What Is the Job Description of a Youth Counselor?

Research what it takes to become a youth counselor. Learn about job duties, education requirements, career outlook and salary to find out if this is the career for you. Schools offering Child Development degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Is a Youth Counselor?

Youth counselors work with adolescents and young children to help them solve problems, and they also make referrals for any services that would improve a child's emotional or physical well being. These counselors can focus on helping youth with substance abuse and behavioral problems or to overcome mental and emotional disorders. They are most likely to work in either outpatient care centers or to provide individual or family services. The information in the table below outlines education and career information for substance abuse, behavioral disorder and mental health counselors.

Career Titles Substance Abuse and Behavioral Disorder Counselors Mental Health Counselors
Education Required Education varies from high school diploma to master's degree Master's degree
Education Field of Study Counseling or related Counseling, social work, psychology
Key Skills Empathy, communication, speaking Listening, organization, patience
Licensure Counselors in private practice must be licensed Licensure is required for all mental health counselors
Job Growth (2014-2024)22%* 20%*
Median Salary (2015) $39,980* $41,880*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

What Job Duties Might I Perform as a Youth Counselor?

Youth counselors treat adolescents who have mental or emotional problems, disabilities and substance abuse issues. As a youth counselor, you could counsel adolescents individually or through group sessions. You may need to provide crisis intervention and might also help youths to resolve conflicts, overcome life hurdles and replace undesirable habits with acceptable behaviors. You often need to confer with other professionals, including social workers, educators, criminal justice officials and psychologists.

Your duties as a youth counselor could include creating and implementing personalized treatment programs for troubled adolescents. You might interview the adolescents and their family members to recommend needed social services. You'll then review and alter their plans to achieve agreed-upon goals. Your duties might also include supervising, disciplining and interacting with youths at correctional facilities or group homes.

Employment and Salary Information

As a youth counselor, you might work for state or local governments, schools, group homes, hospitals, social service agencies, correctional centers, religious associations or substance abuse prevention programs. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that the median yearly wage for mental health counselors was $41,880 as of May 2015, while substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors made a similar median salary of $39,980 (www.bls.gov). All other types of counselors earned a median salary of $45,530.

What Education Do I Need?

Education requirements for becoming a counselor depend on your state, your chosen specialty and your employer. You may be able to obtain an entry-level youth counseling job with a bachelor's degree. Some employers require a bachelor's degree in human services or a related field, plus relevant work experience. A bachelor's degree program in applied psychology is another option for starting your career as a youth counselor.

You typically need a master's degree to become licensed as a counselor. Master's degree programs in counseling typically include an internship. After earning your graduate degree, you might choose to further your education by obtaining a postgraduate certificate in adolescent counseling or marriage and family therapy.

What Are the Licensure and Certification Requirements?

Depending on your employer and state, you may need to hold a license to work as a youth counselor. In addition to earning a master's degree, you usually have to accumulate a certain number of clinical hours, pass an exam and complete continuing education units.

To further your career, you may also seek voluntary certification from the National Board for Certified Counselors by taking one of their national examinations (www.nbcc.org). This board awards a general practice designation as a National Certified Counselor and specialty certifications in school, clinical mental health and addictions counseling.

The National Association for Alcoholism and Drug Abuse Counselors offers both basic counseling and addictions counseling certifications, as well as an Adolescent Specialist Endorsement (www.naadac.org). To qualify for one of these addictions counseling exams, you typically must earn state licensure and hold supervised counseling experience.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

Similar careers involving counseling are actually quite common. One such career is being a rehabilitation counselor, where you would be responsible for providing care to those with disabilities with the purpose of preparing them for living independently. Another possible career would be becoming a school or career counselor. As a school counselor you would assist students in their social development while helping them set academic goals to meet. As a career counselor you would help people from various walks of life make career choices, and assist them in building their skill sets applicable to their career choice by referring them to a training or degree program. All three careers require a master's degree.

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