Counseling DegreeJob opportunities for people with counseling degrees are on an upward trend, especially for those with specialized training in the treatment of substance abuse and behavioral disorders. People who enjoy helping others, who are empathetic, and who have good skills in interpersonal communication are often drawn to professions in the field of psychology and make the best counselors.

The core elements of working as a counselor are helping individuals, families, and other groups reach their mental health, educational, career, or organizational goals. Since this objective encompasses a wide range of human problems, relationships, and activities, degrees in counseling come in many types. One in four people in the U.S. have some kind of mental health problem, and 1 in 17 have a severe psychiatric disorder, creating a large need for trained counselors and psychologists.

Types of Counseling Degrees

The basic divisions within the counseling field are general psychology, clinical, developmental, school and educational, forensic, industrial, and sports psychology. Within each of these areas of specialization there are bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral counseling degrees available and corresponding levels of licensing, which is done by the state where the person will practice. State licensing is a requirement for practicing any kind of counseling, except peer counseling where people with similar problems help and support one another in psychological healing in an informal setting.

A bachelor’s degree in psychology is needed if you are planning on going on to a graduate degree in the field. Many people take courses in the basic divisions listed above at the bachelor’s degree level, preparing themselves for further training in this specialized area. It is also possible to find work with only a bachelor’s degree in psychology.

People with BAs in psychology often move on to work in the field of marketing, sales, and advertising. The training in communication and understanding of human dynamics that they receive with a BA in psychology can be very useful in these kinds of jobs. Other job opportunities with a BA in psychology include working as a psychiatric or social work technician under the supervision of someone with a master’s or Ph.D. in psychology, teaching clients life skills, assisting people with basic their daily needs, and performing clerical tasks.

The main categories of licensing at the graduate degree level are:

Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW), Licensed Master Social Worker (LMSW), and Licensed Independent Social Worker (LIS). People with these types of counseling degrees often work in social service agencies helping people who are experiencing some form of economic distress, or in communities that are struggling to resolve community based issues like violence, drug problems, or ethnic conflicts.

Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (LMFT) and Marriage, Family and Child Counselors (MFCC) most often work with individuals and families in private practice, helping them resolve personal behavioral or group dynamic problems.

Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioners (PMHNP) are counseling degree holders who have a master’s degree nursing license with a training emphasis in mental health. They are frequently employed in nursing homes, mental health clinics, and detention facilities and work under the supervision of a medical doctor or psychiatrist.

Clinical Psychologists have a Ph.D. in clinical psychology and can engage in counseling directly with clients, supervise clinicians with master’s degree training, and can also engage in scientific research.

Psychiatrists are licensed medical doctors (MD) who also have doctoral training in mental health. They are able to work with clients directly, prescribe medications, and often work supervising councilors and psychologists with master’’s degrees.

There are also degrees for Christian and Pastoral Counseling for those who wish to combine their faith based orientation with a counseling career. A degree in Theology, followed by training in counseling psychology are usually required for this type of degree.

How to Find the Top Counseling Degree Programs

Finding the right college or university for a counseling degree depends on several factors. In order to obtain state licensing to practice, the college or university must be accredited by a state recognized body of accreditation for conferring degrees in psychology.

Beyond accreditation, a college or university’s ranking depends primarily on their name recognition, student to teacher ratio, and availability of financial aid. Both online and campus based psychology degree options are available, although online master’s in psychology degree programs require a practicum or internship at a campus or other facility where the student receives hands-on training in a clinical setting. These internships usually last for several weeks and occur toward the end of the course.

UMass Online is a well respected university that is part of the Massachusetts public university system, offering four master’s degree options in psychology: Master’s of Education and School Counseling, Master’s of Science (MS) in Rehabilitation (a specialty that assists people with disabilities), an MS in Family Therapy, and an MS in Mental Health Counseling. These courses can be done entirely online, followed by a campus-based practicum at the end of the course work.

Walden University is another widely recognized online institution that offers an MS in Career Counseling, an MS in Mental Health Counseling, and an MA in Marriage, Couple and Family Counseling. The Career Counseling degree option requires 70 quarter hours of online course work, and the other two degrees require 90 quarter hours.

The Pastoral Counseling Center is a Christian, faith-based college that offers online BA, MA, and Doctoral degrees in psychology centered around a personality assessment tool called the Arno Profile System (APS). This tool helps identify the strengths and weaknesses in a client’s inborn temperament that is then used in designing and directing an appropriate treatment plan for that individual.

Careers and Salaries for Individuals with Counseling Degrees

Approximately 70 percent of people with master’s and doctoral degrees in counseling psychology are self-employed in private practice. The remainder work in settings such as hospitals, clinics, nursing homes, schools, colleges and universities, detention facilities, social services agencies, and for private companies.

Salary is influenced by the type of counseling degree a person has, the location of their practice, and their level of experience. In 2012 the following average annual salaries were reported by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics:

Substance Abuse Counselors: $38,120
Mental Health Counselors: $38,150,
Marriage, Family and Child Counselors: $45,720.

A degree in counseling can provide a satisfying career with reasonable compensation for people who are drawn to helping others with their mental and behavioral health problems in overcoming their challenges and leading healthy, productive lives.