Mental health counselors represent a rapidly growing career field in the United States today. This is not because people have more mental health issues, but rather because more issues are finally earning recognition for the problems that they are. Bygone descriptors such as "lazy," "stupid" and "mean" are being recognized for the distinct disabilities which they so often represent. An increasing number of counseling specialties exist, to help people afflicted with these conditions develop treatments and coping strategies that get them through the day more productively than they otherwise might have.
With all of this responsibility, mental health counselors face a career path that is as demanding as it is rewarding. And, there's no shame in asking in advance: how much do these specialized counselors earn?
What is a Counselor's Earning Potential?
There are more than 170,000 counselors at work in the US today, employed as general practitioners as well as in a wide range of specialties. On average, a general counselor takes home a little more than $40,000 per year. This isn't the most exciting take-home pay around, and in today's economic conditions, it will likely require a second family member to be employed full-time in order to make ends meet. However, many factors can affect a counselor's take-home pay. Location, degree program, degree level and experience are only a few of the many factors which can be parlayed into a higher pay scale by the qualified counseling professional.
What Are the Requirements to Become a Counselor?
Counseling degrees relate primarily to educational, coaching and communications skills. They may also rely on business and leadership abilities, particularly in the conveyance of such skills to a counselor's patients. Despite what many people think, counseling is a distinct specialization from psychology, and a psychology degree is not the primary qualifier for the position. A Bachelor's degree or higher is usually required to serve as a counselor, making this one of the best-paying positions with a lot of job growth available to today's undergraduate students. A Master's degree can unlock the doors to specialties such as higher education counseling, employment counseling, occupational therapy, marriage counseling, and more. These specialties are also increasing in demand, and they frequently pay a lot more.
What Are Some of the Highest Paid Counseling Specialties?
Early in a counselor's career, someone with the right qualifications can branch out to specialize in marriage or family therapy, with the expectation of making as much as $10,000 more per year for catering to a select clientele in an in-demand field. General occupational therapists make slightly less than marriage counselors, but experienced occupational therapists who can work with people in a particular field (such as law enforcement officers, medical professionals, and business executives) may expect to earn a lot more. Some counseling specialties pay upwards of $90,000 per year on average to qualified professionals, and there are opportunities in the public and private sectors.
As of 2016, the average annual salary for mental health counselors was approximately US$43,000 per year. Specialized therapists, such as those confronting marriage, family and employment issues primarily, earned a little bit more. Their average wages work out to about US$50,000 per year. These averages are steadily increasing as the demand for counseling services goes up; with a projected growth rate of almost 20% over the next few years, this represents one of the fastest-growing industries in the United States today — as well as one that is dinstinctly immune to automation.