The Counseling Profession

Counselors Come in Many Shapes and Sizes

Counselors assist people with personal, family, educational, mental health, and career decisions and problems. Their duties depend on the individuals they serve and on the settings in which they work. Educational, vocational and school counselors help students evaluate their abilities, interests, talents and personality characteristics in order to develop realistic academic and career goals. They use interviews, counseling sessions, tests or other methods when evaluating and advising students.

School counselors at all levels help students understand and deal with social, behavioral and personal problems. High school counselors advise on college, trade or technical schools and apprenticeship programs. Elementary school counselors observe younger children during classroom and play activities, and confer with their teachers and parents to evaluate their strengths, problems or special needs.

Vocational counselors (also called employment counselors when working outside a school setting) help individuals make career decisions. They explore and evaluate the client's education, training, work history, interests, skills and personal traits. They also help people develop job search skills and assist clients in locating and applying for jobs.

Rehabilitation counselors help people deal with the personal, social and vocational effects of disabilities resulting from birth defects, illness or disease, accidents or the stress of daily life. They evaluate the strengths and limitations of individuals, provide personal and vocational counseling, and arrange for medical care, vocational training and job placement.

Mental health counselors emphasize prevention and work with individuals and groups to promote optimum mental health. They help individuals deal with addictions and substance abuse, suicidal impulses, stress management, problems with self-esteem issues associated with aging, job and career concerns, educational decisions, issues related to mental and emotional health, family, parenting and marital problems.

Substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors help people who have problems with alcohol, drugs, gambling and eating disorders. Marriage and family therapists apply principles, methods and therapeutic techniques to individuals, family groups, couples or organizations for the purpose of resolving emotional conflicts.

Most educational, vocational and school counselors work the traditional nine- to 10-month school year, although increasing numbers are employed on 10- or 11-month contracts. Rehabilitation counselors usually work a standard 40-hour week. Self-employed counselors and those working in mental health and community agencies, such as substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors, often work evenings to counsel clients who work during the day.

Training and Qualifications

Formal education is necessary to work as a counselor. Accredited master's degree programs include a minimum of two years of full-time study, including 600 hours of supervised clinical internship experience.

All fifty states and the District of Columbia require some form of counselor credentialing, licensure, certification or registry legislation governing practice outside schools. Prospective counselors should check with state and local governments in order to determine which requirements apply.

Persons interested in counseling should have a strong interest in helping others. They should be able to work independently or as part of a team. Counselors follow the code of ethics associated with their respective certifications and licenses.

Job Outlook

Overall employment of counselors is expected to grow as fast as average through 2022. Employment of educational, vocational and school counselors is expected to grow as a result of increasing student enrollments, particularly in secondary and postsecondary schools; state legislation requiring counselors in elementary schools; and expansion of the responsibilities of counselors. Over the long term, however, budget constraints may dampen job growth of school counselors.

The demand for vocational or employment counselors is expected to continue to grow much faster than average.


In 2015 employment was distributed among the counseling specialties as follows:

  • Educational, vocational and school counselors 253,460
  • Mental health and marriage and family counselors/therapists 128,200
  • Substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors 87,090

Median annual earnings of educational, vocational and school counselors in 2015 were $53,660.  Median annual earnings of mental health counselors and marriage and family therapists in 2015 were $41,880.  Median annual earnings of substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors in 2015 were $39,980.

For more earnings and salary related information visit: Masters in Counseling

Related Links

For general information about counseling, as well as information on specialties such as school, college, mental health, rehabilitation, multicultural, career, marriage and family, and gerontological counseling, contact:

For information on accredited counseling and related training programs, contact:

For information on national certification requirements for counselors, contact:

Adapted from the Labor Department's Occupational Handbook

Adapted from the Bureau of Labor Statistics