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Certified Counselor: Career and Certification Facts

Get information on the education and experience you'll need to become a counselor. Learn about licensing requirements, and see how you can become certified in a specialty area of counseling.

What You Need to Know

Certified counselors are in high demand as larger populations of people are seeking mental health, family, and rehabilitation counseling. While states are responsible for licensing counselors, national certification is available through the National Board of Certified Counselors. National certification can help those interested in a career in counseling meet state requirements and obtain certificates in specialty areas.

Degree Master's degree required for licensure/certification
Licensing and Certification Varies by state; national certification meets or exceeds most state requirements
Career Growth (2019-2029)* 25% (for substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors)
Median Annual Salary (2019)*$43,300 (for substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors)

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

What Does a Career in Counseling Look Like?

Counselors are licensed mental health professionals who provide services to patients of all ages. In this profession, you might:

  • Work as a substance abuse counselor to support adults trying to recover from alcohol and drug addiction
  • Become a mental health counselor, teaching families how to cope with the loss of a loved one
  • Help people suffering from disease and injury as a rehabilitation counselor

You can perform these duties at a hospital, community health organization, school or in private practice.

What Certification Do I Need?

Most states require you to be licensed as a counselor, rather than certified. However, earning the National Certified Counselor (NCC) credential from the National Board for Certified Counselors (NBCC) could allow you to meet or exceed licensing requirements in some states (www.nbcc.org). Certification requirements include a master's degree in counseling and 3,000 hours of experience. You must also pass the National Counselor Examination (NCE). Certification is good for five years, after which point you'll need to renew your credential.

What Specialty Certifications Are Available?

If you've already earned your NCC credential, the NBCC offers specialty certifications in clinical and mental health counseling, addictions counseling and school counseling. These voluntary certifications can demonstrate your professionalism to future clients or employers.

What Are My Employment Prospects?

Your salary could depend on your area of specialization. For example, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median salary for mental health, substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors was $46,240 in 2019.

Job opportunities for all substance abuse, mental health and behavioral disorder counselors were projected to increase 25% through the 2019-2029 decade, which is much faster than average. Working in rural areas or specializing in substance abuse or mental health counseling, particularly if you have a bachelor's or a master's degree, could improve your job prospects.