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Marriage and Family Counseling

You can't take it with you when you die, the old saying goes. Studies have proven time and time again that relationships – the friends, family, and lovers that fill our lives – are the most influential variables to leading a happy life.

Relationships, and the issues that can damage them, are intensely personal and subjective in nature. Because both people in the relationship may be coming from different but equally legitimate perspectives, misunderstandings and arguments are seldom clear-cut.

Marriage and family counselors, also sometimes called therapists, are the counseling professionals hired to bring a fresh perspective to such disputes. Marriage counselors help couples at all stages of their relationships, advising them on simple problems like divergent interests and serious problems like infidelity. Family counselors work with families of all sizes to insure that all members feel heard and valued.

Marriage and family counselors are licensed in all states, and are generally required to have at least a master's degree in relationship counseling. They will draw on the techniques and considerations they learn in advanced marriage and family counseling programs throughout their professional careers.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2008:

  • 37% of marriage and family therapists worked in individual and family service
  • 18% worked for state government organizations
  • 10% worked for local government organizations
  • 10% worked in outpatient care centers
  • 8% worked in the offices of other healthcare practitioners
Where to work Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

Marriage and Family Counseling Career Opportunities:

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there were 27,300 marriage and family counselors in 2008. Career opportunities are expected to be favorable, as increased recognition of the value of relationship counseling spurs job creation. Marriage and family counselors are expected to add 3,900 new jobs over 10 years, for a 2018 total of 31,300 positions. That's a 14% growth rate, significantly higher than the 8.2% expansion of the civilian workforce expected over the same time period.

Projected Growth
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

Real job opportunities for marriage and family counselors will be better than that estimate. According to the Occupational Information Network, a project of the Department of Labor's Employment and Training Administration, there will be 50,700 positions available to qualified substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors from 2008 to 2018. That figure includes those 24,500 predicted new positions AND positions vacated by retirement, career change, early termination, etc.

Marriage and Family Counselor Earnings

After school and occupational counselors, marriage and family counselors generally made the most money. According to the BLS, the annual median wages for marriage and family counselors in 2008 were $44,590. The middle 50% of the field made between $34,840 and $56,320 a year, while the bottom 10% made less than $27,810 and the top 10% made more than $70,830.

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

Earnings for marriage and family counselor positions vary by the candidate's education and work history, and by the employer's industry. Marriage and family counselors who worked for state government agencies earned the most, with median annual wages of $50,770. Counselors that worked in individual and family services earned the least of any large group: an annual median of $39,690.

Marriage and Family Counseling Educational Benefits

Marriage and family counselors, after school counselors, have the most rigorous licensing requirements of any counseling field. All states license marriage and family counselors; licensing requirements generally include a master's degree and several thousand hours of supervised clinical experience.

According to the Occupational Information Network, the vast majority – 73% – of professional counselors have a bachelor's degree or higher. Only 9% have no formal education beyond a high school diploma, and the remaining 18% have completed some college, including counseling associate's degree programs.

Educational Achievement Source: Occupational Information Network

Counseling programs generally include coursework in areas like psychology, sociology, human development, social and cultural sensitivity and diversity, and counseling techniques. Marriage and family counselors also study family and relationship dynamics in great detail.

Marriage and Family Counseling Programs Online

Master's and doctoral marriage and family counseling degrees are offered online, through a growing number of colleges and universities, as are continuing education graduate certificates in more specialized areas. Licensing requirements for rehabilitation and marriage and family counselors vary by state; remember that you state may include a supervised clinical experience requirement and make sure that your online program facilitates the necessary rotations.

The best online marriage and family counseling programs provide an education as good as one pursued at a local ground school, in a more flexible and remote format that may be better suited to working students. As with all expensive and important educational decisions, do your research when choosing an online counseling degree program at any level. Is the school accredited? Do credits transfer? What are people saying about this program specifically and this school in general? The answers to many of these questions can be found on this Web site, but don't be afraid to ask your admissions counselor difficult questions.

Marriage and Family Counseling Skills and Abilities

Counselors of all kinds are professional listeners and communicators. They should be skilled at drawing people out of their shells though active listening, mutual respect, and intelligent questions. Counselors cultivate an attentive, sympathetic relationship so they can gather information that may be useful in creating a personalized counseling plan for couples and families.

Marriage and family counselors generally work with their clients one-on-one, and with couples and families together. The counselors who run these sessions often have forceful personalities to steer the conversation and set the tone.

Most marriage and family counselors work with many couples and families at once; strong organizational and planning skills are important to effective practice.

Marriage and Family Counseling Qualification and Advancement

Marriage and family counselors are licensed in all states, and generally face some of the strictest licensing requirements of any kind of counselors. Generally, completion of an accredited master's or doctoral program in marriage and family counseling, and a significant number of supervised clinical hours (hours spent working with couples under the direction of another established counselor) qualifies the graduate to take state licensing exams. Satisfactory completion of all state licensing requirements qualifies the candidate as a certified Marriage and Family Counselor.

Some states require continuing education for marriage and family counselors to renew their license. Because marriage and family counselors are generally not part of strongly hierarchical, competitive firms, advancement is often more reliant on the effectiveness of their counseling than the level of their degree, once licensing requirements have been met.

Additional Information

The American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy maintains a Web site at http://www.aamft.org.

School and Career Counseling

Like other counselors, school and career counselors deal with stressed individuals dealing with difficult choices. Unlike behavioral disorder counselors who deal with troubled individuals in the throes of dangerous conditions, school and career counselors work with clients and students who are trying to make the best decisions about their futures.

Because of the importance and relevance of what they do for most students and professionals, school and career counselors (sometimes called educational or vocational, or occupational counselors) compose the largest group of counselors – almost 41% of the entire field.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2008:

  • 54% of school and career counselors worked for elementary schools and high schools
  • 15% worked for colleges and universities
  • 7% worked for junior colleges
  • 7% worked for vocational rehabilitation services
  • 3% worked for individual and family services
Where to work Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

School and Occupational Counseling Career Outlook

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there were 275,800 school and occupational counselors in 2008. Career opportunities are expected to be favorable for school counselors as schools grow and post-secondary education becomes more common. They are also expected to be favorable for career counselors, as multiple career changes become more common.

School and career counselors are expected to add 38,600 new jobs over 10 years, for a 2018 total of 314,400 positions. That's a 14% growth rate, significantly higher than the 8.2% expansion of the civilian workforce expected over the same time period.

Projected Growth Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

Real job opportunities for school and career counselors will be even better than that estimate. According to the Occupational Information Network, a project of the Department of Labor's Employment and Training Administration, there will be 94,400 positions available to qualified substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors from 2008 to 2018. That figure includes those 38,600 predicted new positions AND positions vacated by retirement, career change, early termination, etc.

School and Career Counseling Earnings

School and career counselors are generally the highest paid counselors. According to the BLS, the annual median wages for school and occupational counselors in 2008 were $51,050. The middle 50% of the field made between $38,740 and $65,360 a year, while the bottom 10% made less than $29,360 and the top 10% made more than $82,330.

Earnings Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

Earnings for school and occupational counselors vary by the candidate's education and work history, and by the employer's industry. School counselors who worked for elementary and high schools earned the most, with median annual wages of $57,800. Counselors that worked in individual and family services earned the least of any large group: an annual median of $33,780.

School and Career Counseling Educational Benefits

Because of their proximity to young students and the lasting influence that educational decisions may have on their lives, school counselors have the most rigorous licensing requirements of any counseling field. All states license school counselors, and most license career counselors. Licensing requirements generally include a master's degree and several thousand hours of supervised experience.

According to the Occupational Information Network, the vast majority – 73% – of professional counselors have a bachelor's degree or higher. Only 9% have no formal education beyond a high school diploma, and the remaining 18% have completed some college, including counseling associate's degree programs.

Educational Achievement Source: Occupational Information Network

Counseling programs generally include coursework in areas like psychology, sociology, human development, social and cultural sensitivity and diversity, and counseling techniques.

School counselors focus on developmental science and disorders, and are generally experts in educational and occupational information that is useful to students of all ages who are considering continuing their education or starting a career. Career counselors have a similar knowledge base, but tailored towards older, working professionals who are considering career changes.

School and Career Counseling Degrees Online

There are a growing number of online school and career counseling master's and doctoral programs offered through accredited educators. Because of the rigorous licensing standards in place for counselors in general and school counselors specifically, you MUST make sure that the online school counseling or occupational counseling degree you are considering will meet the entry requirements of your state. Generally, that means that online school counseling programs should include rotations, practicum, and other supervised experiential components.

The best online school and career counseling programs provide an education as good as one pursued at a local ground school, in a more flexible and remote format that may be better suited to working students. As with all expensive and important educational decisions, do your research when choosing an online counseling degree program at any level. Is the school accredited? Do credits transfer? What are people saying about this program specifically and this school in general? The answers to many of these questions can be found on this Web site, but don't be afraid to ask your admissions counselor difficult questions.

School and Career Counseling Skills and Abilities

School and career counselors work one-on-one with individuals, and in larger groups. They should be strong organizers, able to keep track of many students and clients at once and give relevant, critical advice.

School and career counselors of all types must be excellent listeners and communicators, able to effectively gather information about what their students and clients want out of an education or career. They must be knowledgeable and articulate enough to offer expert advice on how to get there.

School and career counselors often work as part of a counseling team. To maximize cohesion and effectiveness, they should be able to cultivate positive relationships with their coworkers, in addition to their students and clients.

School and Career Counseling Qualification and Advancement

Completion of a school or career counseling master's degree and successful completion of all state licensing requirements qualifies graduates for entry-level positions as School Counselors or Career Counselors.

Doctoral work may be a prerequisite for supervisorial positions in educational and occupational counseling offices that employ a large staff of professional counselors.

Additional Information

The American School Counselors Association maintains a Web site at http://www.schoolcounselor.org.