wage for school and career counselors as of May 2014, stated the BLS.

Education Requirements

A master's degree in counseling is strongly preferred in most counseling fields. You may also need (or be strongly encouraged) to become licensed or certified in the particular area in which you wish to specialize. Licensed Professional Counselors (LPCs) must possess a master's degree, have a minimum of 2,000 hours of supervised clinical experience and pass a national or state-recognized exam. Restrictions for some specializations, such as substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors, are more relaxed, and opportunities exist for those who have as little as a high school diploma and certification.

Top Skills for Counselors

As a counselor, you'll be regularly interacting with people and must be able to communicate clearly and effectively. Traits you should aim to develop include:

  • The ability to listen and give your full attention to clients
  • Strong speaking skills to make sure the information you give is easily understood
  • Ease in approaching people and developing a rapport with them
  • The ability to organize appointments and financial statements
  • Compassion and patience

Job Postings From Real Employers

Experience, licensure and a proven record of being able to deal with clients effectively are the traits that tend to be at the forefront of employers' desires when hiring counselors. Educational background is a strong component to improve your likelihood of being considered. Below are some actual job postings from April 2012:

  • A healthcare provider in Hilo, HI, is seeking a certified rehabilitation counselor to assist military veterans. Candidates should have a master's degree in rehabilitation counseling, Certified Rehabilitation Counselor credential and at least two years of experience.
  • A nonprofit organization in Spokane, WA, is seeking a licensed, bilingual substance abuse counselor with at least an associate's degree in chemical dependency studies and the ability of work with diverse groups of people.
  • A community care center in Reading, MA, is looking for a mental health counselor with excellent communication skills and preferably with a bachelor's degree. Additionally, you must be able to work evenings and weekends and have a valid driver's license.
  • A private school in Palm Beach Gardens, FL, is seeking a school counselor with experience and preferably a master's degree to counsel middle school students.

Standing Out In The Field

While educational requirements vary based on your field of choice, as well as each job's specific requirements, pursuing further studies is always a tangible way to increase your own level of knowledge and employment potential. Supervised experience through internships is also highly prized by many employers as it illustrates your hands-on knowledge of the counseling profession. You can also consider taking courses in public speaking or joining public speaking organizations to improve your verbal communication skills.

Get Certified

One of the best ways to ensure you stand out is to become certified by a nationally recognized counseling organization, such as the National Board for Certified Counselors. Through the examinations offered by such an organization, you'll gain increased awareness in your field and boost potential employers' confidence in your expertise and ability. You'll also benefit from further continuing education opportunities provided by the organization, as well as reduced rates for additional testing and liability insurance.

Alternative Career Paths

If you want a somewhat more expedient route to helping others deal with challenges in their everyday lives, you might want to look into becoming a social and human services assistant. To do so, you may need no more than a high school diploma and will receive on-the-job training geared toward your specific organization. The BLS projected social and human services assistants to see a 28% job growth between 2010 and 2020, higher than the average for all occupations. They typically work for government agencies, nonprofit organizations, hospitals, offices or group homes and earn a median wage of $29,000 annually.

If, however, you're interested in taking the knowledge, skills and tasks involved with counseling to a deeper level, you may consider becoming a psychologist. You'll not only attempt to help others deal with mental or emotional challenges, but search for root causes through extensive research and observation of mental activity and behavior. This profession requires a minimum of a master's degree, and a doctoral degree is often sought. Psychologists earned a median annual income of $68,000 as of May 2011, and they can specialize their careers in fields of psychology like counseling, clinical or school, as well as others. The job growth for psychologists is projected to be 22% between 2010 and 2020, higher than the average for all occupations, but slightly lower than some counseling specialties, stated the BLS.

Popular Schools

  • Online Programs Available
    1. Northcentral University

    Program Options

    Doctorate
      • PhD in Psychology - Mental Health Policy and Practice
      • PhD in Psychology - Trauma & Disaster Relief
      • PhD in Marriage & Family Therapy - Therapy with Military Families
      • PhD in Marriage & Family Therapy - General
      • PhD in Marriage & Family Therapy - Couple Therapy
      • PhD in Marriage & Family Therapy - Medical Family Therapy
    Master's
      • M.A. in Marriage & Family Therapy
      • MAMFT - Child & Adolescent Family Therapy
      • MAMFT - LGBTQ Couple & Family Therapy
      • MAMFT - Military Family Therapy
      • MS - Organizational Leadership: Health Care Administration
      • MS - Forensic Psychology (MSPSYFS)
  • Online Programs Available
    2. George Mason University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • Master of Science in Health Informatics
  • Online Programs Available
    3. Argosy University

    Program Options

    Doctorate
      • Clinical Psychology (PsyD)
      • Marriage & Family Therapy (DMFT)
      • Pastoral Community Counseling (EdD)
    Master's
      • Clinical Psychology (MA)
      • Counseling Psychology (MA)
      • Marriage & Family Therapy (MA)
      • Forensic Psychology/Psychophysiology (MA)
      • Health Services Management (MS)
      • Clinical Mental Health Counseling (MA)
    Certificate
      • Client-Centered and Experiential Psychotherapy (C)
      • Clinical Health Psychology (C)
      • Addiction Studies (C)
      • Forensic Psychology (C)
  • Online Programs Available
    4. American University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • Master of Science in Healthcare Management
  • Online Programs Available
    5. Grand Canyon University

    Program Options

    Doctorate
      • Ph.D. in General Psychology - Performance Psychology
      • Doctor of Philosophy in Counselor Education and Supervision
      • EdD in Organizational Leadership - Health Care Administration
    Master's
      • M.S. in Professional Counseling with an Emphasis in Trauma
      • MS in Professional Counseling
      • M.S. in Mental Health and Wellness with Emphasis in Grief and Bereavement
      • M.S. in Mental Health and Wellness with Emphasis in Prevention
      • Master in Christian Counseling
      • Master in Christian Counseling of Substance Use & Addictive Disorders
    Bachelor's
      • BS in Counseling - Addiction, Chemical Dependency, and Substance Abuse
      • BS in Health Care Administration
      • BS in Health Sciences: Professional Development & Advanced Patient Care
      • Bachelor of Science in Behavioral Health Science
  • Online Programs Available
    6. Kaplan University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • Master: Psychology/Applied Behavioral Analysis
      • Master: Psychology/General Psychology
      • Master: Psychology/Addictions
      • Master of Healthcare Admin
      • MS in Nursing
      • MS in Educational Psychology
    Bachelor's
      • BS in Psychology in Addictions
      • Bachelor: Health and Wellness
      • Bachelor: Health Science
  • Online Programs Available
    7. Colorado Technical University

    Program Options

    Doctorate
      • Doctor of Management - Health Care Management and Leadership
    Master's
      • MS - Healthcare Management
      • Master of Science in Management - Healthcare Management
    Bachelor's
      • BS - Business Administration - Health Care Management
  • Online Programs Available
    8. Herzing University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • MBA Dual Concentration: Healthcare Management and Public Safety Leadership
      • MBA Dual Concentration: Healthcare Management and Project Management
  • Online Programs Available
    9. Baker College Online

    Program Options

    Master's
      • Healthcare Management - MBA (Master's)
  • Online Programs Available
    10. Saint Joseph's University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • MS in Health Administration
      • MS in Criminal Justice Behavior Analysis

Featured Schools

Northcentral University

  • PhD in Psychology - Mental Health Policy and Practice
  • PhD in Psychology - Trauma & Disaster Relief
  • M.A. in Marriage & Family Therapy
  • MAMFT - Child & Adolescent Family Therapy

What is your highest level of education?

George Mason University

  • Master of Science in Health Informatics

What is your highest level of education?

Argosy University

  • Clinical Psychology (PsyD)
  • Clinical Psychology (MA)
  • Client-Centered and Experiential Psychotherapy (C)

What is your highest level of education completed?

American University

  • Master of Science in Healthcare Management

What is your highest level of education?

Grand Canyon University

  • Ph.D. in General Psychology - Performance Psychology
  • M.S. in Professional Counseling with an Emphasis in Trauma
  • BS in Counseling - Addiction, Chemical Dependency, and Substance Abuse

What is your highest level of education?

Kaplan University

  • Master: Psychology/Applied Behavioral Analysis
  • Master: Psychology/General Psychology
  • BS in Psychology in Addictions
  • Bachelor: Health and Wellness

Which subject are you interested in?

Colorado Technical University

  • Doctor of Management - Health Care Management and Leadership
  • MS - Healthcare Management
  • BS - Business Administration - Health Care Management

Are you a US citizen?

Herzing University

  • MBA Dual Concentration: Healthcare Management and Public Safety Leadership
  • MBA Dual Concentration: Healthcare Management and Project Management

What is your highest level of education?