Residential Counselor Jobs: Career Options and Requirements

Learn about the education and preparation needed to become a residential counselor. Get a quick view of the requirements as well as details about degree programs, job duties and licensure to find out if this is the career for you.

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Residential counselors work in homes including those for youth, people with mental or physical disabilities, or elderly people no longer able to care for themselves. Most hold a bachelor's degree, but a master's degree is required for certain specialties, such as rehabilitation counselors.

Essential Information

The main responsibilities of a residential counselor include providing therapy and support to those involved in residential care situations, designing and facilitating programs, and overseeing troubled residents. Since these professionals often work long hours, they typically live where they work. A lot of these counselors work in youth homes, making sure the youth are socializing in a healthy manner. These counselors can also work in substance abuse residential facilities, where they facilitate group meetings and help establish recovery methods. In order for students to become a residential counselor, they must obtain a license or certification. Interning and volunteering is also a requirement for students. In terms of education, students can get their bachelor's and then master's in several different fields, such as psychology or social work.

Education Requirements Bachelor's or Master's degree
Other Requirements Licensure or certification required
Job Growth (2014-24)* 9% (for rehabilitation counselors)
Median Salary (2015)* $34,390 (for rehabilitation counselors)

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

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Career Options for Residential Counselors

Residential counselors provide counseling and therapeutic care in a variety of residential care situations. They are typically required to work on call for long hours. In many instances, residential counselors are required to live at their workplace for maximum availability. Many of their specific tasks will depend on the nature of the residential care facility at which they are employed.

Residential counselors may work in youth homes. In this context, they may work with troubled youth with a variety of behavioral issues and developmental problems. They are often responsible for supervision and oversight of particularly troubled residents, designing and facilitating programs of social interaction and working with youth on a one-on-one, therapeutic basis.

They may also work in psychiatric facilities. In this context, residential counselors are often responsible for designing and overseeing day-to-day activities for patients and constructing a social program that provides opportunities for social rehabilitation. In addition, residential counselors in a psychiatric context are responsible for crisis intervention and patient evaluation.

Residential counselors may work in substance abuse rehabilitation facilities. In these settings, counselors are responsible for facilitating support groups and crafting an environment that corresponds with established recovery methods.

There are a variety of other group residences in which residential counselors may work. In all cases, residential counselors must be flexible and devoted, working long, often unpredictable, hours to care for their residents.

Requirements for Residential Counselors

Residential counselors are almost always required to hold a license or certification. A bachelor's degree in social work, psychology or a related major is often an important first step towards a career in residential counseling. Many bachelor's degree programs provide opportunities for internship or clinical experience.

It is important that prospective residential counselors spend at least two years interning or volunteering to gain experience in a group home or other residential setting. Licensure requirements usually include the completion of a master's degree in counseling, completion of two years of supervised clinical experience, passing a state exam and annual enrollment in continuing education.

Employment Outlook and Salary Information

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) does not offer employment outlook or salary information specific to residential counselors; however, it does provide information on the related careers of rehabilitation and substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors. The employment of rehabilitation counselors is estimated to increase by 9% and that of substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors by 22% between 2014 and 2024. Both of these percentage rates are faster than the national average for all occupations. The BLS further reports that rehabilitation counselors earn a median annual income of $34,390 as of May 2015, and substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors earn a median annual income of $39,980 as of May 2015.

Residential counselors typically require a bachelor's or master's degree in their field of expertise, as well as licensure and supervised internship or volunteer experience. In order to maintain licensure, counselors must participate in continuing education. Job growth varies by specialty, but residential counselor positions in general should increase at a faster rate than the average of all occupations in the 2012-2024 decade.

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