101 Careers in CounselingIn this weekly feature, the editors of SpringBoard highlight one career in the health care professions--including a basic description, educational requirements, core competencies/key skills needed, and related web sites and professional organizations where you can find more information!

Basic Description:

Counseling children in traditional nuclear families has become significantly less common since the 1970s. As divorce has become increasingly more common in American society, single- parent families have become as common as traditional “nuclear” or two-parent families. However, there are many two-parent families in the society, and counselors will need to become facile in communicating the results of counseling with their children. Counselors working with children of intact families often are seeing the child or adolescent who has been referred by a parent, a school counselor, an athletic coach, or a religious leader.

Core Competencies and Skill:

  • Patience
  • A desire to provide counseling in creative ways
  • The confidence to address issues with parents
  • Strong problem-solving skills
  • High degree of cultural sensitivity
  • Good self-care as this job can be stressful

Educational and Credential Requirements:
Counselors working with children in intact families, and in fact, virtually all counselors, must obtain a master’s degree in counseling to be hired to counsel children. After earning a master’s degree, counselors can be hired into an agency. The counselor then is supervised by a licensed mental health professional (e.g., counselor, social worker, and psychologist) until the required number of hours under supervision is met (anywhere from 1000 to 3500 or 1 to 3 years, depending on the state or territory (American Counseling Association, 2010). Then, the counselor must pass the state licensure examination.

Best Aspects of the Job:

  • Working with children from preschool to adolescents
  • Learning about all the dynamics related to child abuse and neglect such as the family, school and peer relationships, substance abuse, and poverty
  • The challenge of creating a safe therapeutic space for a child to explore healthy options and grow emotionally
  • Assisting parents or guardians in creating a healthier environment for a child
  • The variety of techniques for counseling children: art therapy, play therapy, music, dance, and so on

Challenging Aspects of the Job:

  • Witnessing the painful and debilitating effects of abuse and neglect on children
  • The frustration of witnessing children return to abusive and neglectful environments
  • The difficulty in getting parents involved in their child’s treatment, or the challenge of dealing with over-involved or controlling parents
  • Working in a system that defines everyone as “disordered” and requires a diagnosis that may remain with a child well into adulthood

Occupational Outlook and Salary:
Because counselors working with children typically are employed in public and private agencies or treatment centers, salaries can vary widely. Naturally, licensed counselors with 5 or more years of experience or those reaching management levels will earn more money. The breakdowns for counselor earnings are general; readers must interpret the median salary earnings for counselors working with children given in Table 3.1 as national figures, with variations regarding urban versus rural settings, and the state of residence:

Table 3.1 Median Salaries for Counselors

  • Elementary school counselors: $57,800
  • Counselors working in health practices: $40,880
  • Counselors working in outpatient centers: $37,590
  • Counselors working in residential treatment centers: $29,950

The occupational outlook for counselors working with children is as follows:

  • Mental health counselors: 24% growth rate over next 7 to 10 years
  • School counselors: 14% growth rate over next 7 to 10 years
  • Marriage and family counselors: 14% growth rate over next 7 to 10 years

These three broad occupations are likely the primary general occupations for counselors working with children (BOLS, 2010–2011).