Child Pediatric Counselor

Child and youth counselors provide treatment to children and adolescents with mental, behavioral, and emotional disorders. They diagnose issues, create treatment plans, and help young people deal with a variety of challenges affecting happiness and stability. Child counselors work in schools, social service offices, hospitals, juvenile detention centers, homeless shelters, domestic violence shelters, and outpatient clinics. They often assist children dealing with current or past traumas, including abuse, bullying, and homelessness.

The field of counseling is currently experiencing significant growth. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects that job openings for family counselors will grow 23% between 2016 and 2026. Most people pursuing a career in child counseling enter the field because of a strong desire to help children. However, professional child counselors also earn comfortable salaries. Child counselors make an average of $48,790 per year, and counselors in high-demand areas or sub-specialties earn even more.

To become a child counselor, you need a college education, clinical experience, and state license. A bachelor's degree can help individuals launch their career. However, child counselors typically need a master's degree at minimum.

Becoming a Child Counselor

Degree Requirements

Most professional child counselors need a master's degree at minimum. All 50 states require counselors to obtain a graduate degree in order to apply for a clinical license. Child counselors typically earn a master's in general counseling or psychology. These programs tend to be much more common than a specialized master's in child counseling. Although child counseling master's degrees are rare, many counseling programs offer a concentration in child and adolescent development. You can also gain experience in child counseling during your required clinical experience.

To gain admission into a master's in counseling program, you must hold a bachelor's degree from an accredited college or university. Your bachelor's does not need to be in counseling; most programs accept applicants from a variety of academic backgrounds. However, you may need to complete prerequisite courses if you major in an unrelated field. Many students choose to enroll in an online program rather than an on-campus program.

Some students choose to earn a doctorate in child counseling. With a Ph.D. in counseling, you can teach at the college level or conduct original research.

Clinical Experience Requirements

Most counseling programs include a mandatory clinical internship. In order to obtain licensure, states typically require candidates to complete a supervised postgraduate clinical experience. Exact qualifications vary depending on the state you want to practice in and the type of license you apply for. Most states require about two years, or 3,000 hours, of clinical experience before they issue a professional child counselor license.

During an internship, you work under the supervision of a licensed counselor. You will usually work in a clinical setting, such as a private practice, hospital, school, or outpatient clinic. Some students find counseling internships at their college's campus clinic. During the internship, your supervisor discusses your client sessions and gives you the chance to ask questions and seek guidance. The supervisor often becomes a mentor. At the end of the internship, your supervisor signs off on your documented clinical hours. They then submit the documents to your state licensing board or your master's program as proof that you fulfilled the appropriate licensing or graduation requirements.

Online students must complete required internships or clinical components in person. Distance learners typically can find a facility in their local community. Many online counseling programs help their students find an internship placement and qualified supervisor. You can also try asking for potential placements through your state or local professional counseling organizations. Start looking and applying for internships early, up to six months in advance if possible.

Licensure and Certification Requirements

Practicing child counselors in all 50 states must hold a professional license. Requirements for licensure vary by state. Licensing boards typically require a master's in counseling or a closely related field, a passing score on the state licensing exam, and two years of supervised clinical experience after graduation. Some states require prospective counselors to earn their master's degree from a program accredited by the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP). All states require you to pass one of the National Board for Certified Counselors (NBCC) exams. You may take either the National Clinical Mental Health Counseling Examination or the National Counselor Examination for Licensure and Certification, depending on which state you live in.

Although sometimes used interchangeably, counselor licensure and certification refer to two different credentials. State governments regulate the licensure process, and you need a license to legally practice child counseling. A counseling license gives you permission to practice in that state. Each state creates its own laws and requirements about licensure. You can learn more about licensing requirements in your state here.

By contrast, certification is a voluntary credential that demonstrates you meet standards created by the professional counseling community. The largest national counseling certification is the national certified counselor credential from the NBCC. Child counselors who work in schools can pursue the NBCC's specialized national certified school counselor credential. The Association for Play Therapy's certification in play therapy for master's level mental health professionals may also interest child counselors.

Master's Degrees vs. Doctoral Degrees for Child Counselors

In the U.S., you need at least a master's degree to practice as a licensed child counselor. Although not required to work as a child counselor, holding a doctoral degree offers various advantages, including a wider variety of career opportunities and higher average annual compensation. Counselors with a Ph.D. earn over $25,000 a year more than those with just a master's degree.

Average Reported Salary for Counselors by Degree Level

Degree Level Average Salary
Master of Addictions Counseling $64,100
Ph.D., Counseling $77,079

Source: PayScale

Master's Degree

In order to practice child counseling in every state, candidates must have a master's degree at minimum. Program length varies, but master's students take an average of two years of full-time study. Most curricula include an internship or clinical experience. Counseling master's programs may or may not require a thesis, depending on the school. During the thesis process, students conduct in-depth research in a narrow area of study. Candidates write a publication-quality manuscript and give an oral presentation.

Few schools offer a specialized master's focused on child counseling. Instead, many students earn a degree in general psychology or counseling and specialize in child counseling. A master's degree in child counseling allows you to obtain the vast majority of professional child counselor positions. However, individuals who hold a master's cannot teach counseling at the college level.

Sample Courses

  • Child Development: This course gives students an overview of human physical and cognitive development from birth through adolescence. Students explore child development in the context of society, gender, race, class, language, and culture.
  • Child Psychopathology: Students learn about the factors that contribute to child psychopathology, including trauma, family dysfunction, and drug use. The course examines strategies for diagnosing and treating major childhood disorders.
  • Psychotherapy with Children and Adolescents: Prospective child counselors explore best practices and evidence-based treatments for school-age children. Students review current research regarding psychotherapy for children.
  • Child and Adolescent Counseling: In this course, students learn about different therapies for children and adolescents. Future counselors review techniques for assessing behavior and appropriate treatment options.
  • Professional and Ethical Issues in Clinical Child Psychology: Prospective child counselors learn about contemporary problems and ethical standards in the field. Students explore current research on a variety of topics.

Doctoral Degree

Although not mandatory for child counselors, a doctorate or Ph.D. in child counseling opens up several avenues unavailable or less available to individuals with just a master's. Doctors can teach counseling at the college level, while counselors with master's degrees cannot. Other career opportunities include specialized research positions at universities, think tanks, and other organizations. Counselors with Ph.D.s earn an average of $25,000 a year more than those who hold only master's degrees.

A doctoral degree typically takes five to seven years to complete. Ph.D. students do not need a master's to get into a doctoral program, but sometimes it can help. Entrance requirements tend to be more rigorous and competitive for Ph.D. programs than master's programs. Most doctoral counseling programs require students to complete a dissertation. Students engaged in a dissertation project must complete original research using human subjects and write a publication-quality paper describing their findings. Dissertation students present and orally defend their research. Candidates take about three years to complete a dissertation.

Sample Courses

  • Historical and Theoretical Foundations of Child and Adolescent Therapy: This course introduces students to the theory and history of child and adolescent family therapy. Students also learn to diagnose psychological disorders that appear in childhood and adolescence.
  • Family Therapy with Adolescents: Students discover clinical theories related to counseling adolescents. The course helps students think critically about common issues in parenting adolescents.
  • Systemic Evaluation and Case Management: This course explores evaluation tools used by counselors for research and clinical purposes. Students learn to conduct a needs assessment and assess community resources in their local community.
  • Research Methods in Child Therapy: This course provides an introduction to qualitative and quantitative research methods in counseling. Students explore ideas for possible dissertation research.
  • Assessing and Treating Family Violence: Students receive an overview of treatments available for counselors working with children in violent family situations. The course explores ethical dilemmas counselors may face when dealing with family violence.

Skills Gained in a Child Counseling Program

In order to succeed after graduation, prospective child counselors need to develop interpersonal, communication, listening, organizational, and critical thinking skills. Students gain these skills during classroom instruction, training, and field experiences. Child counselors continue to refine these skills over years of working with patients. The list below describes some of the most crucial skills for becoming an effective child counselor.

  • Interpersonal Skills: Interpersonal interaction refers to how people relate with others in their environment. Interpersonal skills include verbal and nonverbal communication, negotiation, problem solving, and decision making. Child counseling professionals need these skills in order to make patients and their families feel comfortable enough to trust them with their treatment.
  • Communication Skills: Child counselors need to demonstrate excellent verbal and nonverbal communication. They need to understand how children of different ages and developmental stages express their thoughts, emotions, and fears. Counselors also need to know how to effectively form connections and positive relationships with kids. Without this skill, treatment is impossible.
  • Listening Skills: Child counselors must understand how to actively listen so that children feel truly heard. Listening includes reflecting back what you hear and making a point to remember what patients tell you. Good counselors also pay attention to what patients do not talk about and explore what that silence might be communicating.
  • Organizational Skills: Because child counselors usually work independently and handle a large number of patient files, organization skills are critical. You must effectively manage a great deal of private health information in order to effectively diagnose and treat patients. Organization is especially important for child counselors working in private practice.
  • Critical Thinking Skills: Child counselors need sharp critical thinking skills to diagnose patients and come up with treatment plans. Counselors need to constantly reassess their patients' progress and consider new treatment plans if necessary. The counseling field is constantly changing, and practitioners must to keep up-to-date on new research and apply findings to their practice.

Employment and Salary Outlook for Child Counselors

Child counseling professionals can expect an excellent employment outlook. The BLS projects that the family therapy profession will grow 23% between 2016 and 2026. By comparison, the average job outlook for all professions in that time period is just 7%. This high level of growth means child counselors will likely find jobs more easily than people in many other professions.

Child counselors make close to the average annual salary for U.S. workers. The median annual salary for child counselors starts at $48,790, and can increase to as much as $70,260 for individuals working in the state government. Child counselors working for health practitioners and outpatient care centers also receive higher wages. Child counselors with several years of experience and higher levels of education can also expect higher salaries.

Industries With the Highest Levels of Employment for Marriage and Family Therapists

Industry Employment Percent of Industry Employment Annual Mean Wage
Individual and Family Services 12,950 0.56% $49,410
Offices of Other Health Practitioners 8,520 0.97% $53,690
Outpatient Care Centers 6,450 0.73% $52,790
State Government, Excluding Schools and Hospitals 4,960 0.23% $70,260
Residential Intellectual and Developmental Disability, Mental Health, and Substance Abuse Facilities 2,340 0.37% $46,600

Source: BLS

Industries With the Highest Concentration of Employment for Marriage and Family Therapists

Industry Employment Percent of Industry Employment Annual Mean Wage
Offices of Other Health Practitioners 8,520 0.97% $53,690
Other Residential Care Facilities 1,290 0.79% $44,370
Outpatient Care Centers 6,450 0.73% $52,790
Individual and Family Services 12,950 0.56% $49,410
Community Food and Housing, and Emergency and Other Relief Services 730 0.43% $47,300

Source: BLS

How Much Do Child Counselors Make?

Child and family counseling professionals earn annual salaries higher than the U.S. average for all occupations. Child counselor salaries can vary substantially based on a number of factors, including geographic location, industry, years of experience, job title, and certification. Early career professionals with zero to five years of experience make an average of $39,000. Late-career professionals with more than 20 years of experience make about $55,000 annually.

Child counselors working for state governments tend to make substantially more money, while those working at residential care facilities tend to make the least. Child counselors can increase their salary by obtaining additional certifications and credentials. Across all occupations, workers in rural areas earn much less than their counterparts in urban areas. This is partially due to the higher cost of living in cities.

Salaries for Child and Family Therapists by Experience

  Entry-Level (0-5 Years) Mid-Career (5-10 Years) Experienced (10-20 Years) Late-Career (>20 Years)
Child and Family Therapist $39,000 $48,000 $50,000 $55,000

Source: PayScale

Top-Paying States for Counselors

Where you live can substantially impact your career. Factors like licensing, salary potential, quality of life, and size of at-risk populations all vary by state. The highest-paying states for marriage and family therapists include New Jersey, Colorado, Hawaii, Maine, and Arizona. New Jersey family therapists make an average of $74,130 per year. When searching for a job, keep in mind that the cost of living fluctuates widely from state to state.

Related Careers for Child Counselors

Child counselors hold many skills applicable to other careers, including critical thinking, organization, interpersonal skills, and active listening. Most child counselors also have strong compassion and empathy. Consequently, child counselors often find jobs in school and career counseling, rehabilitation counseling, residential youth counseling, social work, and juvenile probation. Counselors interested in these careers may obtain a graduate certificate, professional certification, or specialization in order to improve their employment prospects.

Occupation Description Salary Degree Level Required
School and Career Counselors Depending on their specific workplace, school and career counselors may provide services to children, adolescents, or adults. School counselors help students deal with a range of issues related to mental and emotional health. Career counselors help clients navigate employment, career planning, and other issues. $55,410 Master's
Rehabilitation Counselors Rehabilitation counselors help people with disabilities live independently. The job requires strong interpersonal and communication skills, as well as knowledge of different disabilities. $34,860 Master's
Social Worker Social workers help disadvantaged and at-risk populations, including children in foster care, homeless persons, and low-income families. Clinical social workers often provide counseling services to their clients. $47,980 Master's
Juvenile Probation Officers Juvenile probation officers assist young people who have experienced legal trouble. They help young people avoid further criminal activity and identify risk factors. The job requires empathy, communication skills, and patience. $39,262 Bachelor's
Residential Youth Counselors Like child counselors, residential youth counselors help young people experiencing difficult situations. Youth counselors usually work in group homes and deal with extreme behavioral problems. $31,148 Associate

Source: PayScale/BLS

How to Find a Child Counseling Job

Once you complete your child counseling degree and receive your license, you can start applying for jobs. Begin working on your resume and practicing for interviews while still in school. Most college career centers offer resume-building workshops, mock interviews, and career fairs, and many also offer one-on-one advising. Make sure that you tailor your resume for each specific job that you apply to. Use keywords and key phrases from the job description to increase your chances of landing an interview. Make sure you dress professionally and practice answering potential interview questions.

You can also find jobs and career assistance by networking with the local counseling community. Try to find a counselor willing to mentor you early in your career. Many professional organizations connect established counselors with students and young professionals. You should also attend networking events and job fairs hosted by professional organizations. Don't forget to connect with former classmates, teachers, and people you met during your clinical experience and volunteer work. You can find additional networking opportunities and resources through Psychology Jobs, Good Therapy, and the American Counseling Association.

Professional Organizations for Child Counselors

  • Association for Child and Adolescent Counseling: A professional network for child and adolescent counselors, ACAC offers professional development opportunities, distributes educational and professional materials, and advocates for better understanding of the field.
  • Society of Clinical Child and Adolescent Psychology: A division of the American Psychological Association, SCCAP promotes training, public policy, and professional practice in child and adolescent psychology.
  • Association for Play Therapy: Established in 1982, APT connects professionals interested in using therapeutic play to treat children. The national membership organization offers publications, credentials, and education and training.
  • American School Counselor Association: ASCA provides professional development, publications, and resources to school counselors worldwide. The association also offers an online professional networking website and e-library.
  • Child Mind Institute: This national nonprofit helps children with learning and mental health disorders. The institute supports the families of these children and provides up-to-date information on different disorders.
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