What are Suicide Counselors?

Students seeking challenging and rewarding careers where they can make a difference in people's lives should consider becoming a suicide counselor. Suicide remains one of the leading causes of death in the United States. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control reported a rise in suicide rates in almost every state between 1999 and 2016. A variety of factors contribute to suicide, including mental health issues, substance abuse, relationship problems, financial stress, and issues with physical health.

Suicide counselors help people considering taking their own lives find reasons to live. They identify at-risk individuals, determine how much of a danger they pose to themselves, and work with suicidal clients in counseling or therapy sessions. They also assist clients in crisis situations by creating plans for living and help people affected by suicide work through their grief. The best suicide counselors demonstrate empathy, compassion, and excellent listening skills. This profession also requires individuals who can handle very stressful situations. Suicide counselors find employment in hospitals, clinics, schools, prisons, and departments of human services. They often work at suicide prevention hotlines as well. This guide explains how to become a suicide counselor.

General Information About Suicide Prevention

Getting Help

If you or someone you know is in crisis, please contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255)

What to Expect When You Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline

  • You will hear a brief recorded greeting welcoming you to the lifeline.
  • There will be music on the line while you are directed to your local lifeline center.
  • You will then be connected to a live, local counselor who can assist you immediately.
  • If needed, your counselor may refer you to the nearest mental health facility in your area for in-person assistance.

How to Help Others

Helping a suicidal person can be a very difficult task. Knowing the right steps to take when you think a loved one might be suicidal can help save a life. Suicide counselors need to know how to identify the risk factors and warning signs of suicide. Risk factors include mental health disorders, substance abuse disorders, a history of trauma, hopelessness, loss of relationships, and previous suicide attempts. Common warning signs include talking about wanting to die or feeling hopeless, mood swings, and increased use of drugs or alcohol.

You can help someone struggling with suicidal thoughts by listening to their worries and taking their answers seriously. You should also resist downplaying their feelings. Offer concern, inquire about ways you can help, and directly ask the person if they feel suicidal. Another important step in preventing suicide includes eliminating access to any means a person might use to kill themselves, like medications or guns. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline offers 24/7, free and confidential support for people struggling emotionally or in suicide crises. The lifeline connects local crisis centers across the country. It also provides best practices for suicide counselors and other professionals in this field.

How to Become a Suicide Counselor

Degree Requirements

Individuals who want to work in suicide counseling often take positions as mental health, substance abuse, and behavioral disorder counselors. They typically need at least a bachelor's degree to practice; however, each state carries its own educational requirements for counselors, such as a high school diploma or a master's degree. Private practice counselors and mental health counselors must hold a master's degree in all states. Additionally, substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors working in private practices must pass a state-issued exam.

License and Certification Requirements

Most people who work in suicide counseling hold official titles like substance abuse, behavioral disorder, or mental health counselor. The license and certification requirements for these types of counselors vary by state. All states require mental health counselors to hold licenses, which they qualify for by earning a master's degree, completing a supervised internship, and passing a licensing exam. Substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors in private practice must also hold a license in all 50 states. This requires earning a master's degree, completing 2,000 to 4,000 supervised internship hours, passing an exam, and completing continuing education hours each year. The QPR Institute offers advanced suicide training for counselors. Students can receive continuing education credits for these courses.

Bachelor's Degree vs. Master's Degree

Prospective students can become suicide counselors by earning either a bachelor's or a master's degree. Some employers require or prefer job applicants with a master's in counseling. Additionally, the table below indicates that individuals with a master's in counseling make considerably higher salaries than their counterparts with bachelor's degrees.

Degree Level Average Salary
Bachelor's in Counseling $43,680
Master's in Counseling $51,000

Source: PayScale

Bachelor's Degree

Most states require suicide counselors to hold a bachelor's degree at minimum. Most bachelor's programs take about four years of full-time study to complete. Students can also major in subjects like psychology or social work, both of which provide a similar skill set and foundational understandings necessary to work as a counselor. Students interested in suicide counseling should look for programs that offer specializations or minors in areas like addictions, mental health, or counseling. Many bachelor's programs also offer students the opportunity to complete internships or capstone projects, which provide valuable real-world experience.

Positions for bachelor's degree students vary depending on the state they plan to practice in. Different states require different degree levels to work in suicide counseling. Graduates can find entry-level counseling positions outside of private practice with a bachelor's in some states.

  • Human Growth and Development: This course introduces students to the developmental stages of human growth from a multicultural context. Students learn about typical and nontypical growth and development. They also explore assessment, prevention, and intervention strategies with consideration for the developmental stages in children, adolescents, and adults.
  • Introduction to Clinical Practice: This course introduces learners to the field of counseling, with an emphasis on clinical practice. Students learn about the history of the counseling profession and the role of mental health counselors. They also explore a variety of issues historically and contemporarily relevant to the field.
  • Ethics and Legal Issues in Counseling: This class gives students an understanding of the importance of following legal procedures and ethical standards in the counseling profession. It reviews the American Counseling Association code of ethics and teaches students how to use them in treatment and make decisions regarding clients.
  • Group Dynamics in Counseling and Therapy: Learners in this course receive an introduction to managing group counseling sessions. Students learn how to efficiently and cost-effectively deliver services to diverse populations in a group format. The course explores topics like cohesiveness, boundaries, working alliances, group development, and conflict management.
  • Introduction to Counseling Theories, Methods, and Techniques: Students receive an introduction to the profession of counseling. They also learn about the main theories and methods that guide contemporary counseling practice. They also explore the meaning of a professional counselor identity. Students learn to develop their own counseling style based on their personal values, attitudes, and interests.

Master's Degree

Students interested in becoming suicide counselors should consider the many benefits of earning a master's degree. Individuals who hold a master's typically qualify for more positions, earn higher salaries, and receive more opportunities for career growth. Most counseling master's programs take about two years for full-time students to complete. Prospective students with noncounseling bachelor's degrees can receive admission into master's in counseling programs. However, students with bachelor's degrees in counseling can often complete a master's in less time, usually one year.

Master's in counseling programs offer specializations in areas like school, families, mental health, and addictions counseling. Students interested in working in suicide counseling might consider specializing in mental health or addictions counseling. Master's in counseling students typically complete supervised internships as part of their program's curriculum. Most states require that professional counselors hold master's degrees to practice.

  • Foundations of Clinical Mental Health Counseling: Students explore advanced concepts and strategies for delivering mental health services. They also receive an introduction to the clinical mental health counseling profession, including its history, major philosophies, and societal and political dimensions. Students learn to build a professional identity as a mental health counselor. They explore topics like prevention, wellness, administration of mental health services, and practice privileges in managed care systems.
  • Diagnosis in Counseling: This course provides an overview of the diagnosis, analysis, and treatment of mental health disorders. Students learn to make diagnoses using the current Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. They also learn to administer mental status exams and explore the way that diverse groups receive diagnoses.
  • Addictions Issues in Counseling: Students learn how addictive behaviors impact individuals, families, couples, and societies. The course explores addiction from various perspectives, including cultural, relational, and contextual. Students learn how to use evidence-based practices, including the screening, brief intervention, and referral to treatment model.
  • Trauma, Crisis, and Grief Counseling: In this class, students learn how to use interventions and other strategies when working with people in crisis and their families and close friends. They also learn strategies for conducting grief counseling and helping survivors of loss or trauma.
  • Research Methods in Counseling: This course provides an advanced understanding of a variety of research methods that the counseling profession typically uses. Students explore topics like ethics in research, statistics, research design, and program evaluations. Some of the research methods students learn about include survey and action research.

Employment and Salary Outlook for Suicide Counselors

Suicide Counselor Salary

Compensation rates for suicide counselors vary based on several factors, including years of experience, job title, education, industry, and location. For example, suicide counselors can earn higher salaries depending on the state or city they live in. People who work in major cities on the coasts tend to make higher salaries, but also face higher costs of living. Below, you will find a table with data describing salaries for licensed suicide counselors by experience. The second table identifies the top-paying industries for clinical, counseling, and school psychologists.

Salaries for Licensed Suicide Counselors by Experience

  Entry Level (0-5 Years) Mid-Career (5-10 Years) Experienced (10-20 Years) Late-Career (20+ Years)
Bereavement Counselor $45,000 $50,000 $48,000 $43,000
Crisis Counselor $35,000 $41,000 $47,000 $41,000

Source: PayScale

Top-Paying Industries for Clinical, Counseling, and School Psychologists

Industry Employment Annual Mean Wage
Home Health Care Services 270 $93,910
Speciality (Except Psychiatric and Substance Abuse Hospitals) 520 $93,710
Management of Companies and Enterprises 350 $92,640
Offices of Other Health Practitioners 16,300 $92,130
Local Government 3,270 $90,450

Source: BLS

Related Careers

In addition to a career in suicide counseling, graduates qualify for work in a variety of other career paths and fields. One of the most important qualities for students interested in the counseling profession include the desire to help others lead healthier lives. Individuals who thrive in these positions typically exhibit empathy and patience, and have listening, speaking, and interpersonal skills.

  • School Counselor: School counselors help pupils achieve academic goals and deal with various social, behavioral, and emotional issues. They work in K-12 schools and postsecondary institutions. High school counselors give students advice about applying to colleges or finding jobs after graduation. Most school counselor positions require a master's degree.
    • Median Annual Salary: $48,951
  • Addiction Counselor: Addiction counselors help people with substance abuse issues identify problematic behavior. They help clients create plans to live healthier lives so they can achieve their goals. Addiction counselors work in hospitals, in-patient centers, and clinics. They often serve as an intermediary between patients and other professionals. Most addiction counseling positions require at least a bachelor's degree.
    • Median Annual Salary: $39,530
  • Marriage and Family Therapist: Marriage and family therapists help individuals, couples, and families develop healthier relationships with each other. They suggest treatments, gather data, and maintain files. They may sometimes deal with mental health issues in their clients. Marriage and family therapists generally need a master's degree to practice.
    • Median Annual Salary: $46,689
  • Victim Advocate: Victim advocates assist victims of a variety of crimes, such as domestic violence or abuse. They create reports about victim's activities, help victims work with police to prosecute criminals, and assist them with finding emergency shelter. They usually work for community groups, police departments, or local government agencies. Some employers require or prefer victim advocates to hold a bachelor's or master's degree.
    • Median Annual Salary: $34,790

Related Content:

What Is a Depression Counselor?

Resources for Suicide Counselor Students

  • National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline provides 24/7 support and resources to individuals in crisis or experiencing emotional distress. Prospective suicide counselors may find information about job openings at local crisis centers. The site also offers a variety of resources and tools for professionals, including information about best practices and professional initiatives.
  • Suicide Awareness Voices of Education: One of the first suicide prevention organizations in the U.S., SAVE educates individuals and communities on the best ways to stop suicide and save lives. The group also offers support to people coping with the loss of a family member or loved one to suicide. SAVE offers trainings, organizes campaigns, and conducts research on suicide prevention.
  • American Foundation for Suicide Prevention: The AFSP works to save lives and support individuals affected by suicide. It funds suicide prevention research, educates the public, supports suicide survivors, and advocates for better public policies related to suicide and mental health issues. Local chapters in all 50 states offer support and hope to people affected by suicide.
  • Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance: Suicide Prevention: The DBSA helps people with mood disorders improve their lives by offering support, education, and hope. Its website features a section on suicide prevention, including information about understanding suicidal thinking, creating plans for life, recognizing warning signs, facts about treatment, and DBSA support groups.
  • Suicide Prevention Research Center: The federally-funded SPRC promotes the National Strategy for Suicide Prevention, working to help local communities gain the tools necessary for effective suicide prevention. It offers trainings, consultations, and logistical support to advance the National Strategy for Suicide Prevention. It also provides resources for the Zero Suicide initiative.
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