Counselors may also be referred to as therapists or mental health specialists. They work in a variety of settings. Individuals interested in pursuing counselor careers often begin by enrolling in a bachelor’s degree in applied psychology program.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports counselor employment is expected to grow faster than the average for all occupations in the coming years. Job growth will occur as insurers and employers seek to reduce costs by using the skills of counselors as an alternative to psychologists or psychiatrists. While job openings are expected to grow, candidates with advanced education will have the best prospects.
Counselors provide therapy to individuals, couples and families. Some specialize in substance abuse counseling; others work primarily with children. Counselors encourage clients to express their thoughts and feelings, and they gather information through interviews and observations. At times, tests are administered to determine a client’s needs. Counseling can take place in private sessions or in group settings, as therapists provide guidance and help clients gain new skills to deal with their problems.
Counselors must maintain accurate records of the work they do with their clients. Additional paperwork is required for federal- and state-mandated documentation and insurance filings.
A counselor’s career is usually spent working in an office. Counselors can be based out of a hospital, clinic, government agency or private practice, and they may work independently or as part of a team. Depending on their employer, some counselors limit their practice to certain client groups, such as teens, or specialties, like marriage counseling. Travel is occasionally required. Because of the nature of their work, counselors’ jobs can sometimes be stressful.
Salaries vary for counselor jobs depending on skills, employer and specialty. BLS salary data from May 2009 indicated annual earnings for different types of counselors were as follows:
|Type of Counselor||25th||Median||75th|
|Mental Health Counselors||$29,920||$38,010||$50,140|
|Marriage and Family Therapists||$36,480||$46,920||$58,440|
|Educational, Vocational and School Counselors||$40,260||$52,550||$67,160|
|All Other Counselors||$31,390||$41,320||$56,100|
|Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports, Occupational Employment and Wages, May 2009.|
Education and training requirements for counselor jobs vary by employer, and licensing requirements vary by state. While a master’s degree is usually required to become licensed, many counselor positions are open to applicants with a bachelor’s degree.
The first step for individuals interested in counselor careers can be a bachelor’s degree in applied psychology. Coursework typically includes lifespan development and psychology, multicultural issues, learning and motivation, social psychology and abnormal psychology.
An applied psychology education prepares graduates to:
Many agencies offer opportunities for continuing education. It’s possible to gain an entry-level job with a bachelor’s degree and use an employer’s tuition assistance program to pay for a master’s degree.
If you have good judgment, an interest in human behavior, a strong desire to help people, and the ability to inspire trust and confidence, then a counselor career might be a perfect fit for you.