If you want to become a counselor in just about any capacity, you will have to put in plenty of work to achieve your dream. For most roles in this field, you will need a master’s degree in counseling, hundreds to thousands of practical work experience in the field and a license to practice. You must also develop excellent skills in listening and interpersonal communication, as well as a sense of compassion and patience. Earning potential in the field of counseling varies based on your specialty and job role, with school and career counselors earning the most and rehabilitation counselors generally earning the least.

School and Career Counseling Degrees

Among the best-paying jobs in counseling are school counselor and career counselor. These career paths are so similar that the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) combines them into a single occupational group, but there are important differences. School counselors help students cultivate general academic and social skills and help them when they are struggling with stressful or difficult situations. Assisting students in planning for future coursework, post-secondary education and their intended careers is one part of a school counselor’s job, but it is far from their only purpose. On the other hand, making career decisions and preparing for a new vocation is the main focus of career counselors, who may work with established adult workers seeking career changes and guidance as well as young people entering the workforce. School and career counselors earn a median salary of $56,310 per year, according to the BLS.

School and career counselors who work in elementary and secondary schools typically earn more than their counterparts in other work settings, with a $63,280 median wage.

Marriage and Family Therapy Degrees

Marital and family therapy takes a family-centered approach to counseling. Although marriage, couple and family therapists focus on relationships, they also work with individuals, helping with problems that can include self-esteem issues, mental health disorders and substance abuse and addiction. What sets marriage and family therapists (MFTs) apart from other counselors who use similar counseling techniques, including cognitive-behavioral therapy and psychotherapy methods, is the focus on relationships and how they affect an individual’s mental health. The BLS reports a median wage of $50,090 for marriage and family therapists in all work settings, but the 13 percent of marriage and family therapists working for state governments earn the most, with a $69,900 median salary.

Eight percent of MFTs are self-employed, operating out of their own private practices. Self-employment can be financially risky, due to the costs of running a business, the higher tax burden and fluctuating workloads, but that risk can pay off.  

What Is the Salary Potential for Someone With a Counseling Degree

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Mental Health Counseling and Substance Abuse Counseling Degrees

When you think of a counselor, there’s a good chance you are envisioning a mental health counselor. As a whole, mental health counseling is a broad field that can include working with patients who have mental and emotional disorders as well as those who are simply struggling with grief, trauma or adjusting to difficult life changes and events. A similar career path, substance abuse counseling or addiction counseling, focuses on working with individuals and families affected by alcoholism and drug use and abuse. The median salary for mental health counselors and substance abuse counselors as a whole is $44,630, according to the BLS.

Mental health and substance abuse counselors who work for the government earn the highest median wage, $51,690 per year. Nine percent of the occupation works in government settings, many in roles working with veterans and their families.

Rehabilitation Counseling Degrees

The lowest-paying role in the field of counseling is rehabilitation counselor. Although rehabilitation counselors serve the necessary role of helping individuals with disabilities to live more independently, develop solutions to obstacles to employment and cope with the social and emotional effects of a disability, they earn a median wage of only $35,630, the BLS reported.

Rehabilitation counselors make less than the median salary for all occupations, even though they must have a master’s degree, and often a license, to work in the field.

Counseling Psychology Degrees

In addition to traditional counseling jobs, a role as a counseling psychologist is another option to consider, especially if you want to improve your earning potential. The grouping of psychologists that includes counseling psychologist earns a median wage of $76,990, according to the BLS.

Counseling psychology is somewhat different than counseling as a profession. Psychologist is considered part of the life, natural and social science careers, rather than a community and social service career. The field of psychology revolves around the study of thinking and behavior and typically includes a greater focus on research and the scientific method than most counseling degree programs. Psychologists typically need a doctoral degree, rather than only a master’s degree, although counseling psychologists are more likely to pursue a professional Doctor of Psychology degree than the research-based Ph.D. in Psychology degree.

Licensed clinical social workers (LCSW) can also offer counseling services. The BLS reports a median wage of $49,470 for social workers, though those with a master’s degree and clinical practice license may see higher earning potential.

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