If you’re fascinated by human behavior, passionate about mental health advocacy, or interested in improving people’s lives and emotional well-being, a master’s in counseling psychology could launch you into a great career. In most states, including Oklahoma, therapists, licensed professional counselors, and other independent mental health practitioners need a master’s degree before the state will license them to practice on their own. To complete licensure requirements, you will also have to work a certain number of hours under a clinical supervisor and pass your state’s licensing tests.
If you love the idea of opening your own therapy practice or relish the chance to partner with a community health agency, going back to school may open doors to a rewarding career that’s indispensable to society.
Counselors are invaluable resources that can help address the growing mental health crisis in the United States. For example, nearly 45,000 people died by suicide in 2016, marking a massive increase in these deaths over the last two decades. Drug overdoses claim even more lives. Between 1999 and 2017, more than 700,000 people died of drug overdoses. An additional 88,000 people die each year from alcohol-related causes. Many of these deaths stem from addiction. Therapists, counselors, and other mental health workers are on the front lines of the fight for better mental health—the right care can save lives and rebuild communities. A master’s in counseling can equip you with the tools you need to join the fight.
Sound like an exciting path forward? Here’s what you need to know if you’re considering going back to school for a master’s degree in counseling.
What to Expect from a Counseling Career
Licensed professional counselors have average annual earnings of $47,184 per year. Although this isn’t the most lucrative career, there are plenty of job opportunities. Therapist careers are growing much faster than average, at 22 percent. This offers significant job stability, as well as quite a bit of flexibility. If you fall into a role you dislike, odds are good that you’ll be able to quickly shift to another position.
The diverse range of career options for master’s level counselors means that some clinicians are able to earn much more. If you start your own practice and gain a reputation as a trusted resource, you may be able to build a thriving business and even hire other therapists. Mental health consultants, who offer expert insight on mental health care, have average annual earnings of $65,506, though some earn much more—six figures and higher.
So what will daily life look like? That depends on the job you choose. Counselors can work for themselves as mental health therapists with their own practices. They can find jobs working under other therapists, or they can work in public health by partnering with nonprofit organizations and community health agencies. Some opt to use their skills in mental health-adjacent roles. If you’re easily bored, you might even pursue several different roles at once, such as by working part-time as a therapist and moonlighting as a consultant.
Types of Jobs You Can Get
Many students pursue a master's degree in counseling, hoping to become counselors and therapists—either by starting their own private practice or joining someone else’s organization. Your master’s degree equips you for many other roles, including:
- Research. In the midst of a suicide and addiction epidemic, we face pressing questions about psychological well-being. Mental health researchers tackle challenging questions in the hopes of uncovering novel solutions.
- School counseling. If you love children and want to see them excel, consider a role as a school counselor. In that capacity, you will help kids navigate challenging circumstances, put together psychological education programs, and work with teachers and other professionals to promote mental wellness.
- Community mental health. Individual counseling isn’t the only way to promote sound psychological health. Community mental health workers may offer low-cost counseling, group support, or innovative programs to support people seeking care.
- Teaching. Many mental health professionals use their training to educate the next generation of mental health workers. Some shift professions, opting to work as teachers in their local school systems. A counseling degree can prepare you for the mental health struggles your students may face.
- Hotlines and virtual support. Mental health crises are common, and the right assistance can save lives. Some counselors choose to staff mental health hotlines or train the people who volunteer for this vital work.
- International work. Mental health issues exist across the globe. Some countries are experiencing a critical shortage of mental health workers. Volunteer with disaster relief agencies like the Red Cross to support people in the wake of disasters. Or partner with organizations like Doctors Without Borders to provide longer term counseling and expertise in areas that need public health advocacy.
Who Excels in a Master’s in Counseling Program?
A career in counseling isn’t for everyone. You’ll spend much of your day hearing stories of trauma, pain, and suffering. Not only will you need plenty of empathy; you must also have a thick skin and strong self-care skills to avoid vicarious trauma.
Some other skills you'll use as a counselor, regardless of the specific job you choose, include:
- Creative, intelligent thinking. People come to counselors because they need help solving some of life’s biggest challenges. You’ll need to offer them a new perspective, not trite reassurances.
- An open mind. You must be prepared to help people from a wide range of backgrounds. Your goal isn’t to impose your values on a client; it’s to help them live a fulfilling life consistent with their own values. Be open to different needs and lifestyles.
- Authenticity. Clients can tell when you’re playing a role. You’ll need to bring your true self to your work so that you can meet clients with real empathy and compassion.
- Self-awareness. You must have a keen understanding of how your clients’ stories affect you. This can help you offer deeper insight while keeping your own emotions in check.
- Responsibility. You will work with people at some of their most vulnerable moments. This requires you to protect their privacy, show up on time, and keep your commitments, even when there are other things you’d rather do.
- Curiosity. Don’t accept things at face value. The best counselors dig more deeply to uncover their clients’ innermost feelings and motives.
- Fearlessness. This is tough work, but it’s also infinitely rewarding. You must face each day with courage so you can help your clients do the same.
How to Choose the Right Master’s Degree Program
The right master’s in counseling program gives you the skills you need to excel in a variety of roles. If you choose the wrong school, you may waste time and money. The following questions can help you discern whether an institution you are considering offers a clear path to success:
- Is the program regionally accredited?
- Who teaches the classes? Are they experts in the field with real experience as counselors and mental health experts?
- Does the program work with your lifestyle? Can you take classes at night, on the weekends, or online?
- Does the school partner with local employers to help you find a job? What sort of career support can you expect after graduation?
- What percentage of students are employees six months after graduation? Of that number, what percentage are employed in full-time counseling roles after becoming licensed?
- Does the school offer help completing financial aid paperwork?
- How much is tuition?
- Do local employers respect the school and its degree programs?
- Can you speak to someone who has graduated from the field of study you are considering to learn what their daily life is like?
- What is the average salary of graduates six months after graduation?
- How long does the application process take, and what information and documents must you provide?
SNU knows that mental health counselors save lives, families, relationships, and communities. We revere this important work and are proud to train the next generation of counselors. We support you to excel from your first day of class through graduation and beyond. Our innovative programs cater to adult learners, allowing you to complete coursework on your own time while still challenging you to master the skills that can help you tackle today’s most vexing behavioral health issues.
At this unique moment, in the midst of a mental health crisis, we believe we have a solemn duty to train skilled clinicians as efficiently as possible. We don’t require a GRE because we believe the application process should be simple. Instead, we focus on applicants who have the skills and unique personal characteristics that can help them thrive in this demanding career. We would love to talk to you about whether our master’s program is right for you. Give us a call or contact our admissions department to learn more.