Master of Arts (MA): Professional Counseling Degree Overview

Master of Arts programs in professional counseling prepare prospective counselors to offer guidance to distressed patients in settings like schools, community programs and medical facilities. Learn about the program, coursework and job outlook.

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Essential Information

The majority of M.A. degree programs will only accept applicants who already hold the equivalent of a bachelor's degree, usually in a related field, such as psychology, social work or education. Some programs require applicants to be eligible for teacher certification. Many M.A. programs offer concentration options, such as marriage and family therapy. Internships are often required for graduation.

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Master's Degree in Professional Counseling

Within M.A. programs, students typically learn techniques for listening to patients, identifying potential patient issues and making recommendations for treatment. Students can also learn about the legal issues related to counseling, including patient confidentiality, and liability. Common coursework includes:

  • Counseling techniques
  • Group counseling methods
  • Abnormal psychology
  • Lifespan development
  • Child psychology
  • Addiction counseling

Popular Career Options

Master's degree programs in counseling can lead to a variety of counseling jobs, though some careers may require specialized training, licensure, or certification. After meeting the correct requirements, individuals who complete a master's degree in counseling may become:

  • School counselors
  • Drug abuse counselors
  • Marriage and family counselors
  • Vocational counselors

Employment Outlook and Salary Info

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), employment of marriage and family therapists and mental health counselors is projected to increase by 19% during the 2014-2024 decade (www.bls.gov). School and career counselors should see an 8% increase. Based on 2015 data from the BLS, marriage and family therapists earned a median yearly salary of $48,600. School and vocational counselors received $53,600, while mental health counselors earned $41,800.

Continuing Education

Individuals who want to enter the professional counseling field of school counseling may need to complete additional coursework to obtain teaching credentials or licenses in accordance with state guidelines. Counseling certification programs are usually voluntary, but workers can pursue these programs by meeting educational requirements and passing certification exams. Counselors who wish to become psychologists or those who want to enter into upper administrative counseling positions may need to earn doctoral degrees within their counseling fields of specialty. A doctorate degree in counseling or counseling education could also lead to positions in academia or research.

Students interested in professional counseling can earn their master's degree to work as various kinds of counselors, most of which can expect positive job growth. Graduates may need additional credentials, licenses or certifications depending on their area of expertise.

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