Top 4 Types of Counseling Careers

Counselor with student in office

If you feel called to dedicate your life to supporting and empowering others, exploring a career as a professional counselor could be a meaningful path for you. There are many different types of counselors and, as you might expect, many types of counseling degrees to choose from. This career guide provides an overview of various counseling degrees you can pursue to build a meaningful counseling career.

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Undergraduate and Graduate Degrees in Counseling

The two primary degree paths are undergraduate and graduate-level counseling programs. All aspiring counselors typically need at least a bachelor’s degree (undergraduate). While a bachelor's degree is often the minimum requirement for future counselors, a master's degree, though not universally mandated for all counselor types in every state, is highly recommended.1

You may have the option to complete some or all of your undergraduate credits online depending on the school and program you select. GCU offers undergraduate and graduate counseling programs online. You may also be able to complete your master’s counseling courses online, with one or more in-person practicum/internship experiences depending on the program.

Becoming a clinical mental health or a school counselor requires a master’s degree.Obtaining state licensure is a prerequisite for a clinical practice profession, involving the completion of a specific number of supervised clinical hours both before and after obtaining a master's degree. Hour requirements vary by state.

At both the undergraduate and graduate levels, you may have the option of selecting a general counseling degree or one with a specialization or concentration. General types of counseling degrees cover a broad spectrum of knowledge and skills, such as counseling theories, multicultural counseling and development, methodologies and professional ethics.

If you already know which type of counselor you would like to become, you could instead opt for a degree with a specialization, emphasis or concentration. For instance, you might choose to specialize in substance abuse counseling. While a degree with a concentration encompasses all fundamental counseling topics, it places a heightened emphasis on specific counseling specialties.

A Guide to the 4 Different Types of Counselors

Identifying counseling professions that resonate with you can be challenging, particularly if you are in high school or are a college freshman. Exploring local job shadowing and internship opportunities can provide valuable insights, giving you practical exposure to the profession, and can aid you in narrowing down your list of potential counseling career paths.

Some of the most common types of counselors are as follows.

1. Mental Health Counselors

A mental health counselor is a licensed professional who assesses and treats the emotional, cognitive and behavioral issues associated with mental health disorders. These professionals use strength focused counseling methods and techniques to help their diverse clients better understand their emotions, thought patterns and behaviors. Counselors can help people develop coping skills and adapt to more positive and productive thought patterns and behaviors.

A mental health counselor works with a diverse clientele facing various mental health challenges. Mental health professionals work with children, adolescents and/or adults and commonly address concerns, such as depression, anxiety, trauma and phobias.

Master’s in Clinical Mental Health Counseling.

2. Substance Use Counselors

Substance use counselors specialize in working with people struggling with addiction. Addiction is a complex disorder that can have multiple root causes and risk factors, and it may take many forms. These types of counselor professionals help their clients understand the causes and nature of their addiction, learn healthier coping habits, identify potential relapse triggers, and develop strategies for long-term sobriety.

Master’s in Addiction Counseling.

3. Marriage and Family Counselors

The need for nurturing familial relationships is one of the defining characteristics of humanity; however, relationships are not always easy to maintain. Marriage and family counselors may offer support to parents and children experiencing strained relationships, couples facing hardships, and individuals navigating the challenges of divorce, aiding them in moving forward.

Master's in Marriage and Family Counseling.

4. School Counselor

If you think you might like to specialize in working with children, you might consider becoming a school counselor. These types of counselors help students overcome social and emotional challenges, develop healthy and productive habits, identify career interests, and avoid problems, such as drug use and bullying. School counselors can also work with teachers and parents by helping them learn how to empower their students.

Master's of Education in School Counseling

A Guide to Other Counseling Professions

If you are uncertain about pursuing a career in one of the more traditional counseling fields, consider exploring the following career paths. Graduate-level counseling degrees may generally qualify you for these careers, though obtaining specialized training and a license may also be required.

Rehabilitation Counselors

Some people have an acute or chronic health condition or disability that limits their ability to work and live independently. Rehabilitation counselors are professionals who specialize in working with people who have short-term or chronic medical conditions that affect their quality of life and ability to perform vital life skills. For instance, a rehabilitation counselor might work with people of any age who are dealing with cancer treatment, an acute injury, sickle cell anemia, arthritis or autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

Rehabilitation counselors help their clients learn important life skills and adapt to the use of assistive technologies and devices. They can also help their clients identify and strengthen their employment skills, potentially land gainful employment and navigate the disability benefits system. Rehabilitation counselors collaborate with various professionals and support services to create a holistic approach to enhancing the overall quality of life for individuals with disabilities.

Vocational Counselors

Vocational counselors are experts in employment. They work with teens and adults, helping them identify their strengths, career interests and goals. Vocational counselors help clients choose postsecondary educational or vocational programs, develop a resume, prepare for job interviews, solve workplace disputes, and transition to new careers.

Correctional Counselors

Correctional counselors are similar to generalist mental health counselors in that they often assess and treat a wide range of mental health issues, such as schizophrenia, antisocial personality disorder and suicidal ideation. These counseling professionals specialize in providing their expertise within correctional facilities and focus on the unique challenges faced by individuals who have been incarcerated. Within correctional settings, counselors engage in individual and group counseling. They also facilitate connections to educational and ministry resources, offer guidance to parole boards and collaborate with parole officers to reduce the risk of recidivism.

Take the Next Step In Your Education Journey Choose Your Counseling Path at GCU

If you are working on your undergraduate counseling degree, you can expect to study a broad range of topics in the field. You can learn about counseling theories, methodologies, mental health disorders, co-occurring disorders and professional ethics. If you have chosen a concentration, you will also study that specialized area in depth.

For instance, if you have decided to become a substance use counselor, you will study psychopharmacology in the treatment of addiction, the causes and risk factors of addiction, relapse prevention and similar topics.

When you are ready to move on to your master’s degree, you will study advanced topics in counseling. You will examine advanced counseling theories, such as person-centered therapy (PCT) and cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). You will be taught counseling skills, including clinical assessments, diagnosis and intervention.

You will conclude your master’s degree program by completing a counseling practicum and internships. After fulfilling all the licensure requirements in your state, you can proceed to apply for your license and embark on the search for employment as a professional counselor.

Regardless of which counseling profession appeals to you, you can establish the groundwork for a career you may find meaningful when you join the Christian learning community at Grand Canyon University. Our counseling degrees include a number of undergraduate and graduate-level options for aspiring counselors and mental health professionals. One of these paths includes the Master of Science in Clinical Mental Health Counseling, which aligns with the academic requirements for becoming a Licensed Associate Counselor (LAC) in Arizona.

Fill out the form on this page to learn more about your counseling career path and which degree is right for you.

1 U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. (2023, Sept. 6). How to Become a Substance Abuse, Behavioral Disorder, or Mental Health Counselor. Retrieved on Dec. 4, 2023.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Grand Canyon University. Any sources cited were accurate as of the publish date.