Counseling is a helping profession that offers significant benefits to the professionals working in it as well as to the clients seeking assistance. A degree in counseling prepares you for an occupation with favorable job prospects, an above-average income potential, a basis in communication and, perhaps most importantly, the fulfilling opportunity to help others through your work.
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Plenty of Job Opportunities
Too few students take into account the job market they will be going into once they earn their college degrees. As a result, they can invest years of their time and rack up tens of thousands of dollars of debt for a degree that won’t help them get a job. Fortunately for aspiring counselors, all fields of counseling in the community and social service occupations have highly positive job outlooks.
The two fastest-growing counseling careers are substance abuse and mental health counseling and marriage and family therapy. Jobs for substance abuse and mental health counselors are growing at a rate of 23 percent, compared to just seven percent job growth among all occupations in the United States, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported. In a career that already accounts for 260,200 jobs, that high rate of growth will add 60,300 new positions. The marriage and family therapy field is also seeing a 23 percent growth rate, but this smaller occupation encompasses just 41,500 jobs, with only 9,700 new jobs expected to emerge.
Although not as wildly positive, the 13 percent job growth rate expected for both rehabilitation counselors and school and career counselors will add 15,100 and 36,700 new job opportunities, respectively.
Solid Earning Potential
Like other jobs in the community and social service occupations, counselor isn’t known as a particularly well-paying career field. The role is certainly less lucrative psychologist, a social science career that requires a doctoral degree and pays a median wage of $79,010, or psychiatrist, a type of physician with a median salary of $220,380. However, you certainly can earn a living as a counselor.
The median, or midpoint, annual salary across all occupations in the United States is $38,640, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Just one role in counseling, that of rehabilitation counselor, earns a lower median wage than that of all occupations. Counselors who work in mental health and substance abuse counseling earn a median wage of $44,630, the BLS reported. For marriage and family therapists, the median wage is $50,090. School and career counselors earn the highest wages, with a median salary of $56,310.
You might be surprised how much location affects your income potential as a counselor. School counselors in the highest-paying state, California, earn an average wage of $74,530. Hawaii pays the highest mean wage, $79,660, for marriage and family therapists. For substance abuse and mental health counselors, Utah is the highest-paying state, with a mean salary of $66,330.
Since most counseling roles already require a master’s degree and most doctoral programs in counseling are meant for research, education and leadership purposes, you can’t just earn a higher degree to boost your salary.
A Career Based on Communication
If you’re naturally a talker, you might find the notion of a job that requires you to sit alone at a computer all day to be boring and unappealing. Perhaps your favorite part of previous jobs you have held has been talking with your coworkers or customers. A counseling career is bound to be an interesting one, because you get to talk to many different clients throughout your day and learn about their lives, thoughts and feelings.
While some individuals may dread the notion of having to sit and listen to other people’s problems all day, you’ve got a lot of patience and compassion. You can empathize with clients and understand how they feel, but you’re also level-headed and calm enough to help them talk through difficult emotions and provide insight. With the skills you gain through a master’s degree program in counseling, you will be able to use counseling theories and techniques to provide therapy that will help clients modify problem behaviors, improve negative thought problems, cope with grief and heal from trauma.
Counselors must listen thoroughly and speak in ways that are clear, accessible and insightful so they can communicate the professional knowledge and skills they learn in the classroom and through fieldwork to real clients.
A Chance to Help Others
Ultimately, it isn’t job market, salary potential or even personality and aptitude that motivates a person to pursue a career in counseling. Instead, it’s the drive to make a difference and to help people that most often prompts students to pursue this career path. There’s no meaningless daily grind with this job. Every session spent working with clients – individuals, couples and families – is spent helping someone.
Although it can be challenging for counselors to see their clients stumble at times, it’s also very rewarding to watch them make progress and become happier, healthier and better able to cope with the struggles they face.