Counselors Career Information
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Significant Points· Over half of all counselors have a master’s degree.
· Most States require some form of counselor credentialing, licensure, certification, or registry for practice outside schools; all States require school counselors to hold a State school counseling certification.
Nature of the WorkCounselors
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 they work.
Educational, vocational, and school counselors—in elementary, secondary, and postsecondary schools—help students evaluate their abilities, interests, talents, and personality characteristics in order to develop realistic academic and career goals. Counselors use interviews, counseling sessions, tests, or other methods when evaluating and advising students. They operate career information centers and career education programs. High school counselors advise on college majors, admission requirements, entrance exams, and financial aid and on 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 their strengths, problems, or special needs. They also help students develop good study habits. They do less vocational and academic counseling than do secondary school counselors.
School counselors at all levels help students 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 personal, social, and academic growth. Counselors provide special services, including alcohol and drug prevention programs, and classes that teach students to handle conflicts without resorting to violence. Counselors also try to identify cases involving domestic abuse and other family problems that can affect a student’s development. Counselors work with students individually, with small groups, or with entire classes. They consult and work with parents, teachers, school administrators, school psychologists, school nurses, and social workers.
Vocational counselors (also called employment counselors when working outside a school setting) help individuals make career decisions. They explore and evaluate the client’s education, training, work history, interests, skills, and personal traits, and arrange for aptitude and achievement tests. They also work with individuals to develop job search skills and assist clients in locating and applying for jobs.
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 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, which often includes training to help the person develop job skills. They also work toward increasing the client’s capacity to live independently.
Mental health counselors emphasize prevention, and work with individuals and groups to promote optimum mental health. They help individuals deal with addictions 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 problems. Mental health counselors work closely with other mental health specialists, including psychiatrists, psychologists, clinical social workers, psychiatric nurses, and school counselors.
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 to help them identify behaviors and problems related to their addiction. They hold counseling sessions for one person, for families, or for groups of people to assist them in dealing with problems.
Marriage and family therapists apply principles, methods, and therapeutic techniques to individuals, family groups, couples or organizations for the purpose of resolving emotional conflicts. In doing so, they modify perceptions and behavior, enhance communication and understanding among all family members, and help to prevent family and individual crisis. Individual marriage and family therapists also may engage in psychotherapy of a nonmedical nature, with appropriate referrals to psychiatric resources, and in research and teaching in the overall field of human development and interpersonal relationships.
Other counseling specialties include gerontological or multicultural counseling. A gerontological counselor provides services to elderly persons who face changing lifestyles because of health problems, and helps families cope with these changes. A multicultural counselor helps employers adjust to an increasingly diverse workforce.
Working ConditionsMost educational, vocational, and school
counselors work the traditional 9- to 10-month school year with a 2- to 3-month
vacation, although increasing numbers are employed on 10 1/2- or 11-month contracts.
They usually work the same hours that teachers do. 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, often work evenings to counsel clients who work during the day. Marriage and family counselors also often work flexible hours to accommodate families in crisis or working couples who must have evening or weekend appointments.
Counselors must possess high physical and emotional energy to handle the array of problems they address. Dealing daily with these problems can cause stress. Because privacy is essential for confidential and frank discussions with clients, counselors usually have private offices.
Counselors held about 601,000 jobs in 2009. Employment was distributed among the counseling specialties as follows:
|Educational, vocational, and school counselors||248,000|
|Mental health counselors||96,000|
|Substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors||76,000|
|Marriage and family therapists||24,000|
|Counselors, all other||25,000|
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.
Training, Qualifications, Adv.Formal
education is necessary to gain employment as a counselor. About half of all
counselors have a master’s degree; 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.
Graduate-level counselor education programs in colleges and universities usually are in departments of education or psychology. Courses are grouped into eight core areas: Human growth and development, social and cultural diversity, relationships, groupwork, career development, assessment, research and program evaluation, and professional identity. In an accredited program, 48 to 60 semester hours of graduate study, including a period of supervised clinical experience in counseling, are required for a master’s degree. In 2000, 149 institutions offered programs in counselor education—including career, community, gerontological, mental health, school, student affairs, and marriage and family counseling—that were accredited by the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP). CACREP also recognizes many counselor education programs, apart from the 149 accredited institutions, that use alternative instruction methods, such as distance learning. Programs that use alternative instruction methods are evaluated using the same standards for accreditation that CACREP applies to programs that employ more-traditional methods. 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 internship experience.
In 2001, 46 States and the District of Columbia had some form of counselor credentialing, licensure, certification, or registry legislation governing practice outside schools. Requirements vary from State to State. In some States, credentialing is mandatory; in others, it is voluntary.
All States require school counselors to hold State school counseling certification; however, certification requirements vary from State to State. Some States require public school counselors to have both counseling and teaching certificates. Depending on the State, a master’s degree in counseling and 2 to 5 years of teaching experience could be required for a school counseling certificate.
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.
Many 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 or higher degree with a concentration in counseling from a regionally accredited college or university; have at least 2 years of supervised field experience in a counseling setting (graduates from counselor education programs accredited by CACREP are exempted); provide two professional endorsements, one of which must be from a recent supervisor; and 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 certification. However, in some States, those who pass the national exam are exempted from taking a State certification exam. NBCC also offers specialty certification in school, clinical mental health, and addictions counseling. To maintain their certification, counselors retake and pass the NCE or complete 100 hours of acceptable continuing education credit every 5 years.
Another organization, the Commission on Rehabilitation Counselor Certification, offers voluntary national certification for rehabilitation counselors. Many employers 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 then designated as “Certified Rehabilitation Counselors.” To maintain their certification, counselors must successfully retake the certification exam or complete 100 hours of acceptable continuing education credit every 5 years.
Vocational and related rehabilitation agencies usually require a master’s degree in rehabilitation counseling, counseling and guidance, or counseling psychology for rehabilitation counselor jobs. Some, however, accept applicants with a bachelor’s degree in rehabilitation services, counseling, psychology, sociology, or related fields. A bachelor’s degree often qualifies a person to work as a counseling aide, rehabilitation aide, or social service worker. Experience in employment counseling, job development, psychology, education, or social work is helpful.
Some States require counselors in public employment offices to have a master’s degree; others accept a bachelor’s degree with appropriate counseling courses. A 6-year, master’s level degree is the minimum education required to enter the field of marriage and family therapy.
Clinical mental health counselors usually have a master’s degree in mental health counseling, in another area of counseling, or in psychology or social work. Voluntary certification is available through the NBCC. Generally, to receive certification as a clinical mental health counselor, a counselor must have a master’s degree in counseling, 2 years of postmaster’s experience, a period of supervised clinical experience, a taped sample of clinical work, and a passing grade on a written examination.
Some employers provide training for newly hired counselors. Many have work-study programs so that those employed counselors can earn graduate degrees. Counselors must participate in graduate studies, workshops, and personal studies to maintain their certificates and licenses.
Persons interested in counseling should have a strong interest in helping others and the ability to inspire respect, trust, and confidence. They should be able to work independently or as part of a team. Counselors 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. 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.
Job OutlookOverall employment of counselors is expected to
Employment of educational, vocational, and school counselors is expected to grow as a result of increasing student enrollments, particularly in secondary and postsecondary schools; State legislation requiring counselors in elementary schools; and expansion of the responsibilities of counselors. 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. Also, in order to decrease the student-to-counselor ratio, school districts in many States are using Federal grants to establish or expand elementary school counseling programs. Over the long term, however, budget constraints may dampen job growth of school counselors.
The demand for vocational, or employment, counselors, who work primarily for State and local government, is expected to continue to grow as current welfare laws require welfare recipients to find jobs. However, uncertainty about the future of welfare reform (the Welfare Reform Act of 1996 expires in September 2002) could limit this growth. Opportunities for employment counselors working in private job-training services should grow as counselors provide training and other services to laid-off workers, experienced workers seeking a new or second career, full-time homemakers seeking to enter or reenter the workforce, and workers who want to upgrade their skills.
Demand is expected to be strong for substance abuse and behavioral, mental health, and marriage and family therapists and for rehabilitation counselors, for a variety of reasons. The increasing availability of funds to build statewide networks to improve services for children and adolescents with serious emotional disturbances and their family members should increase employment opportunities for counselors. Under managed care systems, insurance companies increasingly provide for reimbursement of counselors, enabling many counselors to move from schools and government agencies to private practice. Counselors also are forming group practices to receive expanded insurance coverage. The number of people who need rehabilitation services will grow as advances in medical technology continue to save lives that only a few years ago would have been lost. In addition, legislation requiring equal employment rights for people with disabilities will spur demand for counselors. Counselors not only will help individuals with disabilities with their transition into the workforce, but also will help companies comply with the law. Employers also are increasingly offering employee assistance programs that provide mental health and alcohol and drug abuse services. More people are expected to use these services as the elderly population grows and 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 2009 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 2009 were as follows:
|Elementary and secondary schools||$51,160|
|Colleges, universities, and professional schools||39,110|
|Individual and family services||30,240|
|Vocational rehabilitation services||27,800|
Median annual earnings of substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors in May 2009 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 2009 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 2009 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 2009 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 2009 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.
Related OccupationsCounselors help people evaluate their interests, abilities, and disabilities, and deal with personal, social, academic, and career problems.
For general information about counseling, as well as information on specialties such as college, mental health, rehabilitation, multicultural, career, marriage and family, and gerontological counseling, contact: For information on school counselors, contact: For information on accredited counseling and related training programs, contact: For information on national certification requirements for counselors, contact: State departments of education can supply information on those colleges and universities offering guidance and counseling training that meets State certification and licensure requirements. State employment service offices have information about job opportunities and entrance requirements for counselors.
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 counseling, contact:
For information on school counselors, contact:
For information on accredited counseling and related training programs, contact:
For information on national certification requirements for counselors, contact:
State departments of education can supply information on those colleges and universities offering guidance and counseling training that meets State certification and licensure requirements.
State employment service offices have information about job opportunities and entrance requirements for counselors.