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Child Counselor: Career Information and Requirements

Child 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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A child counselor could be a therapist or counselor working as a marriage or family therapist, a school counselor, or a mental health counselor. Each of these careers requires graduate level education and certification or licensure. They can help children work through emotional issues or traumatic and difficult experiences.

Essential Information

Child counselor isn't a commonly used job title; however, school counselors, mental health counselors and marriage and family therapists (MFTs) work with children who have mental, behavioral or emotional disorders. Most counselor positions, including those working with children, require a minimum of a master's degree as well as state licensure or certification.

Career Titles Marriage and Family Therapist School Counselor Mental Health Counselor
Education Requirements Master's degree Master's degree Master's degree
Other Requirements State licensure State certification or licensure (varies by state) State licensure
Projected Job Growth (2014-2024)* 15% 8% for school and career counselors 20%
Average Salary (2015)* $53,520 $56,490 $45,080

Source: * U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Career Options

Marriage and family therapists, mental health counselors and school counselors work with families and children to manage physical, mental, social and emotional issues. While specific requirements vary slightly by state, school counselors, mental health counselors and marriage and family therapists are required to earn a state-issued credential to practice. A master's degree is the common academic requirement.

School Counselor

School counselors typically work within elementary and secondary schools, colleges and universities. They may provide both group and individual counseling to students seeking academic or career guidance, as well as help them overcome social problems or behavioral issues. They also watch children for signs of neglect, abuse or bullying. School counselors are typically required to have a master's degree in school counseling or a closely related field. School counselors who work in public schools must earn either state certification or licensure, depending on their state. The requirements for this credential typically include completion of a master's degree program and a supervised clinical experience. Some states may also require certification applicants to have teaching experience and a current teaching license.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that school and career counselors were expected to see a 8% increase in employment from 2014-2024, which is about as fast as the national average. The BLS also reported that the group that includes education, school, guidance and vocational counselors made an average salary of $56,490 as of May 2015.

Marriage and Family Therapists and Mental Health Counselors

Marriage and family therapists and mental health counselors work in a variety of environments, ranging from private practices and hospitals to outpatient clinics and government organizations. They must be prepared to deal with many types of issues, using a variety of techniques. These individuals may provide counseling to children through individual, group or family sessions.

Mental health counselors help to identify and treat emotional and mental health issues, such as depression, anxiety and grief. MFTs may help children understand or overcome family and relationship problems, as well as address issues like low self-esteem, addictions or stress. MFTs and mental health counselors may earn a degree in counseling, marriage and family therapy, psychology or a related mental health field.

State licensure for MFTs and mental health counselors requires having a master's degree, completing 2,000-4,000 hours of supervised training and passing an exam. The Association of Marital and Family Therapy Regulatory Boards and National Board for Certified Counselors administer the exams and regulate licensure.

Employment of MFTs and mental health counselors combined was reported by the BLS to increase by 19%, which is faster than average. Individually, marriage and family therapists were expected to see a growth rate of 15% while mental health counselors could see a 20% increase. As of May 2015, MFTs earned an average salary of $53,520, and the average salary for mental health counselors was $45,080.

Education Information

Master's degree programs that prepare students for counseling roles working with children typically include both classroom lectures and hands-on training in the form of supervised clinical experiences, practicums and/or internships. These programs typically take two years to complete, and common course topics include conducting individual and group counseling sessions, working with parents, identifying emotional and behavioral disorders, crisis interventions and psychotherapy.

To become a therapist or counselor who works with children, one must complete a Master's degree. Master's degrees in psychology include programs to become a school counselor, a mental health counselor, or a marriage and family therapist. Licensure or certification is typically required at the state level.

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