Pros and Cons of a Career in Licensed Professional Counseling
Licensed professional counselors (LPC) have the satisfaction of assisting individuals and families with managing or overcoming mental health issues and relationships difficulties, often employing a variety of techniques, such as cognitive behavioral therapy. Read the pros and cons below to see if choosing a career in licensed professional counseling is the right decision for you.
|Pros of Being a Licensed Professional Counselor|
|Excellent job prospects (29% employment growth from 2012-2022)*|
|Opportunity to help others cope with difficult problems*|
|Private practice self-employment is possible*|
|Job opportunities available in both public and private sector facilities and organizations*|
|Cons of Being a Licensed Professional Counselor|
|Low pay (median salary of approximately $41,000 as of 2014)*|
|Master's degree is required*|
|Must obtain state license to practice*|
|Stressful work environment*|
Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Essential Career Information
The main goal of a licensed professional counselor is to help clients overcome or live with emotional distress or mental disorders. Also known as mental health counselors, LPCs diagnose mental illness and facilitate client recognition of situations or behaviors that might be contributing to depression, anxiety, anger issues, addiction or other destructive activities or feelings. They employ myriad techniques to assist patients, including cognitive behavioral therapy, which involves talking with patients about difficulties and helping them to alter negative thoughts and behavioral patterns. LPCs may need to schedule sessions in the evenings and on weekends to accommodate their clients' busy lifestyles and family obligations, and stressful situations may occur when dealing with highly emotional clients. Counselors sometimes refer their clients to psychiatrists and other health professionals when serious conditions requiring medication and/or hospitalization are encountered.
Licensed professional counselors can work in a variety of environments, including college health centers, businesses, hospitals, mental health clinics, prisons, private practices and substance abuse treatment facilities, and the setting in which they work often affects the type of counseling they perform. Counselors might specialize in adolescent or child therapy, drug and alcohol addiction, elder care, marital issues or other areas of mental health treatment.
Salary Info and Job Outlook
The American Counseling Association stated that, in 2011, almost 20% of adults in the U.S. had some type of mental illness, and 20% of that group also had a substance abuse problem. Hence, mental health professionals are in high demand, and the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projected a 29% increase in the employment of mental health counselors, including licensed professional counselors, during the 2012-2022 decade. Salaries for mental health counselors are on the low end, with the median annual salary estimated at around $41,000 in May 2014. However, the top ten percent of counselors earned nearly $67,000 or more.
Career Skills and Requirements
In order to practice counseling in any state, you must first earn at least a master's degree in counseling or a related area. Undergraduate degrees in non-related areas may qualify you for acceptance into relevant graduate programs. Classes teach students how to recognize various types of mental illness and how to execute the appropriate course of treatment. To supplement classroom work, students are typically required to complete a supervised clinical internship. In addition to meeting the educational requirements, licensed professional counselors generally possess other skills and qualities including:
- A knack for problem solving
- Strong listening and verbal communication skills
- Ability to be direct when communicating with clients
According to the BLS, every state requires licensure of mental health counselors. Each state has different requirements to obtain the Licensed Professional Counselor or similarly named license, but they generally include completion of a master's degree program, several thousand hours of supervised clinical experience and passing a state regulatory board exam. States may also mandate that counselors complete continuing education courses on an annual basis to keep their licenses current.
Job Postings from Real Employers
Because all employers require an LPC to possess current state licensure, candidates are required to hold a master's degree in the appropriate field. Most employers also seek candidates who have some experience treating clients in a clinical setting and who have a strong understanding of well-known treatment methods and types of therapies. The following are examples of actual job listings found on CareerBuilder.com and Monster.com in April of 2012:
- A residential treatment facility in Texas is seeking a licensed professional counselor to assist in the treatment of adults addicted to drugs and alcohol. Under the supervision of a clinical psychologist, the counselor will create and execute community education programs and develop intervention plans for patients. A master's degree is required, and experience with eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EDMR) therapy, psychodrama and motivational enhancement therapy is preferred.
- A city correctional facility in California is hiring a licensed professional counselor with a master's degree in a counseling field and five years of clinical experience. Job duties include planning and coordinating programs and counseling services for inmates.
- A provider of counseling services in Pennsylvania is looking for a licensed professional counselor with experience in treating children and adolescents or adults and couples. Professional experience in treating patients with anxiety, mood and eating disorders, anger issues, addictions and relationship difficulties is preferred. Candidates must be licensed professional counselors or licensed social workers.
How to Stand Out in the Field
Professionals who seek to expand their opportunities for career advancement and demonstrate excellence in and dedication to the field of counseling can pursue certification through the National Board for Certified Counselors (NBCC). The organization offers the National Certified Counselor (NCC) credential, which is accredited by the National Commission for Certifying Agencies. Qualifications are similar to state licensing and include a master's degree, 3,000 hours of experience as a counselor and passing the National Counselor Examination for Licensure and Certification. The NBCC also offers three specialized certifications, obtainable while pursuing or after attaining after NCC certification. Specialty certifications are offered in the areas of school, mental health and addiction counseling.
To remain effective, it's important for counselors to obtain knowledge about new counseling strategies and treatment techniques that could benefit their clients. Taking courses and attending conferences and seminars can allow you to share ideas with other counselors and gain information about current psychological research. You can also join a professional organization, such as the American Counseling Association, to gain access to information, resources, products and services that can assist you in your chosen profession.
Alternate Career Options
If you're interested in helping people find solutions to difficult personal situations but aren't interested in completing a master's degree, consider becoming a social worker. While the BLS states that clinical social workers performing counseling services are required to hold a master's degree, social workers at government agencies may only need a bachelor's degree in social work, sociology or psychology. These professionals assist clients in obtaining resources, such as healthcare, food stamps, daycare, housing and Medicare. Each state has its own licensing requirements for different types of social workers. Licensure is often optional for nonclinical social workers, but social workers providing mental health counseling are required to hold a license.
The BLS predicted that the employment rate for social workers would increase by 25% between 2010 and 2020, which is somewhat lower than the projected growth rate of licensed professional counselors, but still faster than average. A social worker's median yearly wage in May of 2011 was close to $54,000, quite a bit more than the $39,000 that LPCs earned that same year.
A career in psychology could be more to your liking if you seek higher pay but still wish to assist clients through their emotional and mental problems. Similar to counselors, psychologists often perform clinical analysis and client behavior modification techniques, but they also study scientific methods to understand how the human mind operates and apply this data while creating programs to guide treatment. Most clinical psychologists hold a doctoral degree in psychology, but other areas, including school or industrial-organizational psychology, may only require a master's degree. Licensing is required in most states. Specific requirements vary by state, the area of psychology in which a professional works and the type of work performed.
Psychologists earn significantly more that licensed professional counselors, with the annual median salary of clinical, counseling and school psychologists reaching almost $68,000, as estimated by the BLS in May 2011. Job prospects could also be favorable, because the BLS projected a 22% increase in employment during the 2010-2020 decade.