5 Types of Counseling Specialties

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A counselor takes notes on a notepad while meeting with a client.

Counselors help people from all walks of life overcome their problems. Couples may seek out the help of a marriage counselor to help them resolve interpersonal issues, while students may ask school counselors for help if they’re being bullied.

Professional counselors work with individuals, groups and families to help people achieve their career, education and wellness goals. Consequently, individuals interested in pursuing this career path will need to decide which types of counseling services they’re interested in providing, as there are a myriad of counseling specialties  they can choose from. From school and career counseling to mental health counseling and substance abuse counseling, the opportunities for those considering pursuing a Master of Arts in Counseling are plentiful.

Types of Counseling

Within the counseling profession, there are multiple avenues to help people in need. Consider some of the most common counseling specialties.

1. School and Career Counseling

In an age of cyberbullying and in-school lockdown drills, a school counselor’s role is more important than ever. Children of all ages are at risk of feeling overwhelmed, whether it’s due to problems at home, arguments with friends or something they’ve seen on the evening news. School counselors do more than help students have a positive educational experience. In many cases, they’re called upon to provide social-emotional support.

In addition to providing support, counselors who work in high school settings also help students make career plans and fill out college, scholarship and trade school applications. Career counselors, on the other hand, focus on helping job seekers identify their interests and aptitudes so they can define their professional goals. They work in a broad range of settings, including high schools, colleges and government agencies. Some choose to work in private practice. The primary role of career counselors is to help students and clients develop interviewing, networking and job-searching skills. They may provide guidance on how to resolve conflicts within the workplace as well.

Data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects that the number of jobs for school and career counselors will grow by 10% between 2021 and 2031, which is faster than the average projected growth for all occupations. The 2021 median annual wage for school and career counselors was $60,510.

2. Mental Health Counseling

Professionals who choose to pursue a career in mental health counseling provide psychotherapy treatment to individuals, couples, families and groups. Although some choose to work with specific demographics, such as children or older adults, others provide services to people of all backgrounds and age groups. The primary role of mental health counselors is to promote mental and emotional health. Specifically, mental health counselors may help patients with issues relating to marital problems, substance abuse, self-esteem and stress management.

3. Substance Abuse Counseling

According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), in 2021, an estimated 46.3 million Americans aged 12 or older were battling a substance abuse disorder — 16.5% of the population.  Because of the prevalence of this important issue, a third type of counseling that master’s degree candidates may be interested in pursuing relates to addiction support.

Substance abuse counselors work with clients individually or in a group setting, and in some cases, they may also work alongside registered nurses, physicians or psychiatrists to coordinate care and develop treatment plans. These professionals may specialize in providing services to specific populations, such as veterans or teenagers, while others work with clients who have been referred to a treatment program as part of a court order.

Data from the BLS indicates that employment of substance abuse, behavioral disorder and mental health counselors is projected to grow by 22% between 2021 and 2031. The 2021 median annual salary for these counselors was $48,520.

4. Marriage and Family Counseling

Marriage and family counselors help married couples, or entire families navigate different challenges. Challenges within a marriage may encompass anything from infidelity to more mundane, domestic tensions. Additionally, marriage and family counselors may provide guidance for families experiencing major life transitions, including the adoption of a new child or the loss of a loved one.

Marriage and family counselors can provide their clients with strategies to improve communication or troubleshoot problems that arise within family life. Ultimately, marriage and family counselors strive to help their clients build happier, healthier and more harmonious lives at home.

The BLS reports that employment of marriage and family counselors is projected to grow by 14% between 2021 and 2031, nearly twice as fast as the average for all occupations (5%). The median annual salary for this profession was $49,880 in 2021.

5. Rehabilitation Counseling

Sometimes, physical or mental disabilities may make it difficult for people to accomplish everyday tasks. Rehabilitation counseling is devoted to helping these people develop the tools and strategies needed to live as independently as possible. Specifically, rehabilitation counselors may work with clients who are visually impaired, clients who have sustained spinal cord injuries, or clients who have limited mobility due to an accident or a surgical procedure.

According to the BLS, this field of counseling has a projected 11% growth rate between 2021 and 2031, adding nearly 10,000 new jobs. In 2021, the median annual salary was $38,560.

Essential Counseling Skills for All Types of Counselors

Regardless of the counseling specialty they choose, there are several skills that all aspiring counselors need to develop to be effective.

Empathy for the Client

People who seek help from counselors are often feeling stressed and overwhelmed. Aspiring counselors will need to learn to empathize so they can build trust with their clients. This is important because it can help improve clients’ willingness to be open and forthcoming about their problems.

Creating a Safe Space for the Client

For counseling to be effective, clients need to feel as if their thoughts, behaviors and feelings aren’t being judged. Clients who feel that their counseling sessions provide a safe space for them to discuss their problems, without fear of disapproval, are more likely to share information freely.

Communicating Positive Intentions to the Client

Counselors who understand how to be genuine and authentic with their clients show they are trustworthy. Authentic communication, which involves speaking to clients simply, clearly and respectfully, helps encourage clients to express their true thoughts and feelings.

Inspiring Active Participation

A counselor is not a mechanic who fixes clients’ problems while they wait. Counselors want clients to take an active role in their own progress, because the more clients put into sessions, the more they will get out of them. Counselors can help clients take responsibility for their own success by encouraging them to work hard on change between sessions, to share experiences with other participants during group sessions and to be open to alternative perspectives. Thus, an essential skill for all counselors is the ability to engage clients and encourage them to get involved in their own recovery.

Choosing Your Counseling Specialty

For those seeking an opportunity to effectively help others, pursuing an advanced counseling degree may be the right path. The online Master of Arts in Counseling program at Wake Forest University has been designed to provide students with the skills and knowledge they’ll need to take the next step in their careers.

Discover how the online master’s in counseling program at Wake Forest University, which includes tracks in clinical mental health counseling and school counseling, can help you reach your goal of serving others — no matter what type of counselor you want to be.


Indeed, “8 Types of Counselors to Know”

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Marriage and Family Therapists

S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Rehabilitation Counselors

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, School and Career Counselors and Advisors

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Substance Abuse, Behavioral Disorder and Mental Health Counselors

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, “SAMHSA Announces National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) Results Detailing Mental Illness and Substance Use Levels in 2021”