Child and family counselor salary & career outlook

marriage and family therapist

The role of a child or family counselor is crisis prevention, while that of a therapist is to provide treatment for a variety of mental and emotional disorders. Counselors most often work with clients who have substance abuse and addictions; marital, family or parenting problems; or stress and self-esteem issues. Family therapists, on the other hand, can test for and diagnose cognitive, affective and behavioral problems, and then develop plans for treatment. They use various therapeutic techniques to treat these disorders. When necessary, counselors and therapists refer clients to psychologists, medical and legal specialists for additional help.

What training and skills do child and family counselors need?

While specific education and licensing requirements may vary from state to state, child and family counselors require a minimum of a master's degree in psychology. All states require counselors and therapists to be licensed and to have a specific amount of clinical experience. There are two main career tracks to follow for aspiring child and family counselors: becoming a mental health counselor and becoming a marriage and family therapist. The educational requirements and salary potential differ for the two different jobs, but the day-to-day tasks can be largely the same.

If you are considering a career in counseling, compassion, good listening skills and clear communication are essential. In private practice, you may also have to perform many of the following tasks yourself, in addition to regular duties as a counselor or therapist:

  • Market your services
  • Perform administrative and clerical duties
  • Keep the books and file insurance paperwork
  • Make detailed notes of client treatment and progress

How much do child and family counselors earn?

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) doesn't keep separate statistics for child and family counselors, but as of May 2013, the BLS reported that mental health counselors were earning an average annual salary of $43,700. Those earners in the 90th percentile made $67,020 or more, and those in the 10th percentile earned $25,840 or less. Marriage and family therapists' annual wages averaged $51,690 for the same period, with the highest incomes topping $78,580 and lowest 10 percent maxing out at $29,980.

While the majority of marriage and family therapists go into private practice, most mental health counselors are employed in outpatient care centers, according to the BLS. If you are looking for the top-paying industries for child and family counseling and therapy, mental health counselors fared far better in educational support services, where the average annual salary was $53,770. Those in state government facilities averaged $51,910 annually, while counselors in individual and family services made an average of $42,670 per year.

For family therapists, state government facilities provided the highest average yearly wages in the U.S.: $65,840. Home health care services was the next-highest paying industry, providing a yearly average income of $56,920 nationally. Local government facilities paid an average annually of $56,850, and family therapists in private practice averaged $45,160 per year.

Also included in the May 2013 BLS wage report for mental health counselors were the top states with the highest-paid mental health counselors:

  • Alaska: $57,040
  • Wyoming: $53,570
  • Oregon: $51,670

Counselors in Ocean City, N.J., had the highest average salary of any metropolitan area in the nation: $71,090. Counselors in Tyler, Texas, earned an annual average of $69,930, and those in the Utica-Rome, N.Y., metro area brought home an average salary of $64,200 yearly.

Nonmetropolitan areas with the highest mean salaries include the North Coast Region of California ($70,580), South Central Wisconsin ($67,650) and Northwestern Texas ($61,740).

The following states had the highest average annual salaries for marriage and family therapists, according to the May 2013 BLS wage summary:

  • New Jersey: $71,250
  • Wyoming: $64,270
  • Nevada: $59,750

In addition, the top three highest-paying metropolitan areas in the nation for family therapists were Raleigh-Cary, N.C. ($80,310), Salinas, Calif. ($76,080) and Reno-Sparks, Nev. ($73,480). The nonmetropolitan areas included Hawaii/Maui/Kauai ($69,990), North Coast Region of California ($65,890), and Western Colorado ($62,600).

What is the job outlook for this career?

The BLS projects the number of marriage and family therapists from 2012 to 2022 to grow by 31 percent and for mental health counselors in general by 29 percent. The individual states with the highest growth predicted through 2020, according to Projections Central, for marriage and family therapists include:

  • Utah: 48.9%
  • Mississippi: 36.8%
  • Colorado: 35.9%

For mental health counselors, the states with the best projected growth through 2020 include:

  • Utah: 40.8%
  • South Carolina: 29.0%
  • New Hampshire: 28.8%

Factors affecting the increase include the recent changes in health care insurance requirements and treatment for those who were previously uninsured. The growing need for counseling and therapy to provide prevention and treatment services, especially in underserved areas, is expected to continue.


Long Term Occupational Projections, Projections Central,

Summary Report for: Mental Health Counselors, O*NET Online, http://www.onetonline.org/link/summary/21-1014.00

Summary Report for: Marriage and Family Therapists, O*NET Online, http://www.onetonline.org/link/summary/21-1013.00

Mental Health Counselors and Marriage and Family Therapists, "Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition," Bureau of Labor Statistics, Jan. 8, 2014,