Top Counseling Careers: Job Outlook, Salaries, and Qualifications

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A counselor leads a group counseling session with adults.

If you’re passionate about helping people and making a lasting impact in their lives, a career in counseling may be a great fit for you. Since there are so many different types of professional counselors and specializations you can choose from, it’s helpful to take a closer look at each possibility.

In this list of top counseling careers, you’ll discover the job responsibilities and average earnings in each role, as well as the qualifications you’ll need to pursue a career path in any of these fields.

Is There a Demand for Counselors?

Employment in the professional counseling field is growing at a remarkable pace. This means qualified, certified counselors with the right background and experience may have plenty of job opportunities to consider in the coming years.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the number of jobs in counseling, social work, and other community and social service occupations is expected to increase by 14% between 2019 and 2029, resulting in nearly 350,000 new jobs in a 10-year period. This is significantly faster expansion than the 4% average growth rate across all occupations in the U.S.

Clinical mental health counseling careers are expected to accelerate at an even faster rate. The BLS forecasted the number of jobs for substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors will increase by 25% in that same period, adding 79,000 new jobs.

Similarly, employment for marriage and family counselors is projected to climb 22%, with 14,800 new jobs expected by 2029. Plus, the number of rehabilitation counselor jobs is expected to expand at a rate of 10%. The BLS estimates this will result in the creation of 12,300 new jobs.

Even the school and career counseling profession is projected to grow at a faster rate than average. Estimates indicate the number of jobs in this field will grow by 8% between 2019 and 2029, yielding 26,800 new jobs.

If you’re considering a counseling career, you can prepare for the professional world with the confidence that the skills and knowledge you’re developing will continue to be in high demand.

Where Can Counselors Work?

With so much growth occurring across various counseling careers, considering your ideal work environment can help narrow your focus. In the counseling field, you can find employment in a variety of settings, including:

  • Hospitals
  • Community health clinics
  • Mental health clinics
  • Educational institutions
  • Rehabilitation centers
  • Prisons
  • Private practice
  • Government agencies
  • Nonprofit organizations
  • Human services agencies
  • Telehealth providers
  • Employee assistance programs
  • Residential care centers

Counselors typically work full time, but they may have schedules involving evening and weekend hours to meet the needs of their clients.
A counselor takes notes during a client appointment.

What Are the Different Types of Counseling Careers?

In addition to considering the different employer types and environments, it’s important to understand what populations you would like to work with, as well as the types of challenges you want to help people address. Here’s a closer look at the top counseling careers to provide you with a better understanding of each role’s focus. You’ll also learn the average salary for each position.

Clinical Mental Health Counselor

Mental health counselors can work with a range of clients or choose to specialize in a specific demographic or mental health counseling technique. They help the people they work with manage their psychological and emotional well-being.

These counselors will identify mental illnesses and disorders as well as challenges related to self-esteem, relationships, anxieties, and other personal struggles. Using a variety of counseling techniques, a mental health counselor will outline a treatment plan and support their clients as they overcome negative patterns and find healthy ways to manage their mental health.

A mental health counselor may be involved in coordinated care with other care providers like a patient’s registered nurse or psychologist. Some counseling professionals pursue public education and advocacy work aimed at destigmatizing the act of seeking out mental health support.

The BLS groups earnings for mental counselors with salaries for behavioral disorder and substance abuse counselors. Considered together, professionals in these counseling careers made a median annual salary of $47,660 in May 2020, with the highest 10% of earners making at least $78,700.

Behavioral Disorder Counselor

A counselor in this field will generally work with individuals suffering from a behavioral disorder or struggling to cope with it on a daily basis. Such disorders include attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), oppositional defiant disorder (ODD), and conduct disorder.

In this role, a counselor can assess, diagnose and treat clients, as well as provide management strategies, such as breathing exercises and other calming activities. Behavioral disorder counselors might specialize in working with children, or they may provide care throughout a client’s life.

Substance Abuse or Addiction Counselor

Substance abuse counseling is a key part of the recovery process for people dealing with addiction to drugs, alcohol, or other substances or behaviors. Substance abuse counselors and addiction counselors support clients through processing emotions and examine damaging habits, helping them find ways to recover and regain control of their lives.

In these specializations, counselors can offer coping mechanisms, prevention strategies, and an outlet for client expression. Typically, professionals in these counseling careers provide both individual and group counseling and can adapt their approach to the fundamentally different dynamics in either setting.

Rehabilitation Counselor

A rehabilitation counselor helps people who have mental, emotional, physical, or developmental disabilities achieve independent living goals. This can include anything from securing stable and meaningful employment to adapting to day-to-day life after developing a disability.

With rehabilitation as their focus, these types of counselors are responsible for helping clients find solutions to challenges related to mobility, chronic pain, employment, and quality of life. This process involves identifying a client’s unique abilities and limitations, and finding a path forward through which they can achieve the personal and professional goals they’ve identified.

The BLS reported the median annual wage for rehabilitation counselors was $35,950 in May 2019. The top 10% of earners made at least $63,790.

Crisis or Grief Counselor

Although they are sometimes considered separate counseling careers, crisis counseling, and grief counseling — also called bereavement counseling — require similar skills and experience. One shared competency is practicing empathy, since counselors who treat clients in the midst of grief or crisis must lend an empathetic, yet dispassionate, ear.

It is the crisis or grief counselor’s role to help clients move on from a deeply traumatic event or emotional loss, such as a death in the family, natural disaster, tragic accident, or terrorist attack. Approaching these sensitive matters, and helping clients arrive at a way of living unhampered by the burden of crisis or grief requires specialized skills and knowledge of a wide range of mental health counseling techniques.

ZipRecruiter placed the national average salary for grief counselors at $52,890 per year in April 2021.

Marriage, Couple and Family Counselor

Professionals specializing in marriage and family counseling help their clients deal with internal or relational challenges. Common issues a marriage, couple, and family counselor may help their clients resolve include communication problems, infidelity, anger, death, dysfunctional relationships, and burdensome cultural or family expectations.

Counselors who provide family and couples counseling services draw on advanced skills and intervention techniques, given the age range of their clients and the nature of working in small group sessions.

In May 2020, the BLS reported marriage and family counselors saw median annual earnings of $51,340. The top 10% made at least $92,930.

Veterans Counselor

Members of the armed forces often experience unique traumas requiring dedicated counseling, but they may face the stigma of speaking about or seeking help for mental illness.

Veterans counselors can assist service members in overcoming these pressures and finding support for complications such as depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and difficulties associated with reentering civilian society and the civilian workforce. Counselors might also be asked to help veterans adjust to life after experiencing a traumatic injury or the loss of a limb.

Glassdoor reported the average salary for veterans counselors was $63,647 in April 2021, noting that pay can range from $45,000 to $90,603 in this role.

Professional School Counselor

School counseling is a specialization involving helping students. School counselors often work with students to identify their abilities and interests and consider potential academic and career paths that relate to them. Whether working with elementary, middle, or high school students, a school counselor will help young people address in-class performance issues and social challenges. When working with college students, a school counselor is often known as a career counselor.

At any age, professionals in this area support students in developing skills that will serve them well throughout their education and career, like study techniques, time management, and organizational skills. They will also offer educational programs designed to help students lead responsible personal and social lives, for instance by warning young people about the risks of drugs, alcohol, and bullying.

According to the BLS, school and career counselors earned a median salary of $58,120, as of May 2020. Earners in the top 10% made more than $97,910.

How Do You Start a Career in Counseling?

The qualifications you’ll need to meet for the above counseling careers will vary from state to state. In general, though, you’ll typically need a bachelor’s degree in a related field like psychology. This will usually be followed by earning a master’s degree in counseling, like an online Master of Arts in Counseling (MAC) from Bradley University.

Graduate-level programs in counseling can help you gain the skills and experience needed for jobs in counseling. Both Bradley’s Clinical Mental Health Counseling and Professional School Counseling curricula include courses that will prepare you with a depth and breadth of experience that translates directly to the realities of counseling careers.

For instance, core courses in the online MAC program include Counseling Diverse Populations, Principles of Group Counseling, Brain-Based Interventions, and Counseling: Ethics and the Law. Specialized coursework offers a closer investigation of specific facets of each field — like Special Education Law in the Professional School Counseling curriculum, and Counseling and the Dynamics of Aging in the Clinical Mental Health Counseling focus.

In addition to a master’s in counseling degree, licensure is often required for many counseling careers, especially clinical mental health professions. MAC degree programs are largely designed to prepare students for the National Counselor Examination (NCE), administered by the National Board for Certified Counselors (NBCC). By working with experienced faculty and supportive advisors through an online MAC program, you can learn more about how best to prepare for certification in your chosen profession.

Finally, certain employers may require you to complete an internship or practicum experience to qualify for a counseling career. These experiential learning opportunities are incorporated into the online MAC curriculum at Bradley, helping you get one step closer to your dream job after graduation.

What Career Path Will You Choose as a Counselor?

No matter what counseling profession you want to pursue, a graduate-level education can be invaluable. Earning an online MAC from Bradley can help you compete for top counseling careers and enter the working world with advanced counseling competencies and a direct path to licensure.

To learn more about the online counseling program at Bradley, contact an enrollment advisor today.

Recommended Readings:

Online Masters in Counseling

Substance Abuse Counselor Salary and Potential Careers

How Do You Get Into Rehabilitation Counseling?


BLS — Community and Social Service Occupations

BLS — Substance Abuse, Behavioral Disorder, and Mental Health Counselors

BLS — Marriage and Family Therapists

BLS — Rehabilitation Counselors

BLS — School and Career Counselors — Behavioral Disorders

ZipRecruiter — Grief Counselor Jobs

Glassdoor — U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Mental Health Counselor Salaries