The Counselor: A Human Services Professional

The counseling career field encompasses a range of human services professions. Counselors typically help people who are struggling to overcome problems they have encountered with careers, health, education, aging, addiction and other life issues. Qualities, such as compassion and empathy, are essential for counselors in their work with individuals, families and groups. Counseling jobs exist in a variety of settings, including schools, hospitals, vocational centers, mental health clinics and rehabilitation programs.

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Counseling: a Service to Society

Counselors advise and assist individuals, families, groups and organizations. The American Counseling Association describes counseling as a collaborative effort between counselors and their clients. To be an effective counselor, a trained professional needs to be able to work on numerous levels. For example, counselors help people of all ages identify problems, strengths and goals; work through issues; improve interpersonal and coping skills; address mental health concerns; change behavior and focus on personal growth.

American Counseling Association: Knowledge Center

The Impact of Counseling on Society: An Occupation Overview

Often, when one person is seeing a counselor, the effect goes beyond what the individual gains. Families and family dynamics are affected when someone who has been grappling with difficult problems begins working with a trained counselor. As the individual client learns what is causing her distress and how to manage it, family members open to evolving may benefit from knowledge, understanding and improvements acquired through counseling sessions. Other beneficiaries include extended family, employers, colleagues and friends, community groups and society.

Educational and School Counselors

School counselors meet with students to help them focus on personal and social development, as well as academic and career goals. These counselors introduce students to skills they need to be successful at any academic level in school and to prepare them to live as responsible and productive members of society.

Mental Health Counseling

Most counselors who provide mental health therapy have graduated with a master’s degree in mental health or psychology. They must complete all academic, experiential and licensing requirements before qualifying to become Licensed Professional Counselors. These credentials allow counselors to diagnose and treat individuals who have mental, emotional and psychological conditions.

Licensed counselors help people whose disorders, such as depression, addiction and post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) that limit and interfere with major life activities. Licensed mental health counselors also provide services to couples, families, and groups. They apply theories, principles and methods of counseling and psychotherapy to define goals and develop plans of action aimed toward the prevention, treatment, and resolution of psychological problems.

Vocational and Career Counseling

Career counselors teach individuals to be more aware of their own interests, abilities, values and personality. This type of counseling encourages clients to explore jobs and occupations, as well as the educational paths they need to take to achieve their career goals.

The career counselor teaches individuals how to become involved in the process of deciding on an appropriate career path, how to actively manage their own career paths and how to balance work and personal roles in their lives.

Addiction Counseling

Substance abuse and addiction counselors work with clients individually or in group sessions. They collaborate with medical and mental health professionals in communities or addiction treatment facilities. Some counselors provide assistance to clients who have court-ordered mandates to receive addiction treatment and others work with specific populations, such as veterans, teens or people with physical or mental disabilities.

Counselors guide clients through stages of becoming sober and help with recovery by teaching methods for coping with stress and dealing with other problems that arise. Addiction counselors, sometimes called behavioral disorder counselors, also help clients rebuild careers, improve family and personal relationships and find ongoing support in their communities.

School Counseling

School counselors are integral sources of support for the community relationships that exist between schools and families. Counselors strive to meet academic, career, personal and social needs of many students in all grades – from kindergarten through graduate school.

Counseling work requires a collaborative effort involving students, parents, school counselors, teachers, administrators and student services personnel, according to the book, ASCA (American School Counseling Association) National Model: A Framework For School Counseling Programs.

Family and Child Counseling

Family counselors treat family members who need help dealing with and overcoming psychological problems that result within the family and home. In addition to listening and counseling, family counselors diagnose patterns or disorders and provide effective treatment and offer referrals to help family members resolve their issues. Family counselors are called upon to write evaluations with regard to court-mandated family counseling sessions and other institutionally based counseling treatment.

Family counseling typically involves professional interventions attempted to help families resolve their conflicts. Some counselors work with parents and children to solve problems by examining and meeting family members’ needs as they relate to a troubled, ill or physically challenged child. The goal of child and family counseling is to discover ways to maintain or improve a child’s emotional life and behavior.

Rehabilitation Counseling

Work in the field of rehabilitation counseling includes counseling and negotiating with clients and their families, and collaborating with other professionals, to help clients make emotional adjustments to their challenges, to determine eligibility for services, to develop goals and to provide career guidance.

Rehabilitation counselors interview clients, obtain biographical and vocational background and assess their needs. Consultation with other caregivers and agencies about a client’s medical, psychological and social history helps counselors determine eligibility for rehabilitation services to improve a person’s employability, education and quality of life.

Military Counseling

Some counselors specialize in treating veterans, active duty military personnel and their families, many of whom face a complex combination of psychological, physical and economic issues and needs.

Education Necessary to Join the Counseling Work Force

Colleges may offer undergraduate courses in counseling, psychology, mental health and wellness and human development, before they progress into a master’s program. Employers prefer to hire counselors who have Master’s or doctoral degrees, before they can work unsupervised with clients.

Bachelor’s Degree in Counseling

Completing a bachelor’s degree in counseling, psychology, social services or mental health is good preparation for students aspiring towards counseling careers. Undergraduate degrees in counseling or related majors may satisfy prerequisites necessary for eventual admission into a master’s degree program in counseling.

Working as a youth counselor is one career field that has entry level jobs for individuals with bachelor’s degrees in a counseling-related major. Youth counselors may work independently or as part of a team in settings that provide services to children and adolescents, including schools, clinics, residential group homes, correctional facilities, hospitals and government agencies.

Master’s Degrees in Counseling

Counselors must earn at least a master’s degree before qualifying for licensing. Students in graduate counseling programs are trained to treat individuals, families and groups with mental, emotional and behavioral problems and disorders.

Counselors facilitate the promotion of relational well-being and problem-solving through a consideration of how behavior develops within the context of families, communities and larger systems by providing counseling, consultation, mental health education and related services with individuals, families, and groups.

Most school counselors have a master’s degree and formal training in both mental health and education. Training prepares counselors to provide professional services to individuals, families, and communities and to use the knowledge and skills they have gained to research their field and evaluate their practice.

Counseling Licensure

The practice of counseling at the master’s level is often regulated through licensure. Areas of practice include non-profit, educational and health care organizations, as well as private practice. Licensed professional counselors, also known as licensed mental health counselors, provide mental health care to millions of Americans. These counselors make up a high percentage of the professionals employed by community mental health clinics, agencies and organizations.

Some counselors are employed within health plans and managed health care organizations. State licensing requirements for professional counselors typically include: possession of a master’s or doctoral degree in counseling, an internship, a minimum of 3,000 hours of supervised clinical experience and passage of the National Counselor Examination (NCE) or a similar state-recognized exam.

American Counseling Association: Who Are Licensed Professional Counselors?

Occupation Outlook for Counseling Professionals

Substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselor employment is expected to grow by 27 percent from 2010 to 2020, faster than the average for all occupations. Growth is expected as more people seek treatment for their addictions or other behaviors and drug offenders are increasingly sentenced to treatment rather than jail time.

Employment of rehabilitation counselors is expected to grow by 28 percent from 2010 to 2020, faster than the average for all occupations. Demand for rehabilitation counselors is expected to grow with the increase in the elderly population and with the continued rehabilitation needs of other groups, such as veterans and people with disabilities.

Employment of school and career counselors is expected to grow by 19 percent from 2010 to 2020, about as fast as the average for all occupations. The number of students attending schools at all levels is expected to increase during the projections decade, boosting demand for both school and career counselors.

Range of Salary by Job Category and Degree Level

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, salaries for entry-level counselors who have Master’s degrees range between approximately $35,000 and $54,000. Substance Abuse and Behavioral Disorder Counselors earn about $38,120. School and Career Counselors may earn up to $53,380, and counselors providing vocational rehabilitation services have a beginning salary of $35,210.

Most states require professional counselors to possess a graduate degree. However, some employers will hire workers with undergraduate degrees as counselors; for example, a youth counselor with a bachelor’s degree can earn an average salary of $28,692, according to national salary data compiled by Recent bachelor’s degree program graduates will typically start out at the lower to middle end of the salary scale and move up with experience.

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U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Community and Social Service Occupations