Behavioral Counselor Careers: Job Description & Salary Information

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What are the pros and cons of a behavioral counselor career? Get real job descriptions, career outlook and salary info to see if becoming a behavioral counselor is right for you.
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Pros and Cons of Becoming a Behavioral Counselor

Being a behavioral counselor can be a difficult yet rewarding career because it involves helping people who face personal and often emotional challenges. Check out these pros and cons to learn if becoming a behavioral counselor is the right career for you.

Pros of Being a Behavioral Counselor
Ability to help people overcome personal struggles*
Flexible schedule*
Much faster than average job growth (31% from 2012-2022)*
Freedom to work independently or in teams*

Cons of Being a Behavioral Counselor
Long hours and demanding schedule*
Need for a lot of schooling (about six years to earn an undergraduate and graduate degree)*
Treating patients can be emotionally draining*
Licensing and certification may be required*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Career Info

Job Description

Behavioral counselors work with people who face personal challenges, such as substance abuse. Often times, counselors will work one-on-one or in small groups with patients. Behavioral counselors focus on coming up with explanations for patients' addictions or abuses and then creating solutions with help from the patients' families and support systems. Counselors can work alone or alongside other health care providers to develop treatment options that address the core of a patient's behavior.

Job Growth and Salary

Employment of counselors is expected to grow, but the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) finds that jobs for substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors should grow at an even faster rate. There were 85,180 substance abuse and behavioral abuse counselors employed across the U.S. in 2014. The BLS reports that employment of these types of counselors should increase by 31% from 2012-2022. The increase will likely be due to more awareness of addictions and a greater demand from people who want to work through their behavioral problems.

In 2014, the median salary for these types of counselors was $39,270, with a median hourly wage of $18.88, according to the BLS. Behavioral counselors can find work in a number of different settings, including hospitals, outpatient care centers, government organizations and community-based health centers.

Education Requirements

Because of licensing requirements, you may need to earn a master's degree, according to the BLS. Undergraduate studies last about four years, and the most common majors for counselors are counseling, psychology and education. After you earn an undergraduate degree, you could earn a master's degree in counseling, addiction studies or behavioral counseling. Throughout your studies, you'll learn about human development, human behavior, addiction, assessment and rehabilitation. Most programs will require you to take part in research studies.

The BLS reports that education requirements for behavior disorder and substance abuse counselors may vary greatly; for instance, some employers may require counselors to hold a master's degree and state licensure, while other employers may only require a high school diploma, and possibly certification. Substance abuse counseling is a common area of study in 2-year associate's degree programs, and some schools offer certificate programs that could lead to licensure and certification.

Licensure and Specializations in Behavioral Counseling

Before you become a behavioral counselor, you may need to become licensed by undergoing more training and earning education credits. Once you complete the specialized training, you'll need to take a licensing examination. Some behavioral counselors choose to specialize in a specific field, such as substance abuse, gambling or eating disorders.

Job Postings from Real Employers

Most employers are searching for counselors who hold at least a bachelor's degree in a field related to counseling. Some employers prefer candidates to hold a master's degree and to be licensed. Others ask that candidates hold professional experience that relates to counseling. The following is a sampling of job openings posted by Careerbuilder.com in March 2012:

  • A private counseling organization in Indiana seeks a behavioral health counselor to provide counseling and treatment services for adults and children facing issues such as obesity and learning disorders. Candidates should have a bachelor's degree, but a master's degree is preferred. The employer also prefers candidates that are certified or licensed in Indiana.
  • A private counseling center in Nevada is looking for a counselor who can provide drug and alcohol counseling treatment for adults in an outpatient setting. Candidates should have a bachelor's degree and an interest in improving the lives of others.
  • A private counseling center in Massachusetts seeks a counselor who can provide intervention and treatment for male offenders who are in need of substance abuse therapy and cognitive-behavioral support. Candidates should have a bachelor's degree and experience working with a corrections department.

How to Get an Edge in the Field

There are numerous opportunities for you to advance as a behavioral counselor and stay relevant to future employers. Many colleges and universities offer graduate and post-graduate certificates in behavioral health counseling. You'll learn about addiction and the human body and the latest trends in treatment options for patients. You may also be able to take part in workshops and conferences as a way to network with fellow behavioral counselors and learn new strategies. The National Association of Cognitive-Behavioral Therapists sponsors seminars about mental health issues, as well as onsite training for counseling centers and organizations.

Alternative Career Paths

Psychologist

If you're more interested in the research side of counseling, and you'd like to contribute to advancements in the field, you could consider becoming a psychologist. There are numerous specialties for psychologists, including school, forensic and developmental. You'll need to go through more schooling and earn a doctoral degree to become a psychologist. Job prospects for psychologists should be favorable, with a 12% growth in employment from 2008-2018, according to the BLS. Clinical, counseling and school psychologists earned a median salary of $68,000 in 2011.

Social Worker

Social workers help people overcome their personal struggles by connecting them to community-based resources and organizations. Like counselors, social workers are directly involved with the health and well being of their clients, but they have resources at their disposal that counselors may not. There are many different types of social workers, including those that work within schools, non-profit organizations and government institutions.

The most common education requirement for social workers is a bachelor's degree, but your job prospects may improve if you earn a master's degree in social work. Jobs for social workers will grow 12% from 2008-2018, according to the BLS. In 2011, child, family and school social workers earned a median salary of $41,000, while mental health and substance abuse social workers earned $39,000.

Popular Schools

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    1. Kaplan University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • Master: Psychology/Applied Behavioral Analysis
      • MS in Psychology
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      • MS in Educational Psychology
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      • BS in Psychology in Applied Behavior Analysis
      • BS in Psychology in Industrial/Organizational Psychology
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      • BSCJ: Forensic Psychology
    Certificate
      • Psychology
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    2. Saint Joseph's University

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      • MS in Criminal Justice Behavior Analysis
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    3. Baker College Online

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    Bachelor's
      • Psychology - Bachelor
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    4. Keiser University

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      • B.A. - Psychology
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    5. Northcentral University

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      • M.A. in Psychology - General Psychology
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    6. Argosy University

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      • Clinical Psychology (PsyD)
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    7. Grand Canyon University

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      • Ph.D. in General Psychology - Cognition and Instruction
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      • M.S. Psychology with an Emphasis in Gerontology
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    10. Sacred Heart University

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Featured Schools

Kaplan University

  • Master: Psychology/Applied Behavioral Analysis
  • BS in Psychology in Applied Behavior Analysis
  • Psychology

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Saint Joseph's University

  • MS in Criminal Justice Behavior Analysis

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Baker College Online

  • Psychology - Bachelor

What is your highest level of education?

Keiser University

  • B.A. - Psychology

What is your highest level of education?

Northcentral University

  • PhD in Psychology - Health Psychology
  • PhD in Psychology - Gender Studies
  • M.A. in Psychology - General Psychology
  • M.A. in Psychology - Gender Studies

What is your highest level of education?

Argosy University

  • Clinical Psychology (PsyD)
  • Clinical Psychology (MA)
  • Psychology (BA)
  • Psychology (AA)
  • Clinical Health Psychology (C)

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Grand Canyon University

  • Ph.D. in General Psychology - Cognition and Instruction
  • M.S. Psychology with an Emphasis in Gerontology
  • Bachelor of Science in Behavioral Health Science with an Emphasis in Trauma

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Penn Foster High School

  • Penn Foster High School with Early College Courses
  • HS Diploma

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