Counselors have a wide variety of work duties. They work in various employment settings and perform different tasks depending on their specialization. Qualifications for these types of jobs vary by state and by employer. All certified counseling positions require professional licensure and an education above the high school level. Many counseling positions require a master’s degree. Substance abuse counselors, education counselors, marriage and family therapists, and mental health counselors are the most common types of counselors.
Job Description and Outlook
Marriage and family therapy is a type of psychotherapy in which the counselor conducts group therapy sessions with families and couples to promote healthy family systems. Families often seek therapy for help with family members who clash with other members due to personality disorders, behavioral disorders, substance abuse, or any other type of issue that threatens the stability of a family.
Marriage and family therapists perform a variety of tasks, most of which includes counseling families through the following problems and issues:
- domestic violence
- behavioral issues
- death of a loved one
- child abuse
The job of a mental health counselor is to act as one level of support for clients who have mental health issues. To perform this job successfully, the counselor must be a good listener, they must use problem-solving skills to assess patients’ problems, and they must be aware of patients’ needs. The counselor treats the condition by creating treatment plans and conducting psychotherapy sessions with the client. Some issues presented by mental health patients include suicide attempts, addiction, stress, and family issues.
Substance abuse counselors help those who are addicted to alcohol and drugs. These counselors most often work in rehab settings. They also conduct therapy sessions with people who have been released from rehab facilities. The counselor helps the client find alternative ways of dealing with their problems rather than abusing their own bodies.
Education counselors work in academic settings. They advise students about their educational options by helping them create class schedules and fill out college applications. Education counselors also act as a source of support for students who are dealing with developmental issues, family problems, self-esteem issues, and problems among their peer group. Most of the counseling is done in a one-on-one format, but some counselors also conduct group sessions with people who have similar issues. Counselors may also conduct parent and child conferences to help families deal with domestic issues.
The job outlook is good for counselors in all four of the aforementioned fields of counseling. Licensed professionals find employment in social service agencies, hosiptals, non-profit agencies, and in private practice.*
*According to the BLS, http://www.bls.gov/oco/
Training and Education Requirements
The education required for substance abuse counselors varies depending on the hiring agency. In general, every state requires the applicant to be licensed. Some hospitals have training programs, and many students also train in schools that provide professional certification to graduates.
Certified marriage and family therapists, mental health counselors, and education counselors generally hold a master’s degree in social work (MSW), counseling, or a related field. To obtain a master’s, the student must first complete a four-year bachelor’s course of study. Good undergraduate majors for aspiring counselors include any course of study that is related to the social sciences, such as pyschology, social work, sociology, women’s studies, ethnic studies, or gender issues.
Upon graduation, the student must apply to graduate school. Some schools do not offer a master’s in counseling, but they may offer similar programs that lead to a certificate in family therapy. If the school does not offer the graduate degree in counseling, the student should consider a master of social work (MSW) program or a master’s degree in sociology, because both of these programs may offer certification in counseling therapy. The student should also inquire about any additional licensing requirements for their state of intended practice.
In general, the pay for these jobs varies depending on experience, work sector, and education. Counselors who work in government agencies and private practice most often earn more than those who do not. As with most jobs, the pay generally increases with experience. On average, marriage and family therapists earn between $33,000 and $50,000 annually. The salary range for substance abuse counselors is typically between $27,000 and $40,000 annually. The salary of mental health counselors is $25,000 to $45,000 per year. School counselors earn about $45,000 annually.*
*According to the BLS, http://www.bls.gov/oco/
In most cases, counselors who hold a graduate degree and an LPC (licensed professional counselor) certification earn more than those who do not. Each state has different certification requirements. Most master’s degree programs in counseling can be completed in 2-3 years.
The National Association of Social Workers (NASW) is a well-recognized organization. It has thousands of members nationwide, and it acts as a network for social workers, counselors, educators, and others who work in the social sciences. The association also provides advocacy information and resources for social workers.
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