The outlook for students looking to take up a career in counseling is good. As population numbers rise, the demand for qualified counselors continues to grow. According to Health Guide USA, the job demand for counselors is expected to increase by as much as 40 percent between the years 2010 to 2020. Compared to other career paths, this number far exceeds the average job growth rate. Students considering a career in counseling will want to consider the job responsibilities and the qualities most needed to succeed in this role.
While the types of clientele may differ from setting to setting, problem-solving remains the primary job objective for counselors. Whether it be individuals, families, students or people suffering from mental illness, the counselor’s role entails guiding clients through whatever questions, problems or dilemmas they face.
Counselor jobs exist in a variety of fields, some of which involve issues of a more personal nature while others focus more on personal planning and coping skills. Within the educational field, school counselors may find themselves dealing on a more personal level with students than career counselors in college settings. Within the mental health field, counselors may work with families, children and/or adults depending on the type of facility. Counselors working in the rehabilitative field assist clients with learning new ways to cope with disabilities and life-changing events.
In each of these fields, work hours can vary based on the needs of the clientele. With school counselors, regular daytime hours are likely with a two to three month vacation during the summer months. Counselors working with individuals and families may be required to work irregular hours in order to accommodate their clients’ schedules. Rehabilitation counselors typically work a traditional 40 hour work week.
The various counseling careers can be broken down into different specialty areas, some of which include –
• Educational, vocational and school counselors
• Rehabilitation counselors
• Mental health counselors
• Substance abuse/behavioral disorder counselors
• Marriage and family counselors
Within the elementary and middle-school levels, school counselors assist students with setting academic goals as well as helping with social development issues. Sometimes this role entails advocating for a student in cases where special needs or disabilities are a factor.
Vocational counselors focus on career planning with students as well as with those looking to change career paths. Identifying interests, skills and personality traits is also part of a vocational counselor’s role.
Rehabilitation counselors typically work with people with disabilities or anyone who’s experienced a life-altering accident or disease. Their role centers on helping people to learn new coping skills as well as coordinating services, such as medical care and vocational training.
Mental health counselors employ a range of therapeutic techniques to help individuals, families and children deal with emotional and/or psychological problems in their lives. Likewise, marriage and family counselors deal with the same issues when working with married couples and families.
Substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors help people deal issues involving addiction and destructive behaviors. Destructive behaviors include eating disorders, gambling and self-harming behaviors, such as cutting.
For both public and private sector counseling positions, counselors must hold a master’s degree in order to work as a licensed professional. In terms of state and specialty requirements, each state follows its own set of guidelines so requirements often vary from state to state.
Counselors working in a school setting are usually required to hold a state certification along with a master’s degree. Some schools may require their counselors to also hold a teaching certification as well.
In private sector positions, most states have a licensing requirement. Licensing (as well as maintaining licensure) may entail obtaining one or more of the following –
• Completing a master’s degree in counseling
• Passing a state exam
• Accumulating a certain number of hours in supervised clinical experience
• Adhering to ethical codes and standards
• Continuing education requirements
Not only do state requirements vary, but different specialties and different employers may also have their own sets of requirements.
For students considering available career choices for a bachelor’s degree in counseling, possible job roles may include –
• Rehabilitation aide
• Social service worker
• Counseling aide
Again, both state and employer requirements will determine whether a bachelor’s or master’s degree is required for these job roles.
With a master’s degree, counselors are in line for long-term career possibilities that offer good salary potential. Salary ranges will vary depending on a person’s specialty, location and experience level. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, counselors’ salary earnings can range from $35,000 to $80,000 a year.
The median annual salary breakdown for counselors specializing in the educational and vocational fields is as follows –
• Individual and family counseling – $33,780
• Vocational/ rehabilitation – $35,220
• Colleges & universities – $43,980
• Elementary, middle & high schools – $57,800
Mental health counselors can expect median annual salaries of –
• Substance abuse counseling – $29,950
• Individual and family counseling – $36,130
• Outpatient services – 37,590
• Clinical or hospital setting – $40,880
Annual salaries for marriage and family counselors include –
• Individual and family counseling – $39,690
• Clinical or hospital setting – $41,220
• Outpatient services – $46,830
• Local government – $48,220
Counselors specializing in rehabilitative services can expect the following median salaries –
• Special needs and substance abuse services – $25,950
• Vocational rehabilitation – $29,060
• Local government – $38,800
• State government – $45,350
Counselors with advanced degrees and/or years of experience are in the best position to negotiate salary terms and earn considerably higher than average pay. Different types of employers, such as local and state-funded agencies can typically offer more competitive salaries than non-profit organizations. Counselors who opt to go into private practice have the liberty of charging their own set hourly rates, but yearly salary ranges will depend on the number of clients they have.
While the overall demand for qualified counselors is high, some locations have a higher demand than others. Areas with high population numbers and high crime statistics most likely have a high demand for counselors. The amount of funding a state or local area gets also affects the number of available counseling positions.
In general, metropolitan areas offer the highest employment levels for counselors. Some of these areas include –
• New York
• Los Angeles
In terms of specialty fields, rehabilitation counselors are expected to be in high demand as senior adult population numbers rise. The ongoing rise in substance abuse rates will also open up new positions for addictions counselors.
Depending on the type of employer or work setting, counselors can advance into supervisory or administrative positions. Other areas for advancement include private practice, consulting, college teaching and group practice.
Advancement opportunities in the counseling field can also vary depending on the specialty. School counselors can move into director roles for larger school systems where they set the curriculum for counselors in individual schools. Those with advanced degrees (PhDs) can venture into school administrator and psychologist roles.
In general, advanced degrees in counseling open up a range of advancement possibilities for all counseling specialties, though the more supervisory and administrative positions typically involve little to no counselor-client contact. This may be something to keep in mind for those who rather work inside one-on-one, direct-care job roles