Being a counselor can mean many different things, depending on the work setting you prefer. Do you want to work with children, adults, or families? Would you prefer to work for an organization or a government body, or to be self-employed? All of these are options you should consider when deciding whether to choose a career in counseling. This article will give you the basic and essential information you need before deciding to pursue a career in counseling, including job descriptions, necessary education and other requirements, the 10-year employment outlook, and expected yearly earnings.

Job Descriptions
There are many different kinds of counselors, each with their own duties and responsibilities. Here are the most common types:

  • School: School counselors help grades K through 12 students make decisions about their academic and career goals. These counselors will spend nearly all of their workday in schools, and are employed by the government or by private education institutions.
  • Career/Vocational: Vocational counselors guide youth and adults through their career choices. They help others make decisions about job changes, as well as about whether to seek further education and advancement to help them along in their careers. These counselors may work in schools, colleges, and universities; for the government; or for private businesses. Some may even be self-employed.
  • Rehabilitation/Substance Abuse: Rehabilitation counselors often work in rehabilitation centers. They guide clients in rehab clinics in accepting treatment and staying “clean” after they leave rehab. Substance abuse counselors help people to overcome their addictions. They also often work in rehabilitation centers, which may be governmental or privately operated.
  • Mental Health: Mental health counselors guide their clients in understanding and working with their mental health issues. Mental health counselors usually work in mental health facilities, whether they are in- or outpatient clinics. They may work for a private or government-run agency.
  • Marriage/Family: These counselors work with individuals, couples, or families to help them resolve their differences within the family unit. Marriage and family therapists have the highest chance of being self-employed and of having their own office or practice. Most marriage and family therapists working in a group office will work for a private company or business.

Education and Other Requirements

  • Education
    A minimum of a master’s degree is required to become just about any form of counselor. You should choose your counseling focus while taking courses toward your master’s degree, or, even better, begin considering this choice while completing your bachelor’s degree.
  • Training
    The necessary training will vary for each type of counselor. Beyond earning their masters’ degrees, counselors are required to complete some additional training and experience requirements. To become a counselor, you must complete 2 years or 3,000 hours of supervised clinical experience and pass a state-recognized exam. Counselors are also expected to accumulate some continuing education hours, which vary depending on the type of counseling.
  • Licensure
    Counselors must become licensed before they can work. The requirements and procedures for obtaining licensure vary from state to state, so it is recommended that you research the rules and regulations for the state in which you want to work. Also, counselors must, throughout the course of their education and career, comply with the code of ethics and standards mandated by law. A breach in the code of ethics could result in revocation of the counselor’s license.
  • Accreditation
    Counselors can earn accreditations through various institutions. While not all employers require accreditation from their employees, holding certain accreditations may be a great help when you are searching for a job and set you apart from other candidates. Many accreditations must be renewed every few years, through passing an exam and/or completing further education hours.

Learn More About Counseling Exams

10-Year Employment Outlook

If you are planning to become a counselor, you are in luck! The number of available jobs in counseling is expected to increase at a rate much higher than the average for all professions. This is because the number of available counseling positions is expected to exceed the number of graduates over the next several years.

There are currently about 700,000 counseling jobs in the United States. Most jobs are available in the vocational and school counselor fields, followed by the mental health and the rehabilitation and substance abuse fields, with fewer jobs open for family and marriage therapists and other types of counselors.

Changes in law now allow insurance companies to cover counseling sessions as part of an insurance plan, which has increased the demand for counselors. This law change has opened employment opportunities for nearly every kind of counselor, except for school counselors, since the number of school counselor positions is dependent on government education funding and does not rely on insurance funding. .


  • A counselor’s yearly earnings vary greatly depending on the type of counseling and the work environment. For example, a self-employed marriage counselor will tend to earn more than a school counselor working for a public school.
  • Yearly wages for vocational and school counselors range from about $29,000 to $82,000, with the median being $51,000.
  • Yearly wages for mental health and substance abuse and rehabilitation counselors range from about $30,000 to $37,000.
  • Yearly wages for marriage and family counselors average about $44,500.
  • Opportunities for advancement and career changes are available to counselors of every kind, which can lead to higher earnings.