Licensed professional counselors are mental health professionals who work to help people resolve their psychological, emotional, and substance abuse problems. They typically specialize in areas such as school, family, substance abuse and mental health. Most complete post-graduate degrees that usually includes time spent in supervised clinical training.
Licensed professional counselors evaluate and treat patients through therapy and other means to help them resolve their problems. Individuals interested in this profession will need a graduate degree plus state licensure.
|Required Education||Graduate degree|
|Other Requirements||Licensure required in all states|
|Mean Annual Wage (2015)*||$45,080 for mental health counselors|
|Projected Job Growth (2014-2024)*||19% for mental health counselors and marriage and family therapists|
*Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
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Licensed Professional Counselor Education Requirements
Most licensed professional counseling jobs require the minimum of a master's degree. Prior to attending graduate school, students complete a bachelor's program in psychology or a related major. Undergraduate programs may include coursework in human development, assessment, foundations of behavior and statistics. Some programs offer elective courses relevant to specific counseling professions.
Master's degree programs specific to major counseling professions, such as marriage and family therapy or school counseling, are available. These curricula include counseling techniques, research models and statistics. Students are required to complete clinical experience by working in the field under licensed supervisors. Programs may base their curricula off of state requirements.
While standards vary by state, many counseling professions are regulated. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), common state requirements are a master's degree, passing score on a licensing exam and professional experience (www.bls.gov). In addition to gaining licensure, many states have continuing education standards that counselors must meet to remain eligible.
The National Board for Certified Counselors (NBCC) certifies counselors who pass a certifying examination as National Certified Counselors (www.nbcc.org). Some states use this exam as their licensing examination. The NBCC also offers specialty certifications in areas like mental health and addictions. These certifications come with continuing education requirements.
Licensed Professional Counselor Job Duties
Counselors work in a variety of concentrations, including school, family, substance abuse and mental health. While each specialty has its own duties, most counselors conduct individual or group therapy sessions to identify their patient's problematic issues. According to the American Counseling Association, counselors examine a patient's thoughts, feelings and behaviors to create a plan for improvement (www.counseling.org). They may refer a case to a psychologist, psychiatrist or other professional if a situation warrants it.
Counselors need strong communication skills, especially during therapy sessions. They need to be ethical and comfortable in stressful situations. Counselors may interact with individuals closely related to a patient, such as friends or parents.
Salary and Employment Information
The BLS offers several different job growth statistics for professional counselors, which are broken down by the specific industry of employment. As an example, employment of mental health counselors is expected to increase by 19% between 2014 and 2024, which is faster than the national average for all occupations. These counselors earned an average of $45,080 per year.
Licensed professional counselors are typically required to have a master's degree in order to work in the profession. Many states also require licensure which requires meeting educational milestones and passing an exam. The growth rate for mental health counselors is faster than the job market as a whole, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.