Expert Contributor

Friedemann Schaub
Friedemann Schaub, MD, PhD

Friedemann Schaub, MD, PhD has helped thousands of people worldwide overcome anxiety and fear to lead confident and successful lives.

He received his medical degree from the University of Munich and a doctorate in molecular biology from the University of Washington. He is a certified master practitioner in neuro-linguistic programming and an ABH-certified trainer of clinical hypnotherapy.

No one is immune to the problems and stressors of day-to-day life. Sometimes people can resolve things on their own, but other times their issues may feel too complex or overwhelming to manage. It’s not uncommon to need help to find a solution—or just to cope with what’s going on—and that’s where professional counselors come in.

A counseling degree can open up a number of career paths for those interested in helping others; depending on an individual preferences, graduates might consider mental health counseling, vocational and career counseling, substance abuse counseling, rehabilitation counseling, or marriage and family counseling. Learn more about counseling degrees and programs offered by visiting the following pages.

Students can lay the foundation for a counseling career by earning a bachelor’s degree in psychology or a related field, which can lead to entry-level positions; however, becoming a licensed professional counselor usually requires at least a master’s degree. Some choose to pursue a doctoral degree, which enables them to hold educator and supervisory positions.

Psychology is an expansive professional scientific field focusing on the study of human behavior. Psychologists and mental health professionals work in a number of specialty areas, including the following:

What Counselors Do

Helping people with their problems is a process that can take months or even years, and counselors are in it for the long haul. Each day is different inasmuch as people themselves is different. They have their own problems and priorities, and it’s a counselor’s job to find the best approaches and solutions for a particular person or situation. Typically, counselors have the following responsibilities:

  • Create an environment that encourages patients to talk about their problems, emotions, and experiences
  • Evaluate a patient’s physical and mental condition
  • Conduct interviews with patients and their families in order to get background information
  • Help patients set goals for what they want to accomplish during treatment
  • Create treatment plans for patients and monitor their progress
  • Assist patients when they have crisis situations
  • Give referrals to patients who need services from other professionals
  • Create and maintain patient records, ensuring that all information is accurate and remains confidential
  • Write reports and patient evaluations, and fill out paperwork that is required by the federal or state government

Interview with a Counseling Professional

In order to provide a practical view of what it’s like to work as a counselor, we’ve interviewed Dr. Friedemann Schaub, author of The Fear & Anxiety Solution.

What do you enjoy most about working as a counselor?

What I enjoy is to help people release any blocks and perceived limitations of the past so they can tap into their true potential. I don’t see the work I’m doing as just a way to heal or overcome anxiety or depression. I see it more as a self-discovery journey. It’s incredibly gratifying when I see people waking up to themselves and learning to love and appreciate themselves more.

What do you find most challenging about your job?

At times you just have to have patience, realizing that everyone goes at their own pace. You cannot want to change things more for your clients than they want it for themselves. You have to be willing to accept the times when people are just not ready. You have to allow them to either continue on the journey to find the answers they’re looking for, or stay stuck a little bit longer.

What does the typical workday of a counselor look like?

I’m not really a typical counselor. Often counselors do 45-minute sessions and they see sometimes ten patients a day. I think this is too much and I think it’s too short of a time. I see clients for two hours, and three to four clients a day. This way allows me to really focus longer and deeper on their challenges.

What skills do you think are most important for a counselor to have?

Compassion and empathy are certainly at the top. Counselors must be able to put themselves into the shoes of another person, but then at the same time, not get stuck in them. At the beginning of any counseling career, there is a challenge because you can empathize too much with a person, and it almost takes over your mind and you suffer with them—which, of course, is incredibly draining. Counselors also need flexibility. You have to be willing to go with clients into their belief systems and their points of view. If you’re too rigid and you hold onto what you think is right too much, you cannot really connect to a client. Another important skill is to see the goodness in each person. If you don’t believe in someone’s potential, then you cannot help them.

What advice would you give to students who are interested in pursuing this career?

I would advise them not to see people just for their diagnosis or their disorders, but really see them as whole and complete. The relationship should be one of equality. Sometimes counselors come from almost a condescending place, which makes patients feel insecure. This is not appropriate because you want to empower, you want to encourage, you want to uplift and instill confidence in a client, not make them feel like there’s something wrong with them.

I also think that students who are interested in this career need to know that they have to work on themselves. You want to enter into this career having really learned a lot about yourself, so that what you learned and went through can also benefit your clients.

On the Way: Steps to Becoming a Counselor

It takes several years of education to become a counselor, as students learn the underlying principles of psychology, counseling theories and techniques, and the ways in which counseling can be applied through various social systems. Students should anticipate the following steps:

Earn a Bachelor’s Degree

Although few bachelor’s programs offer a degree specifically in counseling, an undergraduate degree in psychology, human services, or another related field is a good start.

Obtain a Graduate Degree

Students may be able to get an entry-level counseling job with a bachelor’s degree, but licensed professional counselors (LPCs) usually must hold at least a master’s. In many cases, a doctoral degree is preferable, and can lead to advanced positions in educator or supervisory roles.

Get Field Training

Graduate degree programs usually include practica and internships as part of the curriculum; students may also seek out additional opportunities to strengthen their field experience.

Get Licensed

A license is required by every state to work as a professional counselor. Licensing criteria varies from state to state, but typically requires individuals to hold a master’s degree, have completed a certain amount of fieldwork, and pass an exam.

For more information about the specific steps that prospective counselors must take to practice in the field, log on to our counseling degree page.

Licensure of a Counselor

What is it?

A license is a state’s seal of approval, ensuring that licensees have attained minimum standards of education and training.

Why get licensed?

A license is necessary in order to legally work as a counselor, and helps protect patients from unqualified practitioners.

Who grants licenses?

Licenses are granted by individual states, who use licensing examinations prepared by the National Board for Certified Counselors (NBCC). The organization administers two tests, the National Counselor Examination for Licensure and Certification (NCE) and the National Clinical Mental Health Counseling Examination (NCMHCE). Which test counselors are required to take depends on the state.

How do you get licensed?

Every state has its own procedure for granting licenses to counselors. To find information about an individual state, prospective counselors can begin by logging on to the NBCC’s State Board Directory and choosing their location. Generally, the process entails the following steps:

Obtain at least a master’s degree and complete any requisite field experience

Apply and register for the examination

Complete and pass the examination

Pay licensing fee to the state

Certification of a Counselor

What is it?

A certification is a voluntary credential that allows counselors to demonstrate their skills and expertise, often in a specialized area.

Why get certified?

While certifications may not be required by employers, they can be an ideal way to showcase the education, skills, and training that are valued by employers. This can open up additional job opportunities, advancement in a current career, and increased earning potential. Certification also gives counselors the opportunity to demonstrate their commitment to their career and the field, which is impressive to both employers and patients alike.

Who grants certifications?

Certifications are granted by the National Board for Certified Counselors (NBCC). The organization offers a general credential, the National Certified Counselor (NCC), as well as specialty certifications including National Certified School Counselor (NCSC), Certified Clinical Mental Health Counselor (CCMHC), and Master Addictions Counselor (MAC).

How do you get certified?

In order to obtain a certification from the NBCC, candidates must:

Complete at least a master’s degree in counseling

Complete 3,000 hours of work experience

Pass the National Counselor Examination for Licensure and Certification (NCE)

Pass the appropriate exam in the specialty area

Counseling Specialties

Given the broad scope of counseling, professional counselors have several avenues for employment. They can work in settings that range from hospitals and healthcare facilities to schools or private practice, and can choose from numerous specialties that allow them to focus their career on certain patient populations. Following are some examples of counseling specialties:

Mental Health Counselors

These professionals help patients with mental and emotional problems, including anxiety, depression, stress and low self-esteem. They may also help people in crisis, such as those who are considering suicide.

Fact: The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that nursing and residential care facilities and outpatient care centers employed the most mental health counselors in 2012.

Marriage and Family Counselors

Marriage and family counselors help people improve their close interpersonal relationships. Although they may treat patients on an individual basis, the main focus is on their relationships.

Fact: Marriage and family counselors obtain their licenses through the Association of Marital and Family Therapy Regulatory Boards (an association of state boards).

School Counselors

School counselors help students with a variety of issues, including academic performance, career decisions, social problems such as peer pressure, and family relationships.

Fact: Most states require school counselors to take continuing education courses in order to renew their license.

Career Counselors

Career counselors may work with college students just beginning their career paths, or with established professionals who want to advance in their current career or begin a new one.

Fact: In some cases, career counselors may begin work with a bachelor’s degree, and can work without becoming licensed. However, those in private practice usually must get a state-issued license, which typically requires a master’s degree and 2,000 to 3,000 hours of clinical experience.

Substance Abuse Counselors

Substance abuse counselors work with patients who are struggling with drug and alcohol addiction, helping them adopt strategies to cope with their problems and promote recovery. They may see patients on an individual basis, as well as in groups.

Fact: According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the industry that employed the most health counselors in 2012 were outpatient mental health and substance abuse centers.

Genetic Counselors

Counselors in this specialty educate individuals and families about genetic disorders and birth defects, evaluate couples on the risks of passing down inherited conditions, and provide emotional support to those facing difficult conditions or decisions.

Fact: The Accreditation Council for Genetic Counseling accredits degree programs in this field; certifications are granted by the American Board of Genetic Counseling.

Working in Counseling: Skills

Although theoretical knowledge provides the underpinning for a counselor’s work, daily interaction with clients requires an extensive toolkit of hands-on skills that must be cultivated and then uniquely applied to each situation. Counselors should strive to develop the following skills:

Empathy

Counselors often treat people who are going through the hardest challenges of their lives. Handling these situations effectively requires these professionals to develop empathy to understand their patients’ emotions and perspectives.

Self-Disclosure

Although it is not appropriate for counselors to talk about their private lives at length with their patients, there is room for them to disclose certain personal information if it will help someone. For example, counselors who have experienced depression might share a strategy that helped them get through it.

Verbal Communication Skills

It is imperative for counselors to be able to effectively talk with their clients. Counselors must be able to explain psychological concepts in ways that are understandable and relevant to patients, as well as give advice that is meaningful and accessible to particular patients.

Listening Skills

Similarly, counselors must be able to listen to their patients effectively. They must absorb and process the information they receive in order to understand what is happening from the patient’s perspective, as well as take a broader, more objective view to the situation.

Writing Skills

Counselors should be able to write clearly and concisely in maintaining patient records, writing reports, and communicating in writing with colleagues.

Critical Thinking Skills

Counselors must be able to prioritize and synthesize information they get from their patients to best make diagnoses and decisions about treatment.

School & Career Counselors Mental Health/Marriage and Family Counselors Substance Abuse & Behavioral Disorder Counselors
Median Annual Wage

$53,370

$40,850

$39,270

Employment Growth 2012-2022

12%

29%

31%

Growth Outlook

As fast as average

Much faster than average

Much faster than average

Education Required

Master’s degree and possibly a license

Master’s degree and license

High school diploma with certification to master’s degree, depending on setting and type of work

Wages, growth, education and certification requirements and more will all depend on geographical location. For state-by-state information on counseling salaries and employment growth, check out the map tool below.

Related Careers

Counselors possess expertise and skills that are valuable in a variety of jobs, and may be transferred to other careers in the helping professions. The following are examples of similar careers that counselors may want to consider:

Social or Human Service Assistant

2014 Median Salary: $29,790

2012 to 2022 Job growth: 22%

Social or Community Service Manager

2014 Median Salary: $62,740

2012 to 2022 Job growth: 21%

Health Educator

2014 Median Salary: $50,430

2012 to 2022 Job growth: 19%

Personal Care Aides

2014 Median Salary: $20,440

2012 to 2022 Job growth: 49%

Home Health Aides

2014 Median Salary: $21,380

2012 to 2022 Job growth: 48%

Psychology Postsecondary Teachers

2014 Median Salary: $68,690

2012 to 2022 Job growth: 19%

Sociologists

2014 Median Salary: $72,810

2012 to 2022 Job growth: 15%

Mental Health and Substance Abuse Social Workers

2014 Median Salary: $41,380

2012 to 2022 Job growth: 19%

Clinical, Counseling, and School Psychologists

2014 Median Salary: $68,900

2012 to 2022 Job growth: 11%

Counseling Career Resources

There are many resources available that counseling students can use to augment their classroom studies. The following links can help prospective counselors get more information about the field: