What Skills Are Needed to Become a Counselor?

Counseling is a broad job field, and while there are many career avenues that you can take, the duties and needed skills can be very similar. Keep reading to learn more about the different types of counselors and what each one does. Schools offering Mental Health Counseling degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

Necessary Skills

Counselors must foremost hold strong listening skills. During a counseling setting, clients will come to you with personal issues and problems, and you need to make sure you attentively register every word they say in order to help them improve their mental and emotional well-being. Understanding human behavior and mental health issues is also important. You'll need to communicate effectively, so that your patients can understand the advice you give them. People will be seeking your guidance on important life issues, so you'll need to make decisions and solve problems quickly. Your skills will also vary based on what you do and who you work with.

Important Facts About Counselors

Professional Certification Available through the National Board for Certified Counselors; varies by occupation
Work Environment Office or clinical setting
On-the-Job Training Residency program
Similar Occupations Social worker, residential adviser, recreational therapist

Career Paths

Marriage and Family Counselors

There are many industries that require the use of a counselor. If you become a marriage counselor, you would work with married couples and families to address communication problems and other issues that may be hindering the family's dynamics. You might work individually with family members or in a group setting.

School Counselors

If you become a school counselor, you could work in an elementary school or college setting and help students with learning and behavioral issues. You could also serve as a guidance counselor for students to help them assess their academic goals. If students are struggling in school or need help determining what they want to study, they can come to you to seek guidance and advice.

Substance Abuse Counselors

Substance abuse counselors deal with various disorders and addictions. If you enter this field of counseling, you would work with those who are struggling with behavioral and addiction issues, helping people in need root out the source of their unhealthy behaviors and set them on a path to recovery. In a related field, mental health counselors work with people and their loved ones who are suffering from mental and emotional disorders. People who suffer from social anxieties, depression and even grief will seek your guidance in trying to work beyond their disorders, so that they can function at work, school and within their family and social networks.

Rehabilitation Counselors

Finally, rehabilitation counselors work with disabled individuals and their family members to guide them through their disabilities so that they can function productively. Your ultimate goal in this type of counseling is to show a disabled individual that he or she can be capable of functioning as an independent individual.


According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS, www.bls.gov), regardless of what industry you work in as a counselor, a master's degree will be required to gain the certification or licensing required to practice. Depending on your chosen specialization, your master's degree courses can range from psychology and relationships, to counseling techniques and human behavior. Each state's specific requirements vary when it comes to obtaining a certification or license, so you'll need to check with your own region for more information. In addition to earning a master's degree, many states require counselors to pass an exam, undergo supervised clinical practice, and complete continuing education.

Salary Statistics

Your salary as a counselor can vary depending on the industry you choose to enter. According to May 2014 reports from the BLS, the mean annual wage for marriage and family counselors was $51,730, while school counselors earned an average of $56,040 per year. Substance abuse counselors took in an average of $41,870 annually, while mental health counselors made $43,990 per year. Rehab counselors earned a yearly average income of $37,890 in 2014, per the BLS.

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