If your target is to be a Licensed Professional Counselor you are entering one of the fields that are expected to experience sustained growth throughout the country over the next decade. The average rate of growth is projected to be 25-35% between 2010 and 2020. This is buoyed by increased attention on mental health as well as inclusion of mental health issues among basic health conditions covered by insurers under ACA. Health care experts are also insisting on prevention instead of having to deal with consequences like suicide and mass shootings.
Licensed Professional Counselors fall under different categories including family therapists, substance abuse counselors, school counselors, pediatrics counselors, etc. All these areas are receiving more attention and poised to grow exponentially in the coming few years. Here are quick general facts about the counseling profession.
• Average annual earnings- 30,000$-47,000$. The exact amount depends on area of employment, personal aggressiveness and level of academic attainment. Area of specialization also determines your annual income. Earnings rage from 17$-21$/hr.
• Academic entry level- Masters degree. Some professions will admit social worker counselors at degree level. There are professions like spiritual and motivational counselors who do not require licensing or basic academic qualification. Different states also require varying hours of supervised experience especially based on your area of specialization.
• Expected Growth- the average growth percentage between 2014 and 2024 is 20-35% depending on the area of specialization. This means that counseling will add hundreds of thousands of jobs throughout the country.
• Fastest growing specializations – individual and family therapy services. Counselors serving outpatient services are also receiving a lot of attention. As the sprite of entrepreneurship and personal branding grips the world, there is an increase in demand for motivational counselors. Career or school counseling is also becoming a private affair.
The state of California tops the list of states with the highest number of employed mental health counselors. In terms of concentration quotient, Montana tops followed by Virginia, Pennsylvania, Colorado and Massachusetts. How about the highest paying states for mental health counselors? The leader is Alaska with 60,000$/yr followed by Utah, Idaho and Oregon.
What Licensed Professional Counselors Do
Licensed professional counselors are employed by institutions, governments, non-profit agencies and religious centers to address emotional, pain and stress issues. They help their clients to cope with or overcome specific challenges and thus improve the quality of their lives. Different areas of specialization herald varying fortunes. Here is a look at a few of the most common licensed counselors and an overview of their operating environment.
• Substance Abuse And Behavior Disorders Counselor
Mostly deal with alcoholism, eating disorders and addiction to drugs, among other behavioral problems. They provide therapy and recommend treatment to enable their clients recover from the addiction and modify their behaviors. Those working in communities sensitize inhabitants, and specifically families, on observing early addiction signs.
The work environment includes outpatient care centers, facilities for mental health, substance abuse and disability, private practices, hospitals and health facilities as well as in government offices. A few are in research institutions as policy directors, researchers and supervisors.
You will need a Masters degree to be licensed as a counselor regardless of your specialization. There are exceptions for motivation and spiritual counselors. Employer and the duties assigned may raise or lower the qualification standards. Accreditation is only necessary when offering direct services since a researcher or tutor does not require licensing.
• Mental Health Counselor
This is one of the fastest growing specializations. They help people with mental health issues like depression, anxiety, stress, etc. The counselor is also involved in prevention and post traumatic stress management. There are specializations in pediatric care, care for the elderly, terminally ill, suicide counseling, etc. Counselors under mental health specialization also handle aging and self esteem among their clients.
Mental health patients are very sensitive. They therefore require a person who can listen without being judgmental. This will help the patient to process the grief, loss, emotional or stressing issue and emerge stronger. You should also be realistic to enable them draw a realistic plan into the future. Mental health counselors are sometimes psychiatrists who can prescribe medication. Certified nurses also work as mental health counselors at some point.
This is one of the most regulated specializations. A Masters degree is mandatory with an exception of when a nurse takes up the role. The nurse must, however, have taken courses in mental health beyond nursing. All practitioners must be licensed or certified as mental health counselors. You need a compassionate soul, a listening ear, good organization and excellent interpersonal skills. Earnings range from as low as 30,000$ to as high as 89,000$ depending on your engagements.
• Marriage and Family Counselor
As divorce rate rises, more people are seeking the assistance of counselors. Family and marriage therapists assist couples and family members to cope with the challenges of living together. Most of them work privately, relying on consultation and walk-in clients. Others work with agencies and institutions like churches to assist communities in dealing with emerging family challenges. They are available for families to ask questions and have an independent voice to evaluate their solutions.
Governments rarely employ family and marriage therapists unless for policy guidance or research. As such, a counselor has to build his or her brand. Family therapy requires a lot of independence. If one party feels that you are siding with the other, trust in your arbitration evaporates.
Since this is a largely private practice specialization, earnings depend on individual effort. It will also be determined by your location since urban areas give higher returns than rural areas. However, as an employee, you can expect to earn an average of 35,000-45,000$ a year.
There is a very positive outlook for counselors in the next decade according to Bureau of Labor Statistics. It is your area of specialization as well as personal effort and branding that determine how much you earn. Accreditation is also crucial to ensure credibility. Licensing requires a Masters degree but with a doctorate, you qualify to make entry into research, policy direction and supervisory roles that are very well paying.