Careers in Counseling

A Growing Field

Changing social needs, shifts in public policy, and new research are fueling growth in the field of counseling.

  • According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment for substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors will grow by 23 percent between 2016 and 2026.
  • A 2013 report from the Centers for Disease Control shows that 13 to 20 percent of children living in the United States experience a mental disorder in a given year. The prevalence of these disorders is increasing, driving changes to public mental health policy and increasing demand for counselors who specialize in child and adolescent counseling.
  • With the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, 32 million previously uninsured Americans will gain access to health care, including mental health counseling, treatment, and prevention services. 
  • More than 2 million military veterans have returned from Iraq and Afghanistan, and Veterans Administration (VA) facilities and local communities need more research and resources to meet their needs. (Read about The Family Institute’s research project, “Reunification Difficulty of Military Couples Following Deployment”.) 

Diverse Settings—Rewarding Opportunities

Driven by these social, political, and research trends, counselors will be in demand in a wide range of professional settings. Graduates who hold a Master of Arts in Counseling may find rewarding counseling careers in:

  • Community mental health centers
  • Inpatient/outpatient clinics and hospitals
  • Research institutions
  • University student services
  • Career services
  • Independent practice

To date, graduates of Northwestern’s on-campus counseling degree program have built successful careers in the following settings:

Mental Health Settings

Mental health organizations provide clinical services to clients within a particular population and include settings such as substance abuse clinics, adoption services, counseling centers, family care centers, and children’s homes. If you are interested in working with specific populations or specific segments within the counseling field (i.e., addiction counseling, marriage and family counseling, children and adolescents), working in a mental health service setting would be appropriate.

Job titles in mental health service settings vary by organization, but may include:

  • Staff therapist: In this non-licensed position you will counsel individuals or groups regarding psychological or emotional problems, including stress and substance abuse, and then work with clients to implement a therapeutic treatment plan. These therapists often become trusted figures in clients’ lives as they help clients reflect on personal issues and facilitate positive change.
  • Psychotherapist: Using a range of research- and practice-based techniques, psychotherapists help and treat individuals experiencing emotional and psychological difficulties. These therapists work with clients so that they can understand their psychological problems—such as phobias, depression, anxiety, physical or psychosomatic disorders, and behavioral problems—and make changes to their lives. 
  • Substance abuse counselor: Counselors who specialize in substance abuse and other behavioral disorders—such as alcoholism, drug addiction, and eating disorders—provide treatment and support that help clients modify destructive behaviors. These counselors also often manage preventative outreach programs to promote healthy lifestyle choices.
  • Licensed clinical professional counselor: Clinical mental health counselors work with individuals and groups across a range of specialties, such as marriage and family, vocational, and mental health. These counselors are licensed and treat clients with mild to severe mental, emotional, and behavioral problems. Clinical counselors use techniques grounded in psychological research to assess, modify, and improve unhealthy behaviors. 

Educational Settings

If you do not want to work within a clinical setting, an educational setting may be more in line with your career goals. Counselors in educational settings may work in university career services departments or counseling centers. They may also direct wellness initiatives or provide mental health care to students. If you are looking to work as a school counselor, however, you may need to seek an additional degree and certification.

Job titles for counselors in a university or college setting may include:

  • Director of counseling services: Counselors in these positions will manage and direct areas of academic, personal, and career counseling. This is an administrative position, so it may include duties such as budget management, staffing, strategic operations, as well as developing and implementing procedures and processes. These counselors will manage a staff of licensed staff counselors, interns, and practicum students.
  • Career counselor: As the name suggests, career counselors guide individuals who are entering the workforce, are unemployed, or are looking to make a change. In a university setting, counselors work with students and alumni to develop job skills, such as career planning, resume writing, interviewing, and networking. Career counselors may need licensure depending on state requirements.

Agency/Organizational Settings

Counseling careers within large organizations or agencies, such as nonprofits, hospitals, or treatment facilities, may be administrative in focus. Job titles within these organizations may include:

  • Program director, nonprofit: Nonprofit organizations often manage an array of projects that represent their mission and goals. Within an organization program directors are responsible for ensuring team synergy and operational success. These counselors may handle budgets, staff, and activities
  • Clinical director: Often found in nursing homes, rehab facilities, behavioral health clinics, and health care clinics, clinical directors oversee hiring, scheduling, and supervision within an agency’s clinical department. Clinical directors manage administrative concerns, such as program evaluation and recruitment, while ensuring policies and regulations are upheld.
  • Clinical research coordinator: These specialized research professionals facilitate and coordinate clinical trials and manage everyday activities around research, such as ensuring participant recruitment, obtaining consent forms, assessing eligibility, and facilitating care and follow-up. Coordinators may also be responsible for ensuring compliance and accordance of specified guidelines.

Career Settings

Mental health counselors may seek employment in corporate settings, such as banks or large corporations. Within these organizations, counselors are usually found in human resource departments, providing clinical services directly to employees or managing employee assistance programs. Job titles in a corporate setting may include:

  • Human resources manager: Corporate HR departments are responsible for personnel policies and programs. Counselors working in this capacity may be responsible for maintaining an employee handbook, improving recruitment and retention, creating a certain company culture, or developing performance assessment models.
  • Employee assistance program manager: Employee assistance programs (EAPs) are designed to help employees maintain a stable work/life balance and find resources when crises arise. An EAP manager may work to identify appropriate resources for employees, develop and implement procedures and policies around a program, and provide training to managers for dealing with specific medical or behavioral concerns.  
  • Change management consultant: These professionals work independently but must collaborate with teams and individuals across an organization. With a focus on how individuals react to change and how to implement change in a way that ensures positive results, change management consultants develop plans for change and manage deployment. Changes may include those to business processes, systems and technology, job roles, and organizational structures.

The Degree You Need for the Career You Want

No matter what your counseling career path, a master’s degree in counseling can prepare you to succeed. Northwestern University offers its top Master of Arts in Counseling degree online, which allows you to earn a master’s degree in clinical mental health counseling from one of the world’s most recognized universities no matter where you live.