Counseling professionals help people cope with emotional problems in personal, family, social, and educational relationships. You can find counseling professionals in elementary and high schools as well as the professional and medical fields. For example, vocational counselors (also called career counselors) help professionals make career decisions or find jobs that better suit their interests. Marriage counselors help guide couples--married or not--toward a more fulfilling relationship. Other counseling professionals may work with the disabled, the mentally ill, or those overcoming drug or alcohol addiction. In general, counseling professionals help people grow, mature, and thrive as independent, happy individuals.
If your goal is to pursue a counseling career, your educational requirements will depend on a complex matrix of variables, including state licensure requirements, work environment, chosen occupation, specialty, and employer. Check with state and local governments, prospective employers, or volunteer organizations in order to get specific information about the appropriate counseling degree program.
College Degrees in Counseling
Generally speaking, most states and employers require counselors to become licensed. Licensure typically requires completion of a master's degree program followed by up to 2,000 hours of supervised clinical internship, qualifying scores on state-administered examinations, and the fulfillment of continuing career education requirements once you've established a counseling career.
Although most counseling careers require a master's degree, certain states and employers may allow you to begin a career with a bachelor's degree and approved counseling courses. You can find counseling coursework administered through degree programs in psychology or education, where the material is grouped into eight core areas:
- Human growth and development
- Social and cultural diversity
- Group work
- Career development
- Research and program evaluation
- Professional identity
Counseling Career Outlook
The future looks bright for those pursuing college degrees in counseling. According to data released by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), employment of counseling professionals is expected to grow 21 percent by 2016. Employment of behavioral disorder counselors is expected to increase by 34 percent, while vocational and school counselors should see an employment increase of 13 percent. According to the BLS, the rapid growth in school counseling careers may stem from greater enrollment in secondary schools and increased demands on school counselors. The increased reliance of insurance companies and managed care systems on mental health counselors (who are often more cost-effective than psychologists) has spurred growth in the field.
In terms of earnings potential, counseling careers are most lucrative for self-employed counseling professionals with established private practices. The highest 10 percent of mental health counselors pulled in annual earnings of $59,700 in May 2006. Median annual earnings for educational, school, and career counselors were $47,530 the same year. Median annual earnings for marriage counselors and family therapists were $43,210.