School counselors must be certified, and other counselors
must be licensed to practice in all but two States. A master’s
degree generally is needed to become a licensed counselor.
Job opportunities for counselors should be very good because
job openings are expected to exceed the number of graduates
from counseling programs.
State and local governments employ about 4 in 10 counselors,
and the health services industry employs most of the others.
Nature of the Work
Counselors assist people with personal, family, educational,
mental health, and career decisions and problems. Their duties
depend on the individuals they serve and on the settings in which
Educational, vocational, and school counselors provide
individuals and groups with career and educational counseling.
In school settings—elementary through postsecondary—they usually
are called school counselors, and they work with students, including
those with academic and social development problems and those
with special needs. They advocate for students and work with other
individuals and organizations to promote the academic, career,
personal, and social development of children and youths. School
counselors help students evaluate their abilities, interests,
talents, and personality characteristics in order to develop realistic
academic and career goals. Counselors use interviews, counseling
sessions, interest and aptitude assessment tests, and other methods
to evaluate and advise students. They also operate career information
centers and career education programs. High school counselors
advise students regarding college majors, admission requirements,
entrance exams, financial aid, trade or technical schools, and
apprenticeship programs. They help students develop job search
skills, such as resume writing and interviewing techniques. College
career planning and placement counselors assist alumni or students
with career development and job-hunting techniques.
Elementary school counselors observe younger children during
classroom and play activities and confer with their teachers and
parents to evaluate the children’s strengths, problems, or special
needs. In conjunction with teachers and administrators, they make
sure that the curriculum addresses both the academic and the emotional
development needs of students. Elementary school counselors do
less vocational and academic counseling than do secondary school
School counselors at all levels help students to understand and
deal with social, behavioral, and personal problems. These counselors
emphasize preventive and developmental counseling to provide students
with the life skills needed to deal with problems before they
occur and to enhance students’ personal, social, and academic
growth. Counselors provide special services, including alcohol
and drug prevention programs and conflict resolution classes.
They also try to identify cases of domestic abuse and other family
problems that can affect a student’s development. Counselors interact
with students individually, in small groups, or with entire classes.
They consult and collaborate with parents, teachers, school administrators,
school psychologists, medical professionals, and social workers
in order to develop and implement strategies to help students
be successful in the education system.
Vocational counselors who provide mainly career counseling outside
the school setting are also referred to as employment counselors
or career counselors. Their chief focus is helping individuals
with career decisions. Vocational counselors explore and evaluate
the client’s education, training, work history, interests, skills,
and personality traits, and arrange for aptitude and achievement
tests to assist the client in making career decisions. They also
work with individuals to develop their job-search skills, and
they assist clients in locating and applying for jobs. In addition,
career counselors provide support to persons experiencing job
loss, job stress, or other career transition issues.
Rehabilitation counselors help people deal with the personal,
social, and vocational effects of disabilities. They counsel people
with disabilities resulting from birth defects, illness or disease,
accidents, or the stress of daily life. They evaluate the strengths
and limitations of individuals, provide personal and vocational
counseling, and arrange for medical care, vocational training,
and job placement. Rehabilitation counselors interview both individuals
with disabilities and their families, evaluate school and medical
reports, and confer and plan with physicians, psychologists, occupational
therapists, and employers to determine the capabilities and skills
of the individual. Conferring with the client, they develop a
rehabilitation program that often includes training to help the
person develop job skills. Rehabilitation counselors also work
toward increasing the client’s capacity to live independently.
Mental health counselors work with individuals, families,
and groups to address and treat mental and emotional disorders
and to promote optimum mental health. They are trained in a variety
of therapeutic techniques used to address a wide range of issues,
including depression, addiction and substance abuse, suicidal
impulses, stress management, problems with self-esteem, issues
associated with aging, job and career concerns, educational decisions,
issues related to mental and emotional health, and family, parenting,
and marital or other relationship problems. Mental health counselors
often work closely with other mental health specialists, such
as psychiatrists, psychologists, clinical social workers, psychiatric
nurses, and school counselors. (Information on physicians and surgeons,
psychologists, registered nurses, and
appears elsewhere in the Handbook.)
Substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors help
people who have problems with alcohol, drugs, gambling, and eating
disorders. They counsel individuals who are addicted to drugs,
helping them to identify behaviors and problems related to their
addiction. They also conduct programs aimed at preventing addictions
from occurring in the first place. These counselors hold sessions
designed for individuals, families, or groups.
Marriage and family therapists apply principles, methods,
and therapeutic techniques to individuals, families, couples,
or organizations in order to resolve emotional conflicts. In doing
so, they modify people’s perceptions and behaviors, enhance communication
and understanding among family members, and help to prevent family
and individual crises. Marriage and family therapists also may
engage in psychotherapy of a nonmedical nature, make appropriate
referrals to psychiatric resources, perform research, and teach
courses about human development and interpersonal relationships.
Other counseling specialties include gerontological, multicultural,
and genetic counseling. A gerontological counselor provides services
to elderly persons and their families when they face changing
lifestyles as they grow older. A multicultural counselor helps
employers adjust to an increasingly diverse workforce. Genetic
counselors provide information and support to families who have
members with birth defects or genetic disorders and to families
who may be at risk for a variety of inherited conditions. These
counselors identify families at risk, investigate the problem
that is present in the family, interpret information about the
disorder, analyze inheritance patterns and risks of recurrence,
and review available options with the family.
Some school counselors work the traditional 9- to 10-month school
year with a 2- to 3-month vacation, but increasing numbers, especially
those working in middle and high schools, are employed on 11-month
or full-year contracts. They usually work the same hours as teachers,
but may travel more frequently to attend conferences and conventions.
College career planning and placement counselors work long and
irregular hours during student recruiting periods.
Rehabilitation counselors usually work a standard 40-hour week.
Self-employed counselors and those working in mental health and
community agencies, such as substance abuse and behavioral disorder
counselors, frequently work evenings in order to counsel clients
who work during the day. Both mental health counselors and marriage
and family therapists also often work flexible hours to accommodate
families in crisis or working couples who must have evening or
Counselors must possess high physical and emotional energy to
handle the array of problems that they address. Dealing daily
with these problems can cause stress. Although the risk of litigation
is relatively low, it is still prudent for counselors in all fields
to hold some form of personal liability insurance. Because privacy
is essential for confidential and frank discussions with clients,
counselors usually have private offices.
Training, Other Qualifications, and Advancement
All States require school counselors to hold a State school counseling
certification and to have completed at least some graduate course
work; most require the completion of a master’s degree. Some States
require public school counselors to have both counseling and teaching
certificates and to have had some teaching experience before receiving
certification. For counselors based outside of schools, 48 States
and the District of Columbia have some form of counselor licensure
that governs their practice of counseling. Requirements typically
include the completion of a master’s degree in counseling, the
accumulation of 2 years or 3,000 hours of supervised clinical
experience beyond the master’s degree level, the passage of a
State-recognized exam, adherence to ethical codes and standards,
and the completion of annual continuing education requirements.
Counselors must be aware of educational and training requirements
that are often very detailed and that vary by area and by counseling
specialty. Prospective counselors should check with State and
local governments, employers, and national voluntary certification
organizations in order to determine which requirements apply.
As mentioned, a master’s degree is typically required to be licensed
as a counselor. A bachelor’s degree often qualifies a person to
work as a counseling aide, rehabilitation aide, or social service
worker. Some States require counselors in public employment to
have a master’s degree; others accept a bachelor’s degree with
appropriate counseling courses. Counselor education programs in
colleges and universities usually are found in departments of
education or psychology. Fields of study include college student
affairs, elementary or secondary school counseling, education,
gerontological counseling, marriage and family counseling, substance
abuse counseling, rehabilitation counseling, agency or community
counseling, clinical mental health counseling, counseling psychology,
career counseling, and related fields. Courses are grouped into
eight core areas: Human growth and development, social and cultural
diversity, relationships, group work, career development, assessment,
research and program evaluation, and professional identity. In
an accredited master’s degree program, 48 to 60 semester hours
of graduate study, including a period of supervised clinical experience
in counseling, are required.
Graduate programs in career, community, gerontological, mental
health, school, student affairs, and marriage and family counseling
are accredited by the Council for Accreditation of Counseling
and Related Educational Programs (CACREP). While completion of
a CACREP-accredited program is not necessary to become a counselor,
it makes it easier to fulfill the requirements for State licensing.
Another organization, the Council on Rehabilitation Education
(CORE), accredits graduate programs in rehabilitation counseling.
Accredited master’s degree programs include a minimum of 2 years
of full-time study, including 600 hours of supervised clinical
Some counselors elect to be nationally certified by the National
Board for Certified Counselors, Inc. (NBCC), which grants the
general practice credential “National Certified Counselor.” To
be certified, a counselor must hold a master’s degree with a concentration
in counseling from a regionally accredited college or university;
must have at least 2 years of supervised field experience in a
counseling setting (graduates from counselor education programs
accredited by CACREP are exempted); must provide two professional
endorsements, one of which must be from a recent supervisor; and
must have a passing score on the NBCC’s National Counselor Examination
for Licensure and Certification (NCE). This national certification
is voluntary and is distinct from State licensing. However, in
some States, those who pass the national exam are exempted from
taking a State certification exam. NBCC also offers specialty
certifications in school, clinical mental health, and addiction
counseling, which supplement the national certified counselor
designation. These specialty certifications require passage of
a supplemental exam. To maintain their certification, counselors
retake and pass the NCE or complete 100 credit hours of acceptable
continuing education every 5 years.
Another organization, the Commission on Rehabilitation Counselor
Certification, offers voluntary national certification for rehabilitation
counselors. Some employers may require rehabilitation counselors
to be nationally certified. To become certified, rehabilitation
counselors usually must graduate from an accredited educational
program, complete an internship, and pass a written examination.
(Certification requirements vary according to an applicant’s educational
history. Employment experience, for example, is required for those
with a counseling degree in a specialty other than rehabilitation.)
After meeting these requirements, candidates are designated “Certified
Rehabilitation Counselors.” To maintain their certification, counselors
must successfully retake the certification exam or complete 100
credit hours of acceptable continuing education every 5 years.
Other counseling organizations also offer certification in particular
counseling specialties. Usually, becoming certified is voluntary,
but having certification may enhance one’s job prospects.
Some employers provide training for newly hired counselors. Others
may offer time off or provide help with tuition if it is needed
to complete a graduate degree. Counselors must participate in
graduate studies, workshops, and personal studies to maintain
their certificates and licenses.
Persons interested in counseling should have a strong desire
to help others and should possess the ability to inspire respect,
trust, and confidence. They should be able to work independently
or as part of a team. Counselors must follow the code of ethics
associated with their respective certifications and licenses.
Prospects for advancement vary by counseling field. School counselors
can move to a larger school; become directors or supervisors of
counseling, guidance, or pupil personnel services; or, usually
with further graduate education, become counselor educators, counseling
psychologists, or school administrators. (Psychologists and education administrators
are covered elsewhere in the Handbook.) Some counselors
choose to work for a State’s department of education. For marriage
and family therapists, doctoral education in family therapy emphasizes
the training of supervisors, teachers, researchers, and clinicians
in the discipline.
Counselors can become supervisors or administrators in their
agencies. Some counselors move into research, consulting, or college
teaching or go into private or group practice.
Counselors held about 601,000 jobs in 2004. Employment was distributed
among the counseling specialties as follows:
Educational, vocational, and school counselors
Mental health counselors
Substance abuse and behavioral disorder
Marriage and family therapists
Counselors, all other
Educational, vocational, and school counselors work primarily
in elementary and secondary schools and colleges and universities.
Other types of counselors work in a wide variety of public and
private establishments, including healthcare facilities; job training,
career development, and vocational rehabilitation centers; social
agencies; correctional institutions; and residential care facilities,
such as halfway houses for criminal offenders and group homes
for children, the elderly, and the disabled. Some substance abuse
and behavioral disorder counselors work in therapeutic communities
where addicts live while undergoing treatment. Counselors also
work in organizations engaged in community improvement and social
change, drug and alcohol rehabilitation programs, and State and
local government agencies. A growing number of counselors are
self-employed and work in group practices or private practice,
due in part to new laws allowing counselors to be paid for their
services by insurance companies and to the growing recognition
that counselors are well-trained, effective professionals.
Overall employment of counselors is expected to grow faster than
the average for all occupations through 2014. In addition, numerous
job openings will occur as many counselors retire or leave the
profession. While job prospects will vary with location and specialization,
opportunities generally should be very good because the number
of job openings that arise should exceed the number of graduates
of counseling programs. Rehabilitation counselors and substance
abuse and behavioral disorder counselors, in particular, should
experience excellent prospects.
Employment of school counselors is expected to grow with increases
in student enrollments at postsecondary schools and colleges and
as more States require elementary schools to employ counselors.
Expansion of the responsibilities of school counselors should
also lead to increases in their employment. For example, counselors
are becoming more involved in crisis and preventive counseling,
helping students deal with issues ranging from drug and alcohol
abuse to death and suicide. Although schools and governments realize
the value of counselors in helping their students to achieve academic
success, budget constraints at every school level will dampen
job growth of school counselors. However, Federal grants and subsidies
may help to offset tight budgets and allow the reduction in student-to-counselor
ratios to continue. Job prospects should be more favorable in
rural and inner-city schools.
Demand for vocational or career counselors should grow as multiple
job and career changes become common for workers and as workers
become increasingly aware of the counselors’ services. In addition,
State and local governments will employ growing numbers of counselors
to assist beneficiaries of welfare programs who exhaust their
eligibility and must find jobs. Other opportunities for employment
counselors will arise in private job-training centers that provide
training and other services to laid-off workers and others seeking
to acquire new skills or new careers.
Demand is expected to be strong for substance abuse and behavioral
disorder counselors because drug offenders are increasingly being
sent to treatment programs rather than to jail. Mental health
counselors will be needed to staff statewide networks that are
being established to improve services for children and adolescents
with serious emotional disturbances and for their family members.
Under managed care systems, insurance companies are increasingly
providing for reimbursement of counselors as a less costly alternative
to psychiatrists and psychologists.
The number of people who will need rehabilitation counseling
is expected to grow as advances in medical technology allow more
people to survive injury or illness and live independently again.
In addition, legislation requiring equal employment rights for
people with disabilities will spur demand for counselors, who
not only help these people make a transition into the workforce
but also help companies to comply with the law.
Employment of mental health counselors and marriage and family
therapists will grow as more people become comfortable with seeking
professional help for a variety of health, personal, and family
problems. Employers are also increasingly offering employee assistance
programs that provide mental health and alcohol and drug abuse
counseling. More people are expected to use these services as
society focuses on ways of developing mental well-being, such
as controlling stress associated with job and family responsibilities.
Median annual earnings of educational, vocational, and school
counselors in May 2004 were $45,570. The middle 50 percent earned
between $34,530 and $58,400. The lowest 10 percent earned less
than $26,260, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $72,390.
School counselors can earn additional income working summers in
the school system or in other jobs. Median annual earnings in
the industries employing the largest numbers of educational, vocational,
and school counselors in 2004 were as follows:
Elementary and secondary schools
Colleges, universities, and professional
Individual and family services
Vocational rehabilitation services
Median annual earnings of substance abuse and behavioral disorder
counselors in May 2004 were $32,130. The middle 50 percent earned
between $25,840 and $40,130. The lowest 10 percent earned less
than $21,060, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $49,600.
Median annual earnings of mental health counselors in May 2004
were $32,960. The middle 50 percent earned between $25,660 and
$43,370. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $20,880, and the
highest 10 percent earned more than $55,810.
Median annual earnings of rehabilitation counselors in May 2004
were $27,870. The middle 50 percent earned between $22,110 and
$36,120. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $18,560, and the
highest 10 percent earned more than $48,130.
For substance abuse, mental health, and rehabilitation counselors,
government employers generally pay the highest wages, followed
by hospitals and social service agencies. Residential care facilities
often pay the lowest wages.
Median annual earnings of marriage and family therapists in May
2004 were $38,980. The middle 50 percent earned between $30,260
and $49,990. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $23,460, and
the highest 10 percent earned more than $65,080. Median annual
earnings in May 2004 were $33,620 in individual and family social
services, the industry employing the largest number of marriage
and family therapists.
Self-employed counselors who have well-established practices,
as well as counselors employed in group practices, usually have
the highest earnings.
Counselors help people evaluate their interests, abilities, and
disabilities and deal with personal, social, academic, and career
problems. Others who help people in similar ways include teachers,
social and human service assistants, social workers, psychologists,
physicians and surgeons, registered nurses, members of the clergy,
occupational therapists, and human resources, training, and labor
relations managers and specialists.
Sources of Additional Information
For general information about counseling, as well as information
on specialties such as college, mental health, rehabilitation,
multicultural, career, marriage and family, and gerontological