Mental illnesses are more common than most people are aware of. According to the National Mental Health Institute (2021), 57.8 million adults in the United States live with a mental illness (NIMH, 2023). However, less than half (47.2%) have sought or received mental health services. But it is less about the cost, although steep treatment prices are still a barrier. Indeed, a primary reason for not seeking help is that people do not know where to go (APA, 2020).
Counseling can help plug that gap. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics noted that counselors will very much be in demand from 2021 to 2031. The job outlook for counseling careers for the next decade is 22%, much higher than the average for all occupations. This means there will be about 43,600 openings on average each year (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2022).
But before you can enter the challenging yet fulfilling field of counseling, you have to go through a related program first. Our Research.com team recommends an online bachelor’s degree in counseling as a good choice but there are other traditional options, too. Our team has analyzed different careers for counselors and included salary information and job requirements to help you decide.
There are various types of counselors. A common one is a mental health counselor. You may have encountered substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors. There is a psychological counselor, too. Despite the different titles they have, they have one aim: to assist patients and clients in overcoming problems such as mental illnesses, family problems, marriage concerns, and rehabilitation challenges. Thus, there is a wealth of choices when you go into counseling careers. Most positions require a bachelor’s degree although you may be able to find an entry-level position such as a counselor’s assistant with an associate degree.
As of March 2023, the average salary of a licensed professional counselor is $78,222 per year (ZipRecruiter, 2023). In exceptional circumstances, a counselor could earn as much as $143,000 per year. But it is not just about the counseling careers salary for many professionals. It is also about professional and social fulfillment. This is because they help clients overcome their problems step by step. The process is not easy, and in especially challenging cases, it could take years.
Below, we take an in-depth look at the requirements of the profession.
The COVID-19 pandemic shuttered everyone in their homes. The disease wrought havoc on people’s health and nations’ economies. And, it also greatly affected the mental health of many individuals. However, not everyone sought help immediately. In “Help-seeking behaviors for mental health problems during the COVID-19 pandemic: A systematic review,” published in the Journal of Affective Disorders, authors Yonemoto and Kawashima (2023) took a look at 41 peer-reviewed and published articles. They discovered that “Individuals who had previous issues or high-risk populations with help-seeking behavior were even more restricted.” Most importantly, the authors of the extensive review identified stigma as the biggest barrier to help-seeking.
Fortunately, there were those who recognized their own need for professional help. Hence, the need for counselors increased. Indeed, 84% of psychologists saw an upsurge in the demand for anxiety treatment since the beginning of the pandemic (APA, 2021). In comparison, they only observed a 74% increase in the previous year. Moreover, 72% of psychologists noted an upsurge in the demand for depression treatment. The number is much higher compared to 60% in 2020.
Those figures coincide with the numbers published by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The agency forecast that there will be a 22% demand for substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors from 2021 to 2031. This is greater than the average, which is 5%.
Unfortunately, there seems to be a decline in interest in counseling psychology. The most recent data shows that 9,220 counseling psychology degrees were awarded in 2020 (Data USA, 2023). This shows a 4.33% drop in the number of graduates. Nevertheless, the number of people in the workforce is going up by 3.3%.
|Role||Median Salary||Demand (2021-2031)|
|Substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors||$48,520||22%|
|Health education specialists and community health workers||$48,860||12%|
|Probation officers and correctional treatment specialists||$60,250||0%|
|School and career counselors and advisors||$60,510||10%|
|Social and community service managers||$74,000||12%|
|Social and human service assistants||$37,610||12%|
|Total, all occupations||$45,760||5%|
Even if you already have these skills, you still need to hone them. Additionally, like with many popular humanities and social sciences careers today, what is required to be a good counselor are soft skills. You have to arm yourselves with these and hone them to the best of your ability to advance your career goals in counseling.
You may be able to start your mental health counselor career with just a certificate. They will enable you to plot your career development plan in counseling. However, for you to take the lead in counseling sessions, you may need an associate degree or higher. In some cases, especially in management roles, a Ph.D. may be required.
|Private Practice||Social or Community Service||Academic and Professional Counseling|
|Providing counsel to clients in a private capacity--may be marriage counseling, substance abuse counseling, mental health counseling, family counseling, etc.||Assisting troubled members of the community with regard to their social and mental health problems||Provides students and professionals advice on their academic or career paths in schools and universities or in companies|
|Entry Level Jobs||Counselor Assistant ($30,074)||Case Worker ($41,459)||School Counselor Assistant
|Junior Management Jobs||Senior Case Manager ($51,015)|
|Middle Management Jobs||Counselor ($60,759)||Social Services Manager ($74,000)|
|Senior Management Jobs||Counseling Center Director ($73,057)||Case Management Director |
Community Health Worker
As a community health worker, you will act as a middleman between the community you are in and healthcare and social service organizations. You will get the information you need from residents to present your cases to governing bodies. In this way, you can help boost the wellness of every member of the community. As part of your responsibilities, you may need to learn how to do first aid. Not only that, but you may be spending time with community members discussing their personal health concerns, too.
Median salary: $58,121
If you are still working towards a bachelor’s degree but currently hold an associate degree in counseling, you can find work as a counselor’s assistant. Most of your duties will be clerical or administrative, thus you will be required to have good knowledge of word processors, presentation applications, spreadsheet programs, and other business solutions. In some cases, the counselor may also ask you to assist them in supporting clients by helping them develop coping skills. You may also be tasked to observe clients to identify patterns that can aid counselors in treating them.
Median salary: $28,934
Mental Health Technician
As a mental health technician, you will be helping patients face and overcome mental health challenges. You, however, will not be working alone. Indeed, you will only be able to perform such tasks under the supervision of a licensed psychologist or psychiatrist. You will also be expected to support patients with their daily tasks. And, of course, ensuring that they have a safe environment for treatment.
Median salary: $34,447
If you enjoy being in an academic setting and working with students, school counseling careers may be ideal. This position allows you to jumpstart your career in the field of counseling. One of the things you can look forward to is providing advice to students, whether teenagers, young adults, or small children, with regard to their academics. You may also be the person they go to for advice if they are having problems at home or with their peers.
Median salary: $61,510
An addictions counselor is one of the more popular bachelor’s degree jobs for counseling professionals. This position is otherwise known as substance abuse counselor. You will be performing counseling sessions whether one-on-one or group to help people rise from chemical dependency. You will find yourself working with other professionals as well, such as social workers and psychiatrists, to fully understand your patients. Thus, you will be able to fully explore treatment options.
Median salary: $47,226
Marriage and Family Therapist
A marriage and family therapist helps couples overcome their differences to manage a healthy relationship. Additionally, they give families a hand in managing family dynamics, especially if a member may be struggling with substance abuse addiction or has a mental illness. If you pursue this avenue, you are most likely going to be behaviorally focused. This means that you will be helping your clients change their behaviors to have successful interactions with each other.
Median salary: $49,880
Certificates generally serve to boost licensed professionals. They can show that a psychologist, therapist, or counselor has the skills necessary to use a treatment approach. But if you do not hold a degree and only have a certificate in a certain area of counseling, you will have to start at the bottom rung to make it to a higher level in professional counseling.
If you are not yet keen on taking graduate studies in counseling, you can supplement your career with certificates. These can prepare you for licensure or for taking a specialized track in the field. During the course of certificate programs, you will acquire new knowledge and skills in various areas like crisis intervention and case management. It may also lead to careers in related fields, like a career in counseling psychology.
Graduate and post-graduate studies, however, open up more avenues for you, professionally and academically. You can conduct research, do experiments, and handle more complicated and sensitive cases. But to advance to graduate studies, you have to show that you have the e experience and that you have the capability to handle higher-level studies.
Clinical Social Worker
Clinical social workers need to have a master’s degree in counseling because they are tasked with diagnosing mental and behavioral issues. But to be recognized, they need to have a license. With this, they can provide therapy to individuals or groups and create personalized treatment plans. If you want to take this track, you will also find yourself helping clients or members of the community cope with personal or mental health problems. Degrees in relevant counseling fields, such bachelor’s and associate’s degrees in substance abuse counseling may also come in handy in pursuing this career path.
Median salary: $63,056
As a career counselor, you will be working with college students or professionals to find their career paths. You can assist them in figuring out what they want to do after they graduate—whether to continue on to graduate studies or to jump into the world of professionals. At the same time, you will be guiding them to do things like writing resumes and tackling interviews to the best of their abilities.
Median salary: $60,510
Secondary School Educator
With your master’s degree in counseling, you can teach at a secondary school. This means you will be working closely with high school students and teaching them about psychology and counseling. Apart from this academic position, you may also find yourself in an administrative role such as that of a school counselor. As such, you will also be conversing with parents and helping them understand the needs of their children at home and in school.
Median salary: $61,820
As a professor, you will be expected to conduct classes regularly at a university or college. You may also find yourself holding special lectures, seminars, and workshops. Furthermore, as an educator in a tertiary-level institution, you will be expected to conduct research on top of your teaching capacity. It can be independent or in collaboration with colleagues. And since today’s research scene is interdisciplinary, you may find yourself working with people who are in other fields like biology and anthropology.
Median salary: $79,640
With a doctorate in counseling, you can take higher administrative positions in hospitals, rehabilitation facilities, and other medical facilities. Outside of the medical field, you can become a director of career counseling in higher education institutions. In these settings, you will be answering to executives and patients alike.
Median salary: $70,162
Some individuals pursuing counselling psychology careers choose to focus on research rather than working with clients. They can work with an educational institution, a non-profit entity, or a commercial organization. If you want to be one, you may even find yourself working in the government. You could be exploring different methods of counseling for families, substance abuse, career, and more.
Median salary: $72,015
Having one or more certifications in various fields of counseling can give you an edge in the field. One of the first certifications you may take is that of the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP). This will show that you have met the standards for a counselor at a national level. You can even display a digital badge provided by the National Board for Certified Counselors (NBCC) to assure clients and potential employers or partners.
Source: Data USA
If you don’t want to pursue a counseling career path, there are still various jobs you can pursue with a counseling background. Additionally, you can use your counseling experience when pursuing education in related fields, like a bachelor or master’s degree in child psychology.
Below are some alternative career options for individuals with experience in counseling.
Counseling is a broad field. As you pursue a counseling career path, you will be working with different kinds of people across all walks of life. At first, you will encounter problems of a broad spectrum. But as you continue, you will be able to find a niche where you are effective with your techniques. Then you could get certifications that could boost your professional abilities.
It is not always about face-to-face interactions with individuals and groups, though. You could also schedule online counseling sessions. Or if you want to diverge from the traditional counseling career path, you could become a writer who provides advice and tips on how to cope to readers. This means that there are plenty of roads to take with counseling.
That said, you can also look at something much broader compared to counseling. Psychology careers open up more doors to you at all levels. Plus, it will still enable you to do counseling work.
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