Career Development

Counselor Job Description: Salary, Duties, & More

Counselors are critical members of the mental health care team. They help individuals, couples, families, and groups to cope with a wide range of issues. They often work with people who are struggling with depression, anxiety, trauma, addiction, or other personal concerns that have a negative impact on their quality of life.

Counselors are critical members of the mental health care team. They help individuals, couples, families, and groups to cope with a wide range of issues. They often work with people who are struggling with depression, anxiety, trauma, addiction, or other personal concerns that have a negative impact on their quality of life.

Counselors are trained to help people identify the issues they’re dealing with and come up with effective ways to tackle them. They may focus on different areas of counseling, such as career counseling, marriage counseling, grief counseling, etc. These professionals have a unique combination of skills including communication, empathy, assessment, and problem-solving skills.

Read on to learn more about what it’s like to be a counselor and what it takes to become one yourself.

Counselor Job Duties

The following are typical job duties for counselors:

  • Conducting assessments of client needs and skills using psychological tests or tools such as Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) tests or the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory (MMPI) test
  • Conduct group therapy sessions with individuals or couples using a variety of psychotherapeutic techniques, including cognitive-behavioral therapy, family systems, and art therapy
  • Provide individual counseling to patients with a range of issues such as depression or anxiety disorders, substance abuse problems, vocational conflicts, chronic pain management issues, or life crises
  • Meet regularly with clients to discuss progress on goals and addresses any challenges they are facing in treatment
  • Participate in team meetings as necessary to discuss case details and treatment plans
  • Participating in outreach activities such as providing mental health screenings at senior centers, schools, or community centers
  • Preparing reports on patient progress and submitting them to medical staff and other healthcare professionals for review and approval

Counselor Salary & Outlook

The median annual wage for counselors is $59,145. Those earning higher wages tend to work for state and local government agencies, and the highest earners of the profession make over $107,000 per year.

The employment of counselors is expected to grow much faster than average over the next decade. This is due to an increasing interest in counseling as a means to manage stress and improve mental health.

Counselor Job Requirements

There are a number of requirements for counselors. They include:

Education: Some employers may only require a bachelor’s degree in psychology or a related field, but most prefer applicants with a master’s degree. These programs not only help students develop the knowledge they need to succeed, but they also provide them with training and practical skills that they will need as a counselor.

Training: Most counselors gain hands-on training in a clinical setting through their post-graduate program. They also often attend workshops to improve their skills and those of their coworkers. These workshops can last anywhere from one day to two weeks and cover topics like mental health and addiction, adolescent issues, and families and children.

Certifications & Licenses: Professional counselors earn certification from the National Board for Certified Counselors (NBCC). To earn this certification, counselors must fulfill certain academic requirements, pass a written exam and complete 50 hours of continuing education every renewal cycle. Licensed marriage and family therapists earn state-specific licensure from their state board of behavioral health professions. They must have completed at least two years of supervised clinical training under the supervision of a counselor licensed by that board before they can sit for their state licensing exam. In most states, these licenses are valid for five years before they must be renewed with continuing education credits or re-examination.

Counselor Skills

In relation to the relevant training and education, counselors need the following skills to succeed:

Empathy: Counselors must have empathy in order to understand what their clients are going through and help them feel understood and supported. 

Communication skills: Counselors must be able to communicate effectively and listen attentively to clients.

Interpersonal skills: The ability to get along well with others is essential in a counseling position. Counselors must also be respectful of different beliefs, lifestyles, and values in order to work well with people from all backgrounds. 

Confidentiality: A counselor must keep everything you tell him or her confidential, which means not sharing any information with anyone else. This is so important that it’s actually one of the first things you learn when you study counseling. Keeping a professional attitude in all patient interactions creates a reliable reputation in the industry.

Organizational skills: Organizational skills are necessary for keeping records of sessions and patients, as well as organizing files and paperwork.

Stress management skills: Because counseling can be emotionally demanding, counselors must possess resilience and the ability to manage their stress levels. If a crisis arises while counseling a client, counselors need to stay calm and think rationally about how best to handle the situation. 

Counselor Work Environment

Counselors work in a variety of settings, including schools, hospitals, businesses, and non-profit organizations. Counselors often spend much of their time talking with clients one-on-one or in small groups. They may also have to meet with clients over the phone. Some travel often to meet clients. 

Many counselors are self-employed. This means they must set up an office wherever they want to work. They do not have regular business hours because they accept clients only when the clients are available. As a result, many counselors work evenings, weekends, and holidays. 

Counselors’ days can be stressful, as they deal with people who struggle with personal problems. Because counselors also spend much of their time helping people make challenging decisions, this job requires great patience.

Counselor Career Path

Getting Started

An entry-level counselor assists a more experienced professional in a variety of ways, including conducting intake interviews, helping clients fill out forms, and providing support for the work of the clinical staff. New counselors are expected to learn the organization’s protocols and procedures while carrying out their assigned duties. Most counseling organizations establish mentor relationships with more senior counselors and help new counselors become familiar with effective techniques for managing people. Satisfaction is average; the hours are long.

Five Years On The Job

Counselors now have the confidence of more experienced therapists and may be hired as staff therapists or supervisors. Therapy is now their primary responsibility, and many counselors find this aspect very satisfying. They also develop the ability to work with clients on an individual basis as well as in groups, and they can choose areas of specialty such as child counseling or crisis intervention. They may supervise other counselors or staff members or lead group therapy sessions. The position’s salary increases and satisfaction remains high.

Ten Years On The Job

After ten years, counselors can expect to supervise a staff of other counselors and also work independently with clients. They may form private practices or become part of a larger agency; either way, their counseling duties continue to increase significantly. Some counseling professionals pursue advanced degrees and/or join professional associations (such as the American Counseling Association) that offer networking opportunities and additional education opportunities that can enhance their careers.

Counselor Trends

Here are three trends influencing how counselors work. Counselors will need to stay up-to-date on these developments to keep their skills relevant and maintain a competitive advantage in the workplace.

Increased Awareness of Mental Health Issues

Due to greater awareness of mental health issues, counselors are being required to develop specialized knowledge in order to provide effective treatment for clients with a variety of different disorders.

Mental health issues have received increased attention in recent years, especially as they relate to stress-related concerns.

This trend is likely to continue as mental health professionals will need to understand the unique needs of each individual client and develop strategies for treatment that focus on their specific needs. 

Online Therapy

Online therapy is a growing trend in the counseling profession that has seen some significant growth in recent years.

While there are numerous ways to deliver therapy online, some of the most popular include live-streaming video chat services, web-based chat programs and text messaging support groups. 

Increased Importance of Cross-Cultural Understanding

As the world becomes more interconnected, and as immigrants and refugees become a larger percentage of the population in developed countries, cross-cultural understanding is becoming increasingly important for counselors.

In order to help clients from different backgrounds find effective solutions to their problems, counselors will need to have a solid understanding of different cultures and how they impact the decisions that people make.

How to Become a Counselor

1. Planning Your Career

If you’re interested in a career as a counselor, it’s important to first determine what type of counseling interests you most. The field is very broad and includes mental health counselors, addiction counselors, marriage and family counselors, and school counselors.

Counselors typically need to be able to listen well and have good communication skills; some may even require experience working with patients under stressful conditions. 

Since counseling is an emotional field, being able to relate to people on a personal level is also beneficial. To determine if this is the right career for you, consider taking a class in human development at your local community college or enrolling in a counseling course online.

2. Writing a Resume

The best resumes for counselors highlight their problem-solving skills, ability to empathize with clients, and strong communication skills. Be sure to include any relevant certification you have. Since your job involves a lot of client contact, describe previous jobs in which you had a high level of interaction with clients or customers.

Since counselors typically work one-on-one with clients, employers will want to see your communications skills in action. In addition to listing your communication skills such as active listening and the ability to empathize with others, describe specific instances of where you used these skills successfully. You can also emphasize how you utilized these skills in order to motivate people or achieve a goal.

3. Applying for Jobs

Find out if your desired employer offers internships or apprenticeships. If they do, make sure to check for open positions and apply as soon as possible. It’s also a good idea to attend counselor career fairs, especially those attended by your desired employer. 

Once you’ve established yourself as a valuable member of the counseling community, make sure to keep up-to-date on the latest trends. You can find relevant job listings through counseling associations and other relevant websites, but also take the time to search the Internet for blogs written by counselors. The information you glean from them can help guide your job search and give you a more detailed idea of what the industry is looking for.

4. Ace the Interview

When you are interviewing for a counseling position, the interviewer is assessing your interpersonal skills as well as your ability to manage stress and handle conflict. Whether you’re applying for a clinical or school counseling position, think about how you can connect your previous experience to the job at hand. If you’ve previously worked with clients in some capacity (either professionally or through volunteer work), use that experience to demonstrate your ability to build rapport with others.

In addition to outlining your communication skills, be sure to highlight any experience working in an environment with diverse populations. This will help the interviewer understand that your understanding of different cultures will make it possible for you to work with people from different backgrounds.

Also don’t forget that this position will require expertise in mental health issues and/or education. Make sure that these topics are familiar to you so that if they come up during the interview, you will be able to discuss them comfortably and confidently.


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