For students who have earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology, sociology, counseling, or a related discipline and want to continue in the mental health field, a master’s degree in counseling can be a great career choice. A master’s degree in counseling prepares students to work in a wide variety of roles, including clinical mental health counselor, drug counselor and geriatric counselor. Professionals with this degree can work in a number of different environments — from schools to private practices to community centers.

Students interested in pursuing a master’s in counseling should find a program that is accredited and offers the type of curriculum that will be a good fit. Depending on post-education career goals, certain programs may be better equipped to help graduates reach those objectives than others. Prospective students should also make sure whichever program they choose is one that will help them learn everything they need for licensing exams and prepare them for any state or federal requirements.

What Is Professional Counseling?

Generally speaking, professional counselors are people who help guide and advise clients through many different areas of life. The job specifics vary based on the demographics of the people being counseled, but a counselor is always tasked with being the voice of reason and expertise. For example, some counselors work in schools with children, while others focus on resolving conflicts within relationships.

What Career Paths Can Be Pursued?

The options for a career in counseling are flexible and vary depending on the demographic students would like to work with and their ideal work environments.

One option is a mental health counselor. These counselors are experts on a wide array of issues such as anxiety, grief, trauma, substance abuse and even phobias, and they generally work with clients dealing with mental health issues or experiencing distress. These counselors help promote mental health and offer advice for how to deal with problems. Mental health counselors may also work as a part of an individual’s treatment team.

Other professional options include school or student counseling where counselors are responsible for working with children, adolescents, or young adults. Career counselors help people find what type of position they might like or what education options might set them on the right career path.

Some counselors work as advocates in the workplace to ensure injured employees are able to rejoin their companies, and rehabilitation counselors specialize in working with anyone who has a disability who might need someone to help them remain as independent as possible. Others might help those who have experienced traumatic events to deal with the issue and assist during times of crisis in one-on-one or group therapy settings.

What Is the Employment Outlook for a Counselor?

When people hear the word counselor, they often think of mental health counselors who are trained to help with mental and emotional issues. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are about 115,000 mental health counselors in the United States making a mean salary of about $43,000 with the high being around $66,630 and the low around $25,000. The median hourly salary is about $21. Many of those counselors work in outpatient treatment centers, but they also work for local governments and in private practices. They are also employed by insurance companies.

The key to a successful career as a counselor is having a passion for helping people and starting off with the right education. Prospective students should research programs before making any decisions to find the best curriculum fit and focus.

Social Work Versus Counseling

What Does a Social Worker Do?

The professional realms of social work and counseling often overlap. Generally speaking, social workers work with clients to utilize services within the community in order to solve a specific problem or issue. For example, social workers might help a client get a job by working with an employment office or help a client navigate the complicated bureaucracy involved in child custody. Social workers might work in a private practice or for a medical center, or they might work for a nonprofit dedicated to helping a particular population. Social workers also work on a larger scale to create programs that address issues specific to certain demographics or research what types of aid might benefit a community.

A master’s degree in social work requires a pre-determined amount of credits in subjects like ethics and community service as well as a placement experience. There are also licenses that vary by state that are required to practice.

When it comes to salary, the average clinical social worker earns about $51,460 per year, and a child and family services social worker typically earns a little less, at around $45,300 annually. The income level varies depending on the type of social work.

What Does a Counselor Do?

Counselors may work in a private practice, for a nonprofit or for a larger medical facility. The work they are tasked with doing differs from the work a social worker does. Counselors are usually responsible for helping people understand emotional or personal issues. For example, counselors might work with married couples to help sort out issues and establish better communication. They might also work with people who have mental health disorders or are recovering addicts. They often work with similar populations as social workers. For example, though a counselor and social worker may both work with the unemployed, the counselor might focus more on the emotional aspects of dealing with a traumatic layoff, while the social worker helps clients navigate an employment office.

A master’s in counseling – for example with our partner Counseling@Northwestern – requires a pre-determined amount of credits in classes about psychology and counseling, along with field experience. This degree also requires some licensing, which varies by state and job.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, mental health counselors make a mean salary of about $43,000 with the high being around $66,630 and the low around $25,000.

People with great passion for improving the lives of others and offering assistance to those in need thrive in both of these fields—whether they’re helping individuals to navigate a complicated governmental process or working one-on-one to help improve relationships. Both of these occupations allow professionals to work with people who are at risk, and both are highly rewarding fields. The key is deciding how you would like to help people and in what capacity you will be of the most value.