Career Pathways in Counseling

Now that you’ve been briefed on the history and evolution of the counseling profession, it’s time to learn about the types of careers that are available to counselors. The variety of career options in counseling is not that different from the medical profession: Doctors go to medical school after they earn undergraduate degrees; once they finish medical school, they are referred to as doctors. They have a professional identity of a doctor. However, doctors choose an area of expertise, or specialization, during their medical school training that prepares them to work with a specified population and treat medical problems that fall within a certain scope of practice. For example, some doctors are foot and ankle doctors, some are dermatologists, some are oncologists, some are surgeons, and some are general practitioners or family doctors. Despite their chosen specializations, at the end of the day they are all doctors. The same can be said for counselors. Counselors attend graduate school for professional training, take core academic courses, and then complete more specific courses based on their chosen counseling specialization that will prepare them for a career in a particular setting. Counselors also complete internships during their graduate programs that place them in specific settings working with specific populations under supervision. So even though one person might be a school counselor, another person a mental health counselor, and yet another is an addictions counselor or maybe even a marriage, couple, and family counselor, they all share the same professional identity as a counselor.

There are multiple specialty areas which afford counselors the opportunity to work in a wide variety of settings. Some counselors even choose to specialize in certain issues that they may see in their settings. For example, some school counselors may become "experts” on self-injury and some mental health counselors specialize in working with clients with eating disorders. Choosing a career path within the counseling profession is a personal journey guided by one’s own skills, knowledge, life experiences, and personal preferences. Closely examining these areas within yourself is one of the most important steps in your decision-making process with regards to what type of graduate counseling program is best suited for preparing you as a unique individual to become the type of counselor you want to be. Let’s take a closer look at the counseling profession and see how the specialty areas match up with your unique characteristics, personal preferences, and career goals.

Box 3.1


  • 1) What kind of people do you most like to be around?
  • 2) What kind of setting do you prefer to work in? (e.g., office, school, outdoors)
  • 3) Do you have any experience working or volunteering where you served others? If so, who were the people that you served? What were their ages? What did you enjoy most about working with this population? What was your least favorite part about this experience?
  • 4) How have your previous life experiences contributed to your desire to become a professional counselor?
  • 5) What is drawing you to think about becoming a counselor? What about the counseling profession seems like it might fit with you as an individual?
  • 6) When you think about your future career, what type of people are you counseling? Why? Is there any group that you wouldn’t want to work with?
  • 7) Think about all of the skills you have that have helped you be successful in the past. They can be personal skills such as great time management or organization, or they can be interpersonal skills such as communication skills or helping skills. Of all the skills you are thinking about, which ones do you think will help you as a counselor? Why? What type of skills do you think counselors need to have? Are there any skills you would like to gain?
  • 8) What other personal considerations are you thinking about that might impact the type of counselor you want to be or the population you want to serve in the future?
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