Students who are considering a career in mental health often ask, “What can I do with a masters in counseling?”

Counselors play an important role in shaping healthy communities and guiding people through difficult experiences. With a master’s degree in counseling, professional counselors are able to become licensed and pursue a wider range of specialized fields.

Not only are counseling jobs abundant now, but the occupation is steadily growing. The Bureau of Labor Statistics expects the demand for addiction, behavioral, and mental health counselors to increase by 23 percent from 2020 to 2030.

If you’re passionate about helping people work through social, behavioral, or psychological problems, earning a graduate degree in counseling can put you on the path to a fulfilling career.

What is a Counselor?

A counselor’s role is to help clients develop healthy communication and coping skills, promote positive behavior change, and identify ways to solve problems that are causing emotional distress, according to the American Counseling Association.

Every stage of life comes with major decisions and challenges that can become an ongoing source of stress. When people have trouble navigating these hurdles, seeking advice from a professional counselor is one way to take care of their mental or emotional needs.

Whether you work with individuals, families, couples, or groups, professional counseling involves fostering relationships that empower your clients to make productive decisions in everyday life. Counselors engage with diverse populations and handle sensitive information about clients, so it’s important that you’re comfortable working with many different types of people.

What can you do with a Master’s Degree in Counseling?

Below are some of the most commonly sought career paths for individuals who have earned their master’s degree in counseling.

1. Licensed Mental Health Counselor (LMHC)

A licensed mental health counselor is the most common designation for people who obtain a master’s degree in counseling.

LMHCs work with their clients in order to improve their mental wellbeing and, ultimately, their quality of life. This often involves a variety of different forms of therapy and interventions as is required for the individual. The goal is to help patients understand their own behavior and emotional triggers, so they can learn healthy methods of managing stress, relationships, and challenges.

On average, LMHCs earn $72,530 per year, according to Salary.com. Specialists who work in mental health counseling are trained to treat conditions such as depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), addiction, personality disorders, eating disorders, and dementia.

LMHCs can run a private practice, and in the majority of U.S. states, they are authorized to officially diagnose mental health conditions. Many LMHCs go on to perform work in other specialized roles, either through further certification or post-graduate supervised experience.

In order to become a licensed mental health counselor, you must:

  • Earn an appropriate undergraduate degree, such as a bachelor’s of psychology
  • Earn a master’s degree in counseling that fulfills the educational requirements for the role
  • Complete pre- and post-master’s field experience
  • Pass the National Clinical Mental Health Counselor Examination (NCMHCE) licensing board examination
  • Apply for licensure

2. Addictions Counselor

An addiction counselor provides therapeutic treatment for chemical addictions, such as drug and alcohol abuse, or behavioral addictions, such as binge eating and gambling.

Therapy is often focused on identifying emotional patterns, relationship dynamics, and environmental factors that lead to addictive behavior. By sharing their experiences, gaining peer support, and building self-awareness, clients learn strategies to reduce triggers and adopt better habits.

A master’s degree isn’t required for many types of addiction counseling, but it opens the door to higher-paying jobs and a greater variety of work settings. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that the median yearly earnings for substance abuse counselors and behavioral disorder counselors is $47,660, and the top 10 percent of earners make more than $78,700.

Some master’s degree in counseling programs, such as Regis, offer a specialized track that focuses on addictions counseling that individuals interested in that particular career can pursue.

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3. College Counseling

College and school counselors offer crisis support and aid students in managing their academic and career goals. College isn’t a one-size-fits-all experience, so students often need guidance on how to optimize school resources, balance responsibilities, and make beneficial career decisions.

Also, certain mental health disorders frequently manifest during early adulthood or teen years. When combined with the inherent pressures of transitioning to harder coursework and living independently for the first time, a hectic college environment can exacerbate mental health issues or cause students to struggle socially and emotionally.

Expect to earn an average salary of $82,066 a year as a college counselor, according to ZipRecruiter.

4. Career Counseling

Similar to a college counselor, career counselors become familiar with a client’s personality and goals to help them find compatible employment. They receive training on how to evaluate a client’s motivations, interests, and skills and match those traits to relevant occupations. Job counselors typically work in colleges, staffing agencies, social service career centers, large corporations, or private practices.

Clients may seek help when joining the workforce for the first time, changing careers, training for new jobs at their current workplace, or returning to the workforce after a period of unemployment. Professional counselors are knowledgeable about the requirements for pursuing different fields, so they can help students or professionals develop an achievable career plan. The median salary for a career counselor is $58,120 per year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

5. Other Career Paths

A key benefit of the counseling field is that jobs exist in a variety of work environments, and individual practitioners can develop niche specialities to serve different populations. Depending on the type of counseling you’re interested in, you could work in community health centers, outpatient centers, correctional facilities, youth service organizations, rehabilitation centers, or mental health units in hospitals.

If you’re interested in serving specific clientele, such as domestic abuse survivors, chronically ill patients, or mature adults, then shelters, cancer centers, and geriatric care centers provide additional options.

Breaking Into the Field

Earning a master’s degree in counseling gives you the opportunity to further explore many of these subjects and decide which roles are appealing to you. Since each institution offers electives that go beyond the core curriculum, it’s important to research and compare schools to find a degree program that’s compatible with your goals.

Breaking into the field will be less challenging if you take advantage of all the resources available through your institution, such as supervised internship experiences in mental health treatment settings.

Once you earn a master’s degree, most states require you to complete two years of full-time supervised on-the-job experience (approx. 3360 hours) to be eligible to get licensed as an LMHC. During this time, you can gain a firsthand look at different roles and a better understanding of the types of therapy you find rewarding.

The good news is a counseling career can evolve with your interests, and the skills you develop in this job are transferable across many specialties.

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