Master's in Counseling: Salary and Career Facts

Find out about the types of jobs you could pursue with a master's in counseling. Read on to learn more about career options along with salary and licensure information. Schools offering Mental Health Counseling degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Is a Counselor?

More and more people find they sometimes need a little help. Maybe not from a medical doctor, but maybe they just need help with stress, anxiety, depression or difficulties in relationships. Counselors are educated and trained to help clients understand their pain and teach them how to recognize triggers and deal with the stressors.

Masters degrees in counseling can lead to careers as school, family, marriage or addiction counselors. If you are interested in mental health research or clinical work, a Master of Arts or Master of Science in Counseling may be the right degree for you. See the table below for more information about master's degrees in counseling:

Degree Required Master of Arts (MA) in Counseling Psychology
Master of Science (MS) in Counseling Psychology
Education Field of StudyCounseling Psychology
Key ResponsibilitiesCounsel individuals, groups, couples or families in a variety of settings
Evaluate individuals for mental health or substance abuse problems
Develop treatment plans to address mental health or substance abuse records
Maintain records as required
Licensure/CertificationState licensure is required
Certification is optional and available
Job Growth (2018-2028)*22% for substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors
22% for marriage and family therapists
Mean Salary (2018)*$47,920 for substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors
$54,150 for marriage and family therapists

Source:*U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

What is the Curriculum for a Master's in Counseling?

The Master of Arts in Counseling Psychology is a 2-4 year graduate degree program which includes courses in psychopathology, counseling ethics, counseling techniques, multicultural counseling, human development and family systems. A supervised internship is typically required near the end of the program. Some graduate counseling programs offer specialties such as marriage and family therapy, school counseling and addictions treatment.

If you are interested in working in mental health research or in a clinical setting, then a Master of Science in Counseling may be the right degree for you. The curriculum is generally the same as the Master of Arts, but it includes additional clinical coursework and may require a thesis.

What Else Do I Need?

In most U.S. states, professional counselors are required to obtain a license to practice. Licensure requirements vary by state and by type of counseling. Check with the board of counseling in the state in which you plan to work, which may be different than the state where you plan to study. You may choose to become nationally certified through the National Board for Certified Counselors (NBCC). Although obtaining a NBCC credential does not qualify you for practice, it may help you obtain state certification and could give you a competitive edge in the job market.

What Kind of Career Could I Have?

As a licensed mental health counselor, you can work with people with varied problems. If you have a specialized degree, you might want to work with specific populations such as families, individuals, married couples or people with specific problems, including addictions. You can do this in your own counseling practice, a public clinic or a mental health agency. School counseling is also an option but might require more coursework; some states may require you to obtain a separate education license.

How Much Could I Earn?

In May 2018, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that the mean annual wage for substance abuse, behavioral disorder and mental health counselors was $47,920 and the average income for marriage and family therapists was $54,150. That same year, mental health counselors working in outpatient care centers earned $46,260 and those working in psychiatric and substance abuse hospitals earned $46,720 ( If you choose to work at junior colleges you could earn $63,760. Job growth from 2018 to 2028 is predicted to be 22% which is much faster than average. This suggests that jobs for licensed counselors should be plentiful during this time period.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

School or career counseling is a start as a related career field that requires a master's degree to start. You could find yourself in a career of community work, social and community managers or mental health or substance abuse counseling also needs a bachelor's degree or higher. These professionals need empathetic people working with the public, taking notes, and creating reports. These professionals watch for telling behaviors, they spot imbalances and will recommend additional therapy if warranted. With a doctorate you could start work toward a career in psychology where you would probably specialize in types of therapy and work with referred patients.

To continue researching, browse degree options below for course curriculum, prerequisites and financial aid information. Or, learn more about the subject by reading the related articles below:

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