Counselors provide various types of counseling, support services and rehabilitation services in a variety of community settings. Their duties vary depending on their specialty. Counselors often assist families, children and adults that have issues such addictions, mental health disorders, employment needs, disabilities and problems associated with school. Counselors need to discover the problems their clients are dealing with and offer counseling and appropriate resources.

Educational, vocational and school counselors offer personal, social, career and educational counseling to individuals and groups. They help students evaluate their interests, abilities and talents in order to develop academic and career goals. They collaborate with teachers, parents, school psychologists, school administrators and others to determine and implement strategies to help students succeed.

Vocational counselors, also known as employment counselors, typically offer career counseling services outside of school environments. Their primary focus is assisting people with career decisions. They also provide job search skills and help people locate and apply for jobs.

Rehabilitation counselors help people with disabilities cope with personal, vocational and social problems that are associated with their disability. They help people that have physical and emotional disabilities. Rehabilitation counselors make arrangements for vocational training, job placement and medical care. They prepare individual rehabilitation programs for their clients.

Mental health counselors provide treatment for mental and emotional disorders and promote optimal mental health. They help individuals, groups and families. Mental health counselors help patients make positive changes in their behavior and lives. They counsel those who are coping with issues including aging, substance abuse, depression, self-esteem, anger, stress and grief.

Substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors provide help to people that have problems with gambling, drugs, alcohol or eating disorders. They help their clients identify problems and behaviors that are related to their addiction. They help develop personalized recovery programs.


  • Interview clients and evaluate their situation, problems and capabilities to determine the appropriate services
  • Help clients cope with their problems
  • Refer clients to community resources
  • Prepare reports and maintain case history records
  • Develop recovery programs for clients
  • Evaluate the effectiveness of recovery programs
  • Help students develop academic and career goals

Job Characteristics

Their work environment depends on their occupational specialty. Counselors work in community health organizations, schools, private practice, hospitals and day treatment programs. Counselors should have a strong desire to help others. They also need good interpersonal and communication skills.

Employment Outlook

The overall employment of counselors is projected by the Bureau of Labor Statistics to increase by 18 percent from 2008 to 2018 which is faster than average for all occupations. The employment growth will vary by specialty. Salaries also vary by specialty.

In 2008, in descending order, the largest number of counselor positions were held by educational, vocational and school counselors; rehabilitation counselors, mental health counselors, substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors; and marriage and family therapist counselors. Some counselors are self-employed and work in private practice or group practice.

Education, Certification, and Licensing

The educational and training requirements for counselors vary by specialty and state, however a master's degree is typically required for those that want to become a licensed counselor. Counselor education programs offered by colleges and universities are usually located in departments of psychology, education or human services. Master's degree programs usually include 48 to 60 hours of graduate study, including time spent in a supervised clinical experience in counseling.

There are various fields of study including education, student affairs, gerontological, rehabilitation, clinical mental health, elementary or secondary school, substance abuse, and marriage and family therapy.

Licensure requirements vary by occupational specialty, state and work environment. In some states, school counselors have to be licensed. In 49 states, counselors not working in schools need some type of counselor licensure which governs the practice of counseling.

Some counselors become certified by the National Board for Certified Counselors which provides the general practice credential of National Certified Counselor. The board also provides speciality certifications. Other counseling organizations provide certification in particular counseling specialties. Typically certification is voluntary, yet being certified can improve a person's job prospects.


Major Employers

The top job providers are schools, colleges, hospitals, state government, local government, outpatient care centers, and individual and family services.

Schools for Counselors are listed in the Browse Schools Section.

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