Masters In Counseling Salary: How Much Do Therapists Make?

Graduate counseling programs provide the advanced clinical training necessary to move ahead in the mental health field. With a master’s degree in counseling, you can expect long-term career prospects with opportunities to advance your degree, your scope of practice, and your professional fulfillment.

Below you’ll find a comprehensive overview of salary data for counselors in today’s job market. You’ll also find salary data for the most common areas of speciality in the counseling profession.

What Is The Average Salary For Counselors?

The average salary for counselors varies depending on your area of specialization, where you live, and the type of practice you work choose. (In some cases, counselors pursue various private practice options.) Salary is also determined by your level of education.

In order to best determine your earning potential, you must first decide on an area of specialty. One of the many benefits of working as a counselor is the variety of specializations from which to choose. As you start to research degree programs, you’ll learn about the many of areas of specialization. These include marriage and family therapy, school counseling, substance abuse, trauma, and many others. In order to help you find salary statistics, we’ve listed a few of the most popular areas of specialization in the following sections, along with other useful information about your earning potential.

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How Does Area Of Specialization Affect Salary?

The Bureau of Labor Statistics provides up-to-date salary data for many professions, including counselors. The BLS reports its findings on the most common types of counselors, such as substance abuse counselors, school and career counselors, behavioral health counselors, and mental health counselors.

You’ll likely find in your research that counselors and therapists are terms often used interchangeably. This may lead to question whether therapists and counselors earn similar pay. Counselors and therapists are BOTH trained clinicians that provide a variety of support services for various challenges.

Your credentials, however, are determined by the graduate counseling program. These credentials include Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW), Licensed Professional Counselors (LPC), Licensed Mental Health Counselors (LMHC), Licensed Marital and Family Therapist (LMFT), and Licensed clinical professional counsellor (LCPC). There are also many organizations that provide guidance for standards of professional practice. These include The National Certified Counselor (NBCC), The National Association of Social Workers (NASW), The American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy (AAMFT), The American Mental Health Counselors Association (AMHCA), and The American Psychological Association (APA).

Below you’ll find salary statistics for the most common types of counselors and/or therapists, including information on salary outlook and other important data.

Education, Vocational, And School Counselors

Jobs for educational, school, and vocational counselors are predicted to grow 13 percent from 2016 to 2026. The need for school and vocational counselors is on the rise due to a large number of retirees in the field and the growing need for on-site mental health and crisis intervention services. Additionally, more schools now hire counselors to address not only academic and vocational goals, but behavioral disorders as well.

Average Salary For Education, Vocational, And School Counselors

According to The Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual wages of educational, vocational, and school counselors are as follows:
School and Career Counselor Pay BLS

Demand for career counseling is projected to increase. Career counselors will be needed to help students at on onsite career. These centers are designed to help students transition into the workforce after graduation. If you enjoy working with students and helping them prepare for their futures, a career as a school counselors might be a good fit.

Substance Abuse And Behavioral Health Counselors

Substance abuse and behavioral health counselors is projected to grow 23 percent from 2016 to 2026. As more addiction treatment centers and offender rehabilitation program programs develop, the need for qualified counselors will continue to increase. Substance abuse counselors can also find work at homeless shelters, colleges and universities, and hospital-based outpatient clinics.

Average Salary For Substance Abuse And Behavioral Health Counselors

According to The Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual wages of substance abuse counselors are as follows:

Substance Abuse, Behavior Disorder, and Mental Health Counselors Pay BLS

Keep in mind that private practices also employ substance abuse and behavioral health counselors. Salary varies by employer and size of their clinic. Substance abuse counselors often have a wide range of possible employment opportunities. This role requires specific training to treat clients with drug and/or alcohol addiction.

Mental Health Counselors

With a 23 percent expected job growth, mental health counselors will have their pick of employment opportunities. Mental health counselors work in a variety of settings including clinics, schools, hospitals, agencies, human resource units, and private practice – all of which are in need of qualified therapists. Students in this field can specialize in a broad range of mental health issues, which widens the scope of job opportunities.

Average Salary For Mental Health Counselors

According to The Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual wages of mental health counselors are as follows:

Substance Abuse, Behavior Disorder, and Mental Health Counselors Pay BLS

Mental health counselors are also known by other titles since they are trained in rehabilitation and prevention. Make sure to read job descriptions carefully to see if you also qualify to work as a behavioral disorder counselor.

Marriage And Family Therapists

Marriage and family therapists are on the high end of wages in the counseling field. In fact, the highest 10 percent in this field earned more than $70,830. A 29 percent job growth is expected from 2016 to 2026 due to an increased need for relationship counseling services. Graduates can also find employment in a new field of counseling that provides clinical services over the Internet called online counseling or virtual therapy.

Average Salary For Marriage And Family Therapists

According to The Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual wages of marriage and family therapists are as follows:

Marriage and Family Therapists Pay BLS

Some marriage and family therapists open their own practices after establishing successful relationships with clients. Counselors can then charge clients an hourly rate without contractual constraints.

Rehabilitation Counselors

Rehabilitation counselors work in a diversity of settings, including vocational, medical, psychiatric centers, and correctional institutions. Jobs in this field are expected to grow by 13 percent, faster than the national average for other occupations. This is largely due to an aging population and the need for elderly care. Rehabilitation counselors can also play a consultant role by working with healthcare professionals to optimize patient therapy.

Average Salary For Rehabilitation Counselors

According to The Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual wages of rehabilitation counselors are as follows:

Rehabilitation Counselors Pay BLS

Many more qualified rehabilitation counselors are needed now and in the foreseeable future. This field is becoming increasingly more diverse. Rehabilitation counselors are especially needed to address the mental and physical conditions of the elderly.

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What Other Factors Affect Earning Potential?

Earning potential is determined by a variety of factors, and it’s important to know may affect your salary. These factors typically include:

  1. Location (city, state)
  2. Years of experience
  3. Type of practice

Larger employers may offer more competitive salaries for counselors than smaller, non-profit social organizations. Counselors in private practice can earn significantly more depending on number of patients and hourly rate. However, private practices may have insurance fees that can be high, depending on where you live and the population you serve. We’ve broken down the most common factors affecting your earning potential:


Where you work as a counselor can have a big impact on how much you earn. Different parts of the country need more counselors than others, based on population, crime statistics, funding, community resources, and other factors. Location also plays an important part in licensing, continuing education, and insurance requirements, should you open your own practice.

When considering location, don’t forget to factor in the cost of living. The cost of living in larger cities, such as New York or Chicago, is much higher than it is in smaller cities or towns. If you considering opening your own practice in a city with a higher cost of living, make sure you have the resources to do so.

Whether you want to open your own practice or work for a clinic or in a hospital, research areas of the country that have high employment rates in your field. For example, notice in the graph below the areas of the country that employ the most substance abuse and behavioral health counselors:

According to The Bureau of Labor Statistics, the metropolitan areas with the highest employment level in this occupation include:

  • New York-Jersey City-White Plains, NY-NJ Metropolitan Division
  • Los Angeles-Long Beach-Glendale, CA Metropolitan Division
  • Chicago-Naperville-Arlington Heights, IL Metropolitan Division
  • Minneapolis-St. Paul-Bloomington, MN-WI
  • Washington-Arlington-Alexandria, DC-VA-MD-WV Metropolitan Division
  • Philadelphia, PA Metropolitan Division
  • Pittsburgh, PA
  • Boston-Cambridge-Newton, MA NECTA Division

Years of Experience

Gaining experience is an important step in the process of exploring your career options. Before you decide on an area of specialty, trying on different “hats” in the counseling field will help determine what kind of work environment, and patient population, is right for you. Volunteering at different organizations on the weekends or shadowing a counselor will help you gain hands-on experience and a possible foot in the door.

The more experience you have, the more knowledge you have. And the more knowledge you have, the better you’ll be at counseling others. Each case is different and comes with its own unique set of circumstances and considerations. For counselors, this means professional growth and advancement opportunities.

Continuing education opportunities are also great ways to expand your scope of practice. After a few years of working as a counselor, taking additional courses or attending a seminar can help improve your practice and possibly expand it to other services. Each state also has its own continuing education requirements.

You might want to consider pursuing a PhD or a PsyD, if continuing your studies is an option. Your education level can have an enormous impact on your earning potential. Some counselors choose to pursue a degree in psychology or even psychiatry, depending on your area of interest and long-term goals. The median annual wages for psychologists in May 2017, according to The Bureau of Labor Statistics, were as follows:

Psychologist Pay BLS

As a psychologist, you can work in a variety of settings, and where you work can also affect your pay. The median annual wages for psychologists in May 2017, in the top industries in which they worked, according to The Bureau of Labor Statistics, were as follows:

Psychologist Pay Top Industries BLS

Psychologists in a private practice can often set their own hours and choose how many patients they want to work with, which affects their overall income as well.

Type of Practice

Counselors work in a variety of settings, depending on the services provided and the client populations. It’s important to consider the type of practice you wish to work for, as each setting provides a unique set of challenges and opportunities. For example, are there specific clients that interest you? Do you like working with couples, children, or do you prefer group therapy or one-on-one support? Do you want to work in a hospital or perhaps a shelter or women’s center? Where you work will not only determine your responsibilities but will also influence your pay.

When looking for employment or an internship, research the following facilities to learn more about their therapy services and programs:

  • Clinics
  • Schools
  • Hospitals
  • Non-profit agencies
  • Human resource departments
  • Private practice

A master’s degree in counseling is often a requirement for many types of counseling jobs. With more clinical and academic training, you’ll be able to take new and exciting career challenges. Make sure to research the licensing requirements for counseling jobs in your state as each state has different practicing laws.

Continuing education requirements also vary by state and will likely to be a necessary part of your job. These requirements are set forth by your state counseling board. Each state has it’s own counseling board. Check your state’s website for additional information about continuing education requirements.

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What Is The Career Outlook For Counselors?

As population numbers rise, the demand for qualified counselors continues to grow. Counselors are needed to provide services in a number of different areas, including education, veteran services, substance abuse, marriage and family therapy, rehabilitation, just to name a few.

According to The Bureau of Labor Statistics, the career outlook for counselors is strong, specifically for substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors. The job outlook for marriage and family therapists is also strong. Employment of marriage and family therapists is projected to grow 23 percent from 2016 to 2026, much faster than the average for all occupations.

Job outlook changes every year so it’s important to do your research to find reliable statistics. The BLS consistently updates its website with job outlook projections and salary data.

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What Is The Earning Potential For Counselors In Private Practice?

If you’re interested in opening your own practice, there are a few important things to keep in mind. Private practice gives you the freedom to choose who you work with and how often. Private practice can also be lucrative if it’s done properly. However, there are some costs to consider before opening your own practice:

Costs to Consider

Licensing Fees: Before you open your practice, you’ll need to research the laws in your state. There are specific laws for owning your business. You’ll likely have to obtain a business license from the city you live in and renew it annually.
Client Base: You’ll also need to generate business in order to be profitable. The more clients you have, the more money you’ll likely make. In order to generate business, you’ll need to put forth money towards marketing efforts
Overhead: Some of the expenses needed to operate a private practice include: office space; the cost of utilities and furnishings, office supplies, additional staff, if necessary, and the price of medical, dental, and liability insurance.

It’s also important to keep in mind that your client base will not always be consistent. You’ll likely experience and ebb and flow in your work. While this is common in the counseling profession, for those clinicians in private practice, your income will not be consistent. However, with more experience comes a higher hourly rate. This may allow you to see fewer clients, while still supporting your own business. You might want to consider joining a professional organization or two. By becoming a member of these associations, there’s a chance you’ll connect with more potential clients. (If you’re moving into private practice, you might already have additional certifications and memberships from previous place(s) of employment.

The risks associated with private practice are not for everyone. That’s why it’s important to know the facts. It may be helpful to talk to a fellow clinician in private practice to learn more about the pros and cons. Fluctuating income can be challenging for counselors who have other expenses. However, if you’re willing to put in the work and have the resources to do so, private practice can be incredibly rewarding.

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