Different Types of Counseling Specialties: A Guide

There are many different types of counseling opportunities, from mental health and substance abuse to family and marriage counseling. Here are some of the top counseling program specialty areas. Click one of the links for the full program review.

For those who want to work in the counseling field, there are different types of counselors they can be. In some cases (not all), undergraduate students tend to pursue a more general Bachelor's in Counseling. But keep in mind if you are seeking a bachelor's degree in counseling, there are specialties that you might consider if you know exactly what you want to do. Meanwhile, students seeking a Master's degree in Counseling have a better idea of the specialty they want to pursue, and there are numerous options. Review the list below to see which different types of counseling specialty programs are available.

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Counseling can be defined as a professional relationship in which different types of counselors and clients work together to help clients accomplish particular mental health, educational, lifestyle, or career goals.

As you consider a career in this profession, be aware that counseling takes many forms and provides diverse opportunities to make a difference in the lives of clients. A good first step for any aspiring counseling student is to survey the many counseling specialties that are available.

Counseling specializations differ in terms of salary expectations, client population served, day-to-day duties, and more. However, one constant is the need to develop core skills through a counseling degree program.

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What Different Types of Counseling Are There?

In considering different career opportunities, it’s natural to ask what types of counseling there are. Consider a few of the most common examples for different types of counselors.

Career Counseling

As a career counselor, you will have the opportunity to work with recent and soon-to-be graduates as well as other types of jobseekers to help them plan for their educational and vocational future.

  • Example job titles: Career counselor, career advisor
  • 2020 annual median salary: $58,120 (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics [BLS])
  • Required degree to enter the field: Bachelor's degree in counseling, although some employers will require a master's degree.
  • Licensure requirements: Many states require licensing, especially for private practice. Licensing is not required in every state.

Child Development

After gaining expertise in child development, you can counsel children and adolescents through a wide range of social, academic and behavioral issues, while verifying they are on a healthy developmental path.

  • Example job titles: Child development counselor, child development researcher, child life specialist
  • 2020 annual median salary: $60,380 (BLS)
  • Required degree to enter the field: Master's degree in counseling with a focus on child development.
  • Licensure requirements: Most states require certification or licensure, which requires a graduate-level internship or other experience.

Cultural Counseling

Cultural counseling professionals help clients from diverse backgrounds, cultures, and religious affiliations manage daily stresses and obstacles according to the values that mean the most to them.

  • Example job title: Cultural counselor
  • 2020 annual median salary: $69,600 (according to BLS data for social and community service managers, a closely related field)
  • Required degree to enter the field: A master's degree is required for cultural counselors in the United States.
  • Licensure requirements: State licensure is required for cultural counseling positions.

Cognitive Therapy

A degree in cognitive therapy will prepare you to study how the brain receives, stores and retrieves information and sensory data, allowing you to counsel clients who struggle responding to external stimuli.

  • Example job titles: Psychologist, cognitive researcher
  • 2020 annual median salary: $82,180 (BLS data for psychologists)
  • Required degree to enter the field: To work as a psychologist, you generally need a master's degree or doctorate.
  • Licensure requirements: Licensing is required in every state, along with board certification.

College Counseling

College counselors work in an academic setting, advising students on their next educational and vocational steps.

  • Example job title: College counselor
  • 2020 annual median salary: $58,120 (BLS)
  • Required degree to enter the field: To work as a college counselor you should have a bachelor's degree or higher.
  • Licensure requirements: Not all college counselors are licensed in every state.

Color Therapy Counseling

Color therapy, also called chromotherapy, uses different colors of light during the therapeutic process. The central idea is that different colors can have different therapeutic effects, such as lowering anxiety, increasing energy or soothing emotions.

  • Example job titles: Color therapist, alternative therapist, holistic therapist
  • 2020 annual median salary: $47,660 (BLS data for the related field of substance abuse, behavioral disorder and mental health counselors)
  • Required degree to enter the field: A bachelor's degree and certification from a color therapy program is often required.
  • Licensure requirements: Not all color therapists are licensed in that field, but most states require general licensing.

Crisis Intervention

As a crisis intervention counselor, you will help clients who are experiencing acute mental health crises as they process their emotions. The ultimate goal is to help keep them from harm.

  • Example job title: Crisis counselor
  • 2022 annual median salary: $42,500 (PayScale)
  • Required degree to enter the field: A bachelor's or master's degree in a mental health field is required.
  • Licensure requirements: Licensing is required in every state.

Depression Counseling

One of the most in-demand counseling specialties, these counselors help clients cope with the effects of depression and manage the symptoms of this chronic mental health disorder.

  • Example job titles: Depression counselor, mental health counselor
  • 2020 annual median salary: $47,660 (BLS data for substance abuse, behavioral disorder and mental health counselors)
  • Required degree to enter the field: Most mental health counselors have a master's degree, although some jobs may be available with a bachelor's degree.
  • Licensure requirements: Mental health counseling typically requires licensure in every state.

Developmental Counseling Psychology

Developmental psychologists assess social, emotional and behavioral development over the course of a lifetime. The field explores the influence of biology and the environment to draw conclusions about how and why individuals develop certain personalities, behaviors and practices.

  • Example job title: Developmental psychologist
  • 2020 annual median salary: $82,180 (BLS data for psychologists)
  • Required degree to enter the field: Typically, a developmental psychologist will have a master's degree or higher.
  • Licensure requirements: Licensure can require exams and an internship or other work experience.

Domestic Violence Counseling

Domestic violence counselors work directly with individuals who have been victims of violence and abuse in their household, specifically from a spouse or domestic partner.

  • Example job title: Domestic abuse counselor
  • Annual median salary: $47,660 (BLS data for substance abuse, behavioral disorder and mental health counselors)
  • Required degree to enter the field: A master's degree is required.
  • Licensure requirements: Most states require a domestic violence counselor to be licensed.

Eating Disorder Therapy

An eating disorder therapist provides individual and group counseling for individuals who struggle with anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, or binge-eating disorders.

  • Example job title: Eating disorder therapist
  • 2020 annual median salary: $47,660 (BLS data for substance abuse, behavioral disorder and mental health counselors)
  • Required degree to enter the field: You'll need a master's degree to work in this field.
  • Licensure requirements: The majority of states require an eating disorder therapist to be licensed in that specialty.

Educational Counseling

Educational counselors may work in public or private schools, helping students navigate academic issues and also plan for their educational future.

  • Example job titles: Educational counselor, school counselor
  • 2020 annual median salary: $58,120 (BLS)
  • Required degree to enter the field: A bachelor's degree is required and a master's degree is preferred.
  • Licensure requirements: You don't always need special licensure to work in this field.

Marriage and Family Counseling

Marriage and family therapists focus on interpersonal dynamics within a marriage or family, helping clients navigate issues and resolve conflicts.

  • Example job titles: Marriage and family therapist, marriage counselor
  • 2020 annual median salary: $51,340 (BLS)
  • Required degree to enter the field: You'll need a master's degree for this specialty.
  • Licensure requirements: Most states require licensing for marriage and family counseling.

Genetic Counseling

A genetic counselor assesses clients’ genetic test results and provides them with important information about their propensity for certain diseases or hereditary conditions.

  • Example job title: Genetic counselor
  • 2020 annual median salary: $85,700 (BLS)
  • Required degree to enter the field: A master's degree or higher is required to work as a genetic counselor.
  • Licensure requirements: Licensing is required in the majority of states.

Geriatric Counseling

With expertise in gerontology, geriatric counselors help their clients cope with the effects of the aging process, including grief and dementia.

  • Example job title: Geriatric counselor
  • 2020 annual median salary: $37,530 (BLS data for rehabilitation counselors)
  • Required degree to enter the field: Most geriatric counselors have a master's degree or higher.
  • Licensure requirements: In most states, you'll need to be licensed for this counseling specialty.

Guidance Counseling

Guidance counselors work directly with students as they progress through emotional, physical, academic and vocational issues and challenges.

  • Example job titles: Guidance counselor, school counselor
  • 2020 annual median salary: $58,120 (BLS)
  • Required degree to enter the field: You'll generally need a bachelor's degree to get into this field.
  • Licensure requirements: Not all states require a guidance counselor to be licensed.

Mental Health Counseling

A mental health counselor helps clients as they navigate the effects of a mental illness, whether that means anxiety, depression, trauma or another condition.

  • Example job titles: Mental health counselor, psychologist
  • 2020 annual median salary: $47,660 (BLS data for substance abuse, behavioral disorder and mental health counselors)
  • Required degree to enter the field: Most mental health counselors have master's degrees.
  • Licensure requirements: You'll generally need to be licensed by the state if you want to work in this field.

Military Counseling

As a military counselor, you might work with active service members, veterans, or military family members to help them cope with different types of emotional impairment. Treating post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a big part of the job.

  • Example job title: Military counselor
  • 2020 annual median salary: $47,660 (BLS data for substance abuse, behavioral disorder and mental health counselors)
  • Required degree to enter the field: Most military counselors have a master's degree or higher.
  • Licensure requirements: To work as a military counselor, most states require you to have a license and certification.

Music Therapy Counseling

In this vocation, you will use music to treat various cognitive, emotional, physical and social needs on behalf of your clients.

  • Example job title: Music therapist
  • 2020 annual median salary: $47,710 (BLS data for recreational therapists)
  • Required degree to enter the field: You may be able to start out in this career with a bachelor's degree.
  • Licensure requirements: Pursuing a certification in music therapy can be necessary, depending on your state.

Rehabilitation Counseling

As a rehabilitation counselor, you will work with clients who have disabilities, helping them cope with their limitations while they are also finding housing, completing school, and/or succeeding in their chosen vocation.

  • Example job title: Rehabilitation counselor
  • 2020 annual median salary: $37,530 (BLS)
  • Required degree to enter the field: You need a master's degree or higher to work as a rehabilitation counselor.
  • Licensure requirements: Most states require licensing and certification to work in this field.

School Counseling

Like guidance counselors, school counselors work directly with students as they progress through emotional, physical, academic and vocational goals. The main distinction is that school counselors tend to be more focused on emotional and social issues, while guidance counselors focus more on academic concerns.

  • Example job titles: Guidance counselor, school counselor
  • 2020 annual median salary: $58,120 (BLS)
  • Required degree to enter the field: A bachelor's degree is required, and some employers will require a master's degree.
  • Licensure requirements: Not all states require specific licensing or certification, depending on where you live.

Spiritual Counseling

Spiritual counselors employ the language and beliefs of particular religious traditions to help their clients navigate problems in their life.

  • Example job title: Spiritual counselor
  • 2020 annual median salary: $56,560 (BLS data for members of the clergy)
  • Required degree to enter the field: Not all spiritual counselors have advanced degrees, but many of them do.
  • Licensure requirements: Depending on where you live, you may not need to be licensed to be a spiritual counselor.

Substance Abuse Counseling

One of the most in-demand counseling specialties, substance abuse counselors provide direct intervention and treatment plans for individuals struggling with drug and alcohol addiction.

  • Example job titles: Substance abuse counselor, drug abuse counselor
  • 2020 annual median salary: $47,660 (BLS)
  • Required degree to enter the field: A master's degree is generally required for people who work as substance abuse counselors.
  • Licensure requirements: Licensing and certification is required to work in this specialty.

Transformational Counseling

By using talk therapy, transformational counselors help lead their clients toward personal growth.

How to Pursue Counseling Specialties

No matter which of these counseling specializations you choose, there are some basic steps to follow.

  • Obtain an undergraduate degree. Most counseling psychology specializations require a minimum of a bachelor’s degree in counseling, psychology or a related field.
  • Consider an advanced degree. Depending on the type of counseling you want to pursue, a master’s or even doctoral-level degree may be required.
  • Pursue licensure. For most counseling psychology specializations, licensure at the state level is required. Some counseling professions will also require you to re-apply for licensure, showing proof of continuing education credits.
  • Gain work experience. Also keep in mind that gaining supervised experience is needed before licensure for most counseling professions.

Types of Counseling Styles

There are many different types of counseling styles, just as there are different types of counselors with their own thoughts, beliefs, and ideas. Finding the right style can make it easier for you to focus on how you want to help people and the goals you have for your patients. The styles include:

  • Psychodynamic Counseling: This counseling specialty focuses on emotional suffering and its psychological roots, through self-examination and self-reflection, leading to new ways to look at oneself and one’s struggles.
  • Interpersonal Counseling: The focus of this type of counseling is improving interpersonal functioning by looking at the behaviors that cause issues and the symptoms those issues produce.
  • Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy: As a type of talk therapy, CBT is very commonly used with patients who have anxiety disorders or problems with depression, and who are looking to alleviate their symptoms.
  • Mindfulness-Based Counseling: Mindfulness-based counseling builds on the principles already taught in CBT by adding mindfulness meditation and related methods of alleviating the symptoms of mental health conditions like depression and anxiety.
  • Humanistic/Client-Centered Counseling: This type of counseling is focused on self-discovery, free will, and the human potential to help clients develop a better sense of self, focus on their strengths, and find more meaning in life.
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