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How Much Do Counselors Make

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Professional Counselors: Who They Are, What They Do, and How Much They Can Make

Many people struggle with family issues, addictions and mental illness. For some of these people, getting help from a professional counselor can make a difference in mood, functionality and interpersonal relationships. If you are someone who enjoys working with others, counseling may be a good career option, particularly because it can offer flexible hours that let you balance work and family life.

Job Description

Counselors are mental health professionals. Depending on their training and specialization, they can provide care and treatment to individuals, couples, families and groups. These services often include:

  • Assessing clients in an effort to determine the needs and areas in which the counselor may be able to provide assistance.
  • The diagnosis of mental health disorders.
  • Providing counseling and psychotherapy services to clients.
  • Depending on their training and certification, counselors may also provide substance abuse counseling.

Education Requirements

Mental health counseling is a licensed profession in all 50 states, and you can expect to spend several years preparing for this career. At minimum, counselors must usually have a master’s degree from a graduate program that's approved by the licensing board in the state where they hope to practice. Recent graduates of these programs are typically required to complete a post-degree supervised practicum, during which they provide counseling services to the public. Aspiring counselors are also required to pass a state-sponsored licensing exam.

According to the United States Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual salary for mental health counselors as of May 2016 was $42,840. The lowest 10 percent of earners made less than $26,210, and the top 10 percent earned more than $65,080.

Some states may offer different levels of licensing that correspond to the experience and education level of a counselor, as well as his or her scope of practice. For example, some states issue provisional licenses to entry-level practitioners who are still completing their post-graduate supervised practice. Other states issue “clinical counselor” credentials, which allow the licensee to practice independently and supervise other counselors.

About the Industry

Counselors work in a variety of settings, mostly in individual and family counseling services and outpatient mental health and substance abuse practices. Other work environments include nursing care facilities, inpatient rehabilitation programs and hospitals. Most counselors work full-time and may be scheduled for weekend and evening hours. While some flexibility may occur in scheduling, you might be required to spend shifts “on-call” to assist distressed clients.

Years of Experience

If you become a counselor, you can expect your income to increase as you gain more on-the-job experience. According to a survey by PayScale.com, median wages for mental health counselors at various stages of their careers include:

  • 0–5 years: $38,000
  • 5–10 years: $41,000
  • 10–20 years: $44,000
  • 20+ years: $46,000

Job Growth Trend

The Bureau of Labor Statistics anticipates a significant demand for mental health counselors over the next two decades. Available jobs are expected to increase by some 20 percent between 2016 and 2026. If you live in an area that is underserved by mental health professionals, your job prospects may be better.