12 Careers in Counseling

Counseling provides a unique opportunity to make a direct impact in someone’s life, helping them navigate difficult decisions, process grief, cope with the effects of mental health disorders, and beyond. There are a number of different career paths within the counseling profession, ranging from school counselors to substance abuse specialists and everything in between. As you seek an opportunity to make a positive impact on people and society, consider counseling careers that align best with your skills and interests.

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Common Paths for a Counseling Career

A few of the most common types of counselor jobs are listed below.

School Counselor

School counselors work in academic settings (typically a high school), where they help students handle both academic and social challenges as well as make plans for after graduation. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the annual median salary for school and career counselors was $58,120 in 2020. Those interested in this field should seek a degree program focused on school counseling.

Child/Pediatric Counselors

Child/pediatric counselors, sometimes called adolescent counselors, work with children and teens to assess, diagnose, and treat mental impairments or social disruptions that can interfere with a child’s wellness. The BLS reports the general job category of substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors made a median annual salary of $47,660 in 2020, but this can fluctuate based on level of education and practice location. To be a counselor in this specialty, individuals should have a master’s degree or higher. Doctorate degrees are required for private practice counselors.

Mental Health Counselor

Mental health counselors work with individuals suffering from various mental impairments, including depression, anxiety, or trauma. They assess patient conditions, design and implement treatment plans, and observe treatment effectiveness. BLS data for substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors shows a median annual salary of $47,660 in 2020. Pursuing this counseling career requires a mental health counseling degree.

Substance Abuse Counselor

Working in hospitals, rehabilitation centers, and private practices, these counselors help individuals manage their recovery from drug or alcohol addiction. The BLS reports that substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors made a median annual salary of $47,660 in 2020. To seek work in this field, a substance abuse counseling degree is recommended.

Career Counselor

Career counselors assist their clients in assessing their skills to determine their best career path. They typically work in schools or counseling offices. According to the BLS, school and career counselors made an annual median salary of $58,120 in 2020. A bachelor’s degree in counseling is a good way to enter this field.

Family Counselor

Family counselors typically work to help families with conflict resolution and to address complicated dynamics that may come from blended families, past trauma, and more. Most of the time, these counselors work in private practice. BLS data for marriage and family therapists reports a 2020 annual median salary of $51,340. Those who wish to pursue a family counseling path should consider family and marriage counseling degree programs.

Marriage Counselor

Marriage counselors work with married couples either individually or together to determine marital strengths and weaknesses in hopes of strengthening relationships. Like family counselors, they also help with conflict resolution. The BLS reports an annual median salary of $51,340 for marriage and family therapists in 2020. Those who wish to pursue a marriage counseling path might consider family and marriage counseling degree options.

Rehabilitation Counselors

Counselors who work in rehabilitation centers typically provide individual and group therapy to help clients who struggle from emotional, social, or psychological disorders. The goal is typically to empower these clients to live independently, and to cope with the effects of their disability in a constructive way. According to the BLS, the annual median salary for rehabilitation counselors in 2020 was $37,530. A master’s in rehabilitation counseling can help prepare for success in this role.

Geriatric Counselor

Geriatric counselors assist individuals and families suffering from the effects of aging, including effects of dementia. Geriatric counselors fall under the BLS category of substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors, who made a reported median annual salary of $47,660 in 2020. To enter this field, a geriatric counseling degree program is recommended.

Guidance Counselor

Guidance counselors are closely related to school counselors and typically work in an academic setting. Their role is less focused on navigating social concerns, and is instead centered on helping students make decisions about their continuing education or vocational choices. The BLS reports an annual median salary of $62,320 for the role. Guidance counseling degree programs can provide a foundation for success in this counseling career.

Religious/Spiritual Counselor

Spiritual counselors work with individuals from various walks of life to find empowerment and conquer everyday struggles through spirituality. They are most often found in private practice, schools, or churches. The BLS entry for clergy reports an annual median salary of $56,560 in 2020. A good way to pursue this vocation is by looking into different spiritual counseling programs.

Grief Counselor

The role of a grief counselor is to work with individuals and families who have experienced traumatic events or the loss of a loved one. They fall under the BLS job category of substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors, who made a reported median annual salary of $47,660 in 2020. To enter this field, it is best to pursue a grief counseling degree program.

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Careers in Counseling: Where Will You Work?

Another way to distinguish between careers in counseling is to explore their different types of work environments. Check out some of the common areas where counselors work.

  • Counseling Agencies: One of the most popular areas for counselors to work is in counseling organizations or mental health agencies within their communities. These agencies can provide well-rounded counseling services to people of different age groups, mental health concerns, and varying life circumstances. Professionals working in this area provide diverse services to meet the needs of those who seek care. If you’re interested in this field of counseling, you should check out our guide How to Become a Therapist for education requirements, salary information, and much more.
  • Schools: Counselors may also work in educational settings and schools all over the country. Since schools are where children and young adults spend a large majority of their time, counselors sometimes work on-staff to ensure the needs of their students are met. Some of the issues addressed in this area of counseling may be general development, difficult family lives, college and career preparation, and relationship counseling.
  • Government: One area in which counseling is clearly growing is within government agencies. Most prominently, military and veteran counseling services can be provided to military members and their families who are dealing with issues of separation, trauma, or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Counselors may be employed directly through the U.S. government to provide support to these individuals.
  • Healthcare: Counseling can be tied to healthcare as a way to address long-term illnesses, dealing with a loved one’s illness, or general rehabilitation. Working in this area of counseling can put you in touch with clients who need referral services related to their healthcare, support with developing coping skills, and individual empowerment regarding different health struggles.
  • Social Services: In the field of social services, counselors may assist children who have been separated from their families due to abuse or neglect. They may also work with adults who are struggling financially and receiving benefits from the state. In certain areas, counselors may also work with geriatric clients who request counseling services to assist with managing emotions related to the aging process or their health.
  • Rehabilitation Services: As part of drug and alcohol rehabilitation, counselors may step in to assess and provide treatment to those involved. Counselors may be contracted by rehabilitation agencies to assist with life improvement services or work full-time with these organizations. They may also be needed to help people who are coping with life changes due to injury or illness.
  • Independent Practice: Counselors may also work independently within their specialized field of counseling. Independent counselors may advertise and provide counseling services for a certain population of clients. Depending on what you desire from your counselor career, this could be an option to consider.
  • Educational Requirements for a Career in Counseling

    First of all, a degree in counseling is required to become licensed and begin working in the field. Keep the following points in mind.

  • Accreditation: Counselors working in the field have one thing in common — an accredited degree. Accreditation is vital to the relevance of a degree program. The CACREP (Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs) is the most sought-after counseling accrediting body.
  • Undergraduate Degree: All states require that graduates hold an accredited degree prior to becoming licensed as a counselor in any specialty. Although some assistant positions and entry-level positions require a minimum of an associate’s degree, you must have a higher degree paired with a license before you can begin counseling patients directly.
  • Master’s Degrees: The minimum degree requirement for licensed counselors is a master’s degree in counseling. With the increase in the number of counselors who hold a master’s, some counselors have moved on to complete doctorate degrees in counseling.
  • Doctoral Degrees: Most states require that individuals working in private practice hold a doctorate and license prior to operating their business. Licensing requirements are the same, but the more advanced degree offers opportunities for greater earnings and more ready advancement to higher-level positions. When considering specialty counseling degrees, you should research your state’s individual requirements for each specific program.
  • Counseling Specialties: The degree program you choose may also include a specialization option, which can provide you with additional knowledge within a field of your choice. Some of the most popular specializations correlate to specific careers.
  • Coursework for Different Types of Counseling Careers

    Once you are enrolled in a master’s in counseling degree program, you can expect to take courses that are related to assessing and treating various mental health conditions, providing support through common life circumstances, and identifying issues that may cause emotional harm. The coursework must meet the standard of the accreditation agency to be considered a reliable resource for your educational goals. Here are some common courses required for all different types of counseling careers

  • Theories of Counseling: In this course, students can learn current theories in counseling and upcoming trends within the field. Students may be encouraged to develop their own theories about counseling as well as identify areas of bias within themselves that could pose a risk to efficient and equitable treatment.
  • Assessment and Evaluation: One fundamental aspect of counseling is providing helpful and accurate assessments for upcoming treatment. Students in this course review assessments for reliability and validity and learn how this information fits into the overall treatment process. As part of course requirements, students may be required to exercise their skills in conducting and analyzing assessments.
  • Human Development: Human development is an important component in understanding why people act and react in the ways they do. This course can help students better understand the role of normal human development in the development of emotions and emotional disorders throughout a lifetime. Having more historical information about human development can help counselors provide better services when working in the field.
  • Prevention and Intervention of Crisis and Trauma: In this course, students learn how to identify and anticipate instances of crisis and trauma, and either prevent them from occurring or intervene to minimize harm.
  • Licensing Requirements for Different Types of Counseling Jobs

    One of the most important steps in becoming a counselor is planning for licensure. Although this is the final step toward a career in the field, you should start considering the requirements of licensing before even choosing a degree program. Here are the basic steps to obtain licensing for most types of counseling jobs.

    Obtain a Master’s Degree in Counseling       

    Searching for an accredited degree program should be your first step, so you can ensure it will be accepted during the licensure process. Individuals who are interested in becoming licensed counselors should be prepared to earn a master’s degree in counseling at a minimum. There are many different broad and specialty degree programs in counseling available, so you should research the requirements of each degree program prior to entry.

    Earn Supervised Clinical Hours           

    In addition to an accredited degree program, you should also consider how and where you can engage in supervised practice during and after your degree program. Some colleges offer referral programs for enrolled students, while others lay the burden on you to arrange your own student-work situation. Before starting a degree program, you should take a look at what each school offers in terms of the practicum requirement. If your chosen university does not offer help in setting up the practicum, you can speak with counseling organizations within your area to secure a placement.

    Practicum requirements vary by state, but in general you can expect to work at least 1,000 supervised hours. During this experience, you will work with actual clients under the direct supervision of a licensed counselor. This often begins with shadowing and learning from experienced counselors, then leads to providing independent counseling services to the clients within your facility. This component ties together program curricula and their application in a real-world setting.

    Pass the State Board Licensing Exam          

    Lastly, most states require that applicants complete a state examination in counseling prior to being approved for licensure. This examination is called the National Counselor Examination for Licensure and Certification (NCE). It consists of terms and scenarios that can occur while working in the field and tests knowledge of counseling skills and ethics. Once you have successfully completed this test, you can move forward with obtaining your license to practice counseling within your state.             

    Most states also require that graduates document 1-2 years of supervised work experience under the supervision of a licensed counselor. This experience requirement allows you to take part in standard counseling activities while being supervised by an experienced counselor.

    Your work is documented and sent to the state. The hours you worked are then credited to the experience requirement of becoming a licensed counselor. Depending on the state, registration is required, along with the submission of quarterly reports signed by your supervising counselor.

    Program Areas for Various Types of Counseling Careers

    When planning a career in counseling, it may be helpful to consider the concentrations that different programs offer.

    Individual, Family, and Marriage Counseling              

    Counseling programs that focus on individuals and families may be a great option for students interested in promoting healthy relationships. These programs teach students techniques that are specific to the needs of families and individuals, such as assessing a family unit to discover areas of conflict, and establishing treatment plans.

    School Counseling and Guidance Counseling         

    Focusing on education and occupational goals, these areas of counseling can be found in degree programs all over the U.S. Students learn how to promote educational and career goals in children and young adults in schools and beyond. Degree programs offering these specialties can help students learn more about resources and analytical tools that can help match students with services they need.

    Substance Abuse and Rehabilitation Counseling        

    Addiction is a continuing epidemic. Counselors who pursue degree programs in this area learn how addiction affects individuals, families, and communities. Students learn how to assess clients and provide treatment that helps them develop coping mechanisms for past traumas and life challenges.

    Mental Health Counseling      

    One of the most popular degree programs for future counselors may be mental health counseling. This program area introduces students to common mental health disorders such as depression, anxiety, and bipolar disorder. By learning more about these disorders, students gain a better understanding of how they can be treated in a clinical setting.

    Types of Counselor Jobs in a School Setting

    Counseling jobs can be found in early childhood education, elementary education, and high school education settings. All offer opportunities to become positive role models and leaders in the school system.

    Early Childhood Education Counseling      

    If you are interested in helping the health and mental well-being of newborns to six-year-olds, you may want to earn a certification in early childhood mental health counseling. Many programs require a practicum or internship, where you work in an early childhood setting. When you are comparing programs, ask about opportunities for first-hand experience in the field as you complete your education. Also, ask what institutions have hired their graduates.

    A master’s degree in school counseling may be your best path to this career goal. 

    Elementary Education Counseling Education and Careers      

    When pursuing an elementary education counseling career path, you should consider courses that increase your knowledge, develop your proficiency, and broaden your thinking. Counselors in today’s school systems at every grade level must have a keen understanding of students who come from all cultures and economic backgrounds. Students from all walks of life face increasingly complex challenges, even at the elementary level. You may also take courses that emphasize group counseling techniques, as you may need to counsel students and their peers, teachers, and families.

    Elementary education counselors must learn how to advocate for children, while working toward  achieving successful, healthy outcomes. To prepare, take bachelor’s- and graduate-level psychology courses that focus on adolescent and childhood psychology. Understanding the mindset of the age group you work with can be a crucial piece of the elementary counseling professional puzzle.

    Take the First Step Toward a Counseling Career

    Still curious about pursuing a counseling career? Here are some of the most popular online counseling programs. On each page you will find a detailed write-up of the program, specific courses, and schools that are currently accepting applicants to the program.


    United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, Clergy
    United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, Educational, Guidance, and Career Counselors and Advisors
    United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, Marriage and Family Therapists
    United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, Rehabilitation Counselors
    United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, School and Career Counselors and Advisors
    United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, Substance Abuse, Behavioral Disorder, and Mental Health Counselors

    Counseling Career Guide

    Still Looking for a Counseling Degree?

    Here are some of the most popular online counseling programs. On each page you will find a detailed write-up of the program, specific courses, and schools that offer that program that are currently accepting applicants.

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