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Behavioral Health Counseling Jobs: Options and Requirements

Behavioral health counselors require a significant amount of formal education. Learn about the education, job duties, and licensure requirements to see if this is the right career for you.

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Some of the places that employ behavioral health counselors include colleges, schools, outpatient clinics, civic organizations, hospitals and substance abuse facilities. These professionals work with individuals with behavior issues or individuals coping with addiction. They are expected to experience a high rate of job growth from 2014 to 2024.

Essential Information

Behavioral health counselors have extensive education and training in helping those suffering from addition, behavioral problems and other disorders. To be licensed in most states, behavioral health counselors are required to obtain a master's degree and participate in internships, co-ops, and other professional training.

Required Education Master's degree
Other Requirements State licensure
Projected Job Growth (2014-2024)* 22%
Average Salary (2015)* $42,920

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Industry Options

Many behavioral health counselors work in private clinics or are self-employed. Besides private practices, counselors might find positions at outpatient care centers or in hospitals. Some work at mental health, psychiatric or substance abuse facilities. Others work for schools, rehabilitation centers, civic organizations or government outreach programs.

According to the U.S. Bureau Of Labor Statistics (BLS), behavioral disorder and substance abuse counselors earned an average salary of $42,920 per year in 2015, with exact earnings varying by industry (www.bls.gov). Those working for junior colleges were the highest-paid within the profession that year, earning an average yearly wage of $72,520. Those who worked for other types of schools also fared well, with an average annual salary of $55,440.

Individuals can benefit from the presence of on-call specialists that provide behavioral services at frequently reduced rates. The most frequent employers of behavioral and substance abuse counselors in 2015, as per BLS data, were outpatient care centers, who paid an average salary of $42,290 per year. Residential facilities offered an average annual wage of $38,500 and were the second-highest employer for the field at that time.

Job Outlook

The BLS reported that in 2014, there were 94,900 behavioral health and substance abuse counselors working in the U.S. This number was predicted to increase by 22% between 2014 and 2024, which is faster than the average rate for all the country's occupations. Part of this increase may be attributed to the increasing tendency to order rehabilitation services rather than jail time for those convicted of drug offenses. In 2008, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) reported that 58.7% of American adults with serious mental illnesses received treatment.

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Behavioral Health Counseling Requirements

Degree Programs

Behavioral health counselors need at least master's degrees to be licensed in most states, but must first complete bachelor's degree programs. Some universities specifically offer Bachelor of Science in Behavioral Counseling degree programs. The curriculum often includes courses in oral and written communication, statistics, chemistry, biology, counseling, interventions, rehabilitation and psychopharmacology. Students may also be required to gain practical experience by participating in internships or co-op programs. Undergraduates can also pursue bachelor's degrees in fields like human development, health promotion, psychology, sociology and biology before going on to more specialized master's degree programs.

Master's degree programs in addictions counseling or mental health counseling offer more specialized courses, such as advanced counseling, substance abuse rehabilitation, addiction prevention techniques and behavioral medicine. Degree candidates need to complete internships performed under the supervision of licensed counselors, as well as produce theses on original topics of research.

Licensure and Certification

While most states require counselors be licensed, licensure requirements vary from state to state. Some states accept high school diplomas to work as substance abuse counselors, while others require master's degrees. Those who work for public schools may also be required to earn teaching licenses. Continuing education is often required to maintain licensure. Additionally, to enhance their job prospects, counselors can choose to be voluntarily certified by organizations like the National Board for Certified Counselors or the Commission on Rehabilitation Counselor Certification.

Behavioral health counselors are required to have a master's degree in a relevant field, such as behavioral counseling. They must gain practical experience through a co-op program or internship as part of their training, and must be licensed by the state. They are employed by many types of facilities that offer counseling services.

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