Career Crossroads: Careers in Counseling

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6a00d83453985369e20168e886bdfb970c-800wiCareers in counseling generally get started with a bachelor's degree, in Human Services, Psychology, or Public Administration. In these programs you learn about human growth and development, personality, societal relationships, substance abuse, and their related disorders. You also become familiar with techniques for addressing problems in those areas, including listening, interviewing, facilitation, conflict management, individual or group therapies, and more. Some of the careers in counseling that can begin with a bachelor's degree include: survey or market researchers, special education teachers, substance abuse or behavioral counselors, and advocates, techs or non-counseling workers in social or community service organizations.

To obtain better-paying jobs in more professional areas, you will advance your career by getting more advanced degrees. Here are a few ideas to help you decide which direction to go:

Mental Health

A career track in counseling may include mental health counselors and marriage and family therapists. These professionals assist people to manage or overcome their mental and emotional disorders. They may advise on working out problems with family and other relationships. Mental health counselors interview and listen to their clients to understand the problems they have and help them develop approaches to resolve their issues. In all U.S. states, these careers require a Master's degree in mental health or marriage and family therapy and a license to get started. Worldwide requirements may be different, but at this time, the US sets the bar.

Education and Academics

Work as a school counselor means you will help students develop social skills and succeed in school. A career counselor assists people to choose a career or educational program and make other key career development decisions. Although a master's degree in school or career counseling, human resources, or child development may not always be required for employment as a school or career counselor. However, most employers prefer people with master's degrees. That means that all else being equal, they will choose the candidate with a master's before one with only a bachelor's degree. Also, many license and credentialing programs require a master's.

Social Work

Careers as a social worker may go in one of two general directions. Direct-service social workers help people face, solve and cope with the problems of everyday life. Clinical social workers diagnose and treat mental, behavioral, and emotional issues. A Master of Social Work (MSW) is generally required and is also a prerequisite for the required license: Licensed Social Worker (LSW) or Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW). On occasion a person may be hired for a career path as a direct-service social worker, but the path will include goals for achieving the MSW and LSW in order to advance.

Substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors advise people who have alcoholism or other types of addiction, eating disorders, or other behavioral problems. They provide treatment and support to help the client recover from addiction or modify problem behaviors. Many of these counselors are former abusers or people who suffered these disorders or had relationships with addicts or behaviorally disordered persons. Although in this arena, experience trumps degrees and licenses to get a career start, advanced education and credentials are preferred and encouraged.

Psychology and Psychiatry

Careers in psychology also have two paths. Psychologists are the ones who study mental processes and human behavior. They observe, interpret, and document treat mental, emotional, and behavioral disorders to help people deal with problems ranging from short-term personal issues to severe, chronic conditions. A Master of Arts in Psychology is the jumping off point, both for employment and the mandatory license. Obtaining a PhD, PsyD or EdD is the way to go to reach the highest career levels in this research profession.

Psychiatrists are medical doctors first. They are physicians with additional specialized education and experience in diagnosis, prevention, and treatment of mental disorders. These are the "counselors" or "therapists" who can write prescriptions. (In some states a psychologist with a postdoctoral degree in psychopharmacology can write a prescription, but mostly they cannot.) Generally, a Psychiatrist gets a bachelor's degree, next the M.D., and then masters four more years of training in issues of mental health to become licensed.

Career Roles

If you really want to be the person providing direct counseling services to individuals, you are probably better off taking your Master's degree in the area of most interest to you. If you prefer to run the business of providing services, you'll want your Master of Business Administration or Master of Public Administration. And, of course, if you plan to teach at the college level, train counselors, conduct research, or prescribe medications, you'll need your doctorate – a PhD, PsyD, MD or EdD.

The job outlook for counselors is expected to grow 12-22% between 2010 and 2020. Some career growth is on pace with the average for all occupations and others are growing faster. None are slower than average. The ultimate job prospects are likely those with doctoral degrees in an applied specialty like school psychology. However, most professionals work on the level of a master's degree with a license.

The bottom line is that the best jobs in a Counseling career, require a master's degree or higher, so you'll need to prepare to make a good score on the GMAT to get into the school you want.

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