Counseling: What You'll Earn

Read about salary and job outlook predictions for counselors.

Median Annual Salary

Counselor salary

It's estimated that one in four Americans is affected by mental health issues each year. Choosing counseling as a career means that you'll face numerous challenges and opportunities—but the social, personal and financial rewards could also be great. Here are some statistics on salaries, job growth, and employer types for counselors.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics' 2014-15 Occupational Outlook Handbook, the median annual salary for licensed mental health counselors is $41,500. Actual salaries may vary greatly based on specialization within the field, location, years of experience and a variety of other factors.

How do counselor salaries compare?

Counseling Career Median Annual Salary*
Mental Health Counselors $41,500
Rehabilitation Counselors $33,880
Substance Abuse Counselors $38,520
Marriage and Family Therapists $46,670
School and Career Counselors $53,610

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ 2014-15 Occupational Outlook Handbook, Counselors.

*The salary information listed is based on a national average, unless noted. Actual salaries may vary greatly based on specialization within the field, location, years of experience and a variety of other factors. National long-term projections of employment growth may not reflect local and/or short-term economic or job conditions, and do not guarantee actual job growth.

What is my earning potential?

Job prospects and salary are dependent on the counseling type, as well as degree and certification level. Typically, counselors who work at local or state government agencies are paid the highest counselor salary, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), followed by hospitals and then residential care facilities. Counselors who have established private practices, as well as counselors employed in a group practice, had the highest counseling psychology salary of all other industries that employed a counselor's services

Is there demand for this career?

According to the BLS, the demand for mental health counselors is expected to grow by 29 percent through 2022, much faster than the average for all occupations. National long-term projections of employment growth may not reflect local and/or short-term economic or job conditions, and do not guarantee actual job growth.

What is the job growth for the field?

Marriage and family therapists are expected to see an increase in employment opportunities at a rate of 29 percent as well. Take a look at how some of the other counseling occupations compare as far as job growth:

Job Outlook Comparison Through 2022

  • Mental Health Counselors—29 percent
  • Marriage and Family Therapists—29 percent
  • Social Workers—19 percent
  • School Counselors—12 percent
  • Rehabilitation Counselors—20 percent

How much competition will I face for a job?

Despite promising job growth reports and the vital role that counselors' play in society, competition may be strong for jobs as growth may be offset by budgets. Counseling programs are often some of the first programs that are reduced when school budgets are cut, according to the U.S. News and World Report article, "A Numbers Game for High School Counselors." Counseling jobs may also face budget constraints in government and social services organizations, making competition for in-demand jobs stiffer.

What kinds of companies hire counselors?

Counselors who are not in private practice are often found in the following industries:

  • Public and private clinics
  • Detention facilities
  • Hospitals
  • Nursing homes
  • Rehabilitation centers
  • Schools
  • Universities
  • Government agencies
  • Social service organizations

In the private sector, counselors and mental health professionals practice in businesses where people are the primary focus. By understanding the needs of people and organizations, professional counselors can help employers hire and keep the best employees.

Community counselors play a similar type of role, only instead of counseling a company, they work within the community. They assess the needs of a community in areas such as crime reduction, better food sources or housing needs.

How do I advance in my counselor career?

Professional development through continuing education is an important factor for advancement in a counseling career.  With advanced degrees and continuing education and experience, some counselors may advance to positions such as head counselor, or move into administrative roles in any number of industries.

Another way to advance is to get certified, and most states require counselors to be certified or licensed. The National Board for Certified Counselors (NBCC) grants a general practice credential, National Certified Counselor (NCC), to counselors who have passed their examination, have completed a graduate degree and have two years of fieldwork under their belt.

Earning certification or licensure shows potential employers that you are a qualified and accomplished professional in your chosen career, and may play a role in employment decisions or promotions.