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Counselors help people evaluate their interests and abilities and advise and assist them with personal, social, educational, and career problems and concerns. Their duties depend on the individuals they serve and the settings in which they work.

School and college counselors use interviews, counseling sessions, tests, or other tools to help students understand their abilities, interests, talents, and personality characteristics. They help translate these into realistic academic and career options. They may run career information centers and career education programs. High school counselors advise on college admission requirements, entrance exams, and financial aid, and on trade, technical school, and apprenticeship programs. They help students find part- time and summer work and, for those who are not going to college, full-time jobs. They also help students understand and deal with their social, behavioral, and personal problems. They work with students individually, or, in cases where problems are widespread, as in drug or alcohol abuse, in groups. Counselors consult and work with parents, teachers, school psychologists, school nurses, and social workers. Elementary school counselors observe younger children during classroom and play activities and confer with their teachers and parents to evaluate their strengths, problems, or special needs. College career planning and placement counselors help students and alumni plan careers and locate jobs.

Rehabilitation counselors help persons with disabilities become more self-sufficient and productive. They evaluate clients' disabilities and potential for employment, and arrange for medical care, rehabilitation, occupation training, and job placement. They interview them and their families, evaluate school and medical reports, and confer with physicians, psychologists, occupational therapists, and employers. They then recommend a rehabilitation program and training to help them become more independent and more employable.

Employment counselors help individuals make wise career decisions. They help clients explore and evaluate their education, training, work history, interests, skills, personal traits, and physical capacities and may arrange for aptitude and achievement tests. They also help clients locate and apply for jobs.

Mental health counselors help individuals deal with drug and alcohol abuse, family conflicts, including child and spouse abuse, suicide, work problems, criminal behavior, and other problems. They also counsel rape victims, individuals and families trying to cope with illness and death, and people with emotional problems. Mental health counselors may work closely with other specialists, including psychiatrists, psychologists, clinical social workers, and psychiatric nurses.

Working Conditions

Most school counselors work the traditional 9- to 10-month school year with a 2- to 3-month vacation, although an increasing number are employed on 10 1/2- or 11-month contracts. They generally have the same hours as teachers.

Rehabilitation and employment counselors generally work a standard 40-hour week. Self-employed counselors and those working in mental health and community agencies often work evenings to counsel clients who work during the day. College career planning and placement counselors may work long and irregular hours during recruiting periods.

Since privacy is essential for confidential and frank discussions with clients, counselors usually have private offices.


Counselors held about 127,000 jobs in 1990. More than 2 out of 3 were in educational services. Most of these worked in secondary schools; the rest worked in elementary schools and colleges and universities.

Outside education settings, counselors worked in a wide variety of public and private establishments, including job training and vocational rehabilitation centers, or in nonprofit organizations like Goodwill Industries and Lighthouse for the Blind. Some worked in correctional institutions and residential care facilities, such as halfway houses for offenders and group homes for children, the aged, and the disabled. Others worked in health facilities such as Veterans Administration hospitals; agencies that provide social, counseling, welfare, or referral services; organizations engaged in community improvement, social change, and neighborhood development; and those that deal with alcohol and drug addiction. A growing number of counselors are in private practice, health maintenance organizations and group practice.

Training, Other Qualifications, and Advancement

Generally, a master's degree in college student personnel counseling, elementary or secondary school counseling, rehabilitation counseling, agency or community counseling, counseling psychology, career counseling, or a related field is required. In some cases, individuals with a bachelor's degree in psychology, sociology, counseling, or rehabilitation services qualify for employment, particularly if they have had experience in social work, teaching, interviewing, job placement, psychology, or personnel. These individuals may not be eligible for certification or licensure, however.

Graduate level counselor education programs are available in nearly 500 colleges and universities, usually in departments of education or psychology. Courses include counseling theory and techniques, assessment and evaluation, individual and group counseling, career development information, and community resources. One or two years of graduate study, including a period of supervised experience in counseling, are usually required for a master's degree. Forty-eight programs are currently accredited by the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs.

Twenty-five States require that counselors in private practice have a State license. Requirements for these vary from State to State.

Many counselors are voluntarily certified by the National Board for Certified Counselors (NBCC), which grants the credential "National Certified Counselor." To be certified by NBCC, a counselor must hold master's degree in counseling, have at least 2 years of professional counseling experience, and pass a national written examination.

Most States require public school counselors to have both counseling and teaching certificates. Depending on the State, a master's degree in counseling and 2 to 5 years of teaching experience may be required for a counseling certificate. State departments of education can provide specific information.

Vocational and related rehabilitation agencies generally require a master's degree in rehabilitation counseling, counseling and guidance, or counseling psychology for rehabilitation counselor jobs. Some, however, may accept applicants with a bachelor's degree in rehabilitation services, counseling, psychology, or related fields. Experience in employment counseling, job development, psychology, education, or social work may be helpful.

About 30 colleges and universities offer bachelor's degree in rehabilitation services education. In 1987, the Council on Rehabilitation Education accredited 74 graduate programs in rehabilitation counseling. Usually, 2 years of study--including a period of supervised clinical experience--are required for the master's degree.

In most State vocational rehabilitation agencies, applicants must pass a written examination and be evaluated by a board of examiners. Many employers require rehabilitation counselors to be certified. To become certified, counselors must meet educational and experience standards established by the Commission on Rehabilitation Counselor Certification, and pass a written examination. They are then designated as "Certified Rehabilitation Counselors."

Some States require counselors in public employment offices to have a master's degree; others accept a bachelor's degree with appropriate counseling courses.

Mental health counselors generally have a master's degree or doctorate in mental health counseling, another area of counseling, or in psychology or social work. They are certified by the National Academy of Certified Clinical Mental Health Counselors. A master's degree, a period of supervised internship, and an examination are required for certification. Although this certification is voluntary, many States require a license for private practice.

Some employers provide training for newly hired counselors. Many have work-study programs so that employed counselors can earn graduate degrees. Counselors must participate in graduate studies, workshops, institutes, and personal studies to maintain their certificates and licenses.

Persons interested in counseling should have a strong interest in helping others and the ability to inspire respect, trust, and confidence. They should be able to work independently or as part of a team.

Prospects for advancement vary by counseling field. School counselors may move to a larger school; become directors or supervisors of counseling or pupil personnel services; or, with further graduate education, become counseling psychologists or school administrators. Rehabilitation, mental health, and employment counselors may become supervisors or administrators in their agencies. Some counselors move into research, consulting, or college teaching, or go into private practice.

Job Outlook

Overall employment of counselors is expected to grow faster than the average for all occupations through the year 2000. In addition, replacement needs will increase significantly by the end of the decade as the large number of counselors now in their 40's reach retirement age.

Employment of school counselors, the largest specialty area, is expected to grow more slowly than average--in line with projected enrollments.

Faster then average growth is also expected for rehabilitation and mental health counselors. Insurance companies are increasingly allowing for reimbursement of counselors, enabling many counselors to move from government agencies to private practice. The number of people who need rehabilitation services will rise as advanced in medical technology continue to save lives that only a few years ago would have been lost. In addition, more rehabilitation and mental health counselors will be needed as society focuses on ways of developing mental well-being, such as controlling job and family-related stress, with the help of counselors.

Employment of rehabilitation and employment counselors, who work primarily for State and local governments, is expected to increase about as fast as the average for all occupations.

The number of private counselors in private practice is expected to grow faster than those not in private practice.


The average salary of school counselors in the 1989-90 academic year was $36,298, according to the Educational Research Service. Salaries were lowest in the Southeast and highest in the Far West. Some school counselors earn additional income working summers in the school system or in other jobs.

Wage and salary earnings of rehabilitation, mental health, and employment counselors are usually somewhat lower than those of school counselors. Self-employed counselors who have established practices have the highest earnings.

Related Occupations

Counselors help people evaluate their interests, abilities, and disabilities, and deal with personal, social, academic, and career problems. Others who help people in similar ways include college and student personnel workers, teachers, personnel workers and managers, social workers, psychologists, psychiatrists, members of the clergy, occupational and physical therapists, training and employee development specialists, and equal employment opportunity/affirmative action specialists.

Sources of Additional Information

For general information about counselors, contact:

American Association of Counseling and Development, 5999 Stevenson Ave., Alexandria, VA 22304.

For information on training programs accredited by the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs, contact:

Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs, American Association for Counseling and Development, 5999 Stevenson Ave., Alexandria, VA 22304.

For information on national certification requirements and procedures, contact:

National Board for Certified Counselors, 5999 Stevenson, Ave., Alexandria, VA 22304.

State departments of education can supply information on colleges and universities that offer approved guidance and counseling training for State certification and licensure requirements.

State employment service offices have information about their job opportunities and entrance requirements.

For information about rehabilitation counseling, contact:

National Rehabilitation Counseling Association, 633 So. Washington St., Alexandria, VA 22314.

National Council on Rehabilitation Education, c/o Maddux O'Malley, Inc., 2921 Ermine Way, Farmers Branch, TX 75234.

A list of accredited graduate programs in rehabilitation counseling may be obtained from:

Council on Rehabilitation Education, 185 North Wabash St., Room 1617, Chicago, IL 60601. For a list of federally funded programs offering training in rehabilitation counseling, contact:

Division of Resource Development, Rehabilitation Services Administration, U.S. Department of Education, 330 C St. SW., Washington, D.C. 20202.

For information on certification requirements for rehabilitation counselors, contact:

Commission on Rehabilitation Counselor Certification, 1156 Shure Dr., Suite 350, Arlington Heights, IL 60004.

For information on certification requirements for mental health counselors, contact:

National Academy of Certified Clinical Mental Health Counselors, 5999 Stevenson Ave., Alexandria, VA 22304


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