Choosing the right career is about balancing your personal interests with earning a suitable income. Because of the time, energy, and money that go into completing a postgraduate education, it’s normal to be curious about the average salary you can earn as a counselor and the return on investment for any advanced degree—and that includes a Masters in Counseling.

Although an undergraduate degree is enough for many entry-level jobs, with a masters in counseling, salary outlook significantly improves. As more people come to understand the benefits of counseling, the demand for qualified counselors continues to increase.

In 2019 alone, 19.86 percent of adults (roughly 50 million people) dealt with mental illness, according to Mental Health America (MHA). However, due to shortages in mental health care providers around the country and other barriers to access, 22.3 percent of adults with mental illnesses reported that their treatment needs were unmet.

The current gaps in coverage mean the counseling field offers ongoing job growth and upward mobility for psychology professionals who are interested in expanding their skills. As a master’s degree is typically required for licensure, going to graduate school is the most important thing you can do to boost your earnings potential as a counselor.

Average Salary After Earning a Masters in Counseling

Professional counselors work with clients to foster mental wellness, cope with emotional trauma, and make positive choices. Because they practice in a wide range of environments, counselors have a great deal of flexibility in choosing the focus of their studies. Many factors, including location, specialization, and years of experience, play a role in income, making it difficult to speak to salary based solely on the degree.

The best way of understanding the average salary associated with a particular degree is to compare occupations held by professionals who have earned this degree. The most common job titles for someone who earns a Masters in Counseling include:

  • Licensed Mental Health Counselor (LMHC)
  • Career and School Counselors
  • Substance Abuse and Mental Health Counselors

1. Licensed Mental Health Counselor Salary

Licensed mental health counselors are graduate-level practitioners who have undergone supervised clinical training in the field. Once licensed, LMHCs work generally to help their clients improve their mental wellbeing and lives. They do this by leveraging a variety of treatment techniques and methodologies in a variety of settings.

Depending on the state which licensed them, LMHCs may have the authority to diagnose and treat mental illnesses and behavioral disorders, such as depression, post-traumatic stress, personality disorders, and substance use disorders. LMHCs also have the option to branch out to other specialties, such as marriage and family therapy, or start a private practice.

The average annual salary for a licensed mental health counselor is $70,755, according to ZipRecruiter. In Massachusetts, that number jumps up to an average of $78,263. While the top earners take home more than $104,000 a year, the majority of LMHC salaries range from $$55,000 to $82,500. Demand for LMHCs is among the highest in the field. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects an average of 41,000 new jobs in mental health counseling annually from 2020 to 2030.

2. Substance Use Disorders and Mental Health Counselors

Mental health issues often contribute to substance use, and vice versa. The National Institute of Mental Health reported that about 50 percent of people with substance use disorders also cope with a co-occurring mental disorder.

Substance addiction counselors and mental health counselors must be equipped to manage these overlapping needs, helping patients to work through emotional crises in healthy ways while reducing dependency on harmful substances.

The median salary for an addictions counselor is $43,789, with the upper 10 percent earning more than $78,700, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. In Massachusetts, addiction counselors can expect to earn pay of approximately $60,220, and more in urban areas like Boston. Demand is high for jobs in addiction counseling, due in part to a growing movement to manage substance abuse conflicts through therapy, rather than incarceration. BLS projects a 23 percent increase in job growth between 2020 and 2030.

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3. Career and School Counselor Salary

Career counselors or coaches help students and working professionals explore occupations and make plans to further their education or career. Similarly, school counselors foster student success by assessing their academic performance and identifying areas for improvement. In both roles, counselors may address underlying issues affecting a client’s career or academic life, such as social skills, anxiety, time management, or lack of focus.

School counselors practice at all levels of education, ranging from elementary to postgraduate students. Career counselors work with adults and are usually employed in colleges, organizations, or private coaching firms.

The median salary for career and school counselors is $58,120 per year, according to the BLS, and employment in the field is expected to grow 11 percent from 2020 to 2030.

4. Social Worker Salary

Social workers provide support and advocacy for people who are coping with challenges in everyday life by finding programs and resources that can help. Social workers need to be skilled at building relationships because they are tasked with assessing the needs of individuals or communities who may be dealing with a variety of physical, mental, or environmental obstacles, such as abuse, illness, low income, unemployment, or addiction.

While many aspiring social workers choose to earn their Master of Social Work (MSW) in order to break into the field, it is also possible to become a social worker with a Master in Counseling. This degree is often held by individuals who started their career in a counseling capacity before moving into social work.

Government agencies, schools, shelters, community centers, and group homes are the most common places where social workers are employed, and annual median pay for this role is $51,760, according to BLS.

The demand is highest for child, family, and school social workers or healthcare social workers. However, social workers have clients of all ages, making their services highly valued in managing problems at different stages of life. As a result, BLS estimates a 12 percent increase in job growth for social workers between 2020 and 2030.

A Rewarding Career

Salary outlook is an important consideration when planning for the future, but it isn’t the only factor that potential students should think about before choosing a degree program. More often, individuals go into counseling out of a desire to help others. Listening, empathizing, and research are the foundations of counseling jobs, and professionals in this field must be willing to work with diverse communities with a variety of perspectives.

If you’re passionate about helping people find meaning and empowerment in their lives, it’s a good idea to research the counseling fields that match your interests. From there, you can find a master’s degree program with a curriculum that suits your career goals, so your educational investment is more likely to yield the best results.

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