Youth counselors work for a variety of employers, including educational institutions, religious organizations and social services agencies. Planning for a youth counselor career can start with enrolling in a bachelor’s degree in applied psychology program.
Job duties of youth counselors vary depending on their specialty and employer. Generally, they supervise and interact with children or teenagers, assisting them in resolving problems and ensuring their physical and emotional needs are being met. Youth counselors may specialize in a mental health area such as childhood depression, abuse or ADHD. Other youth counselors specialize in working with people with disabilities, and substance abuse youth counselors help youngsters overcome addiction issues.
Interviewing clients and their families, meeting with them regularly and referring them for other social services are some of a youth counselor’s typical responsibilities. Scheduling and coordinating activities, meeting with social workers and other professionals, writing reports and completing client paperwork are also important aspects of this position.
A youth counselor may work in multiple settings, including schools, correctional facilities, group residential homes, hospitals, clinics, juvenile detention centers, domestic violence shelters, homeless shelters, government agencies and private practices. Youth counselors may work independently or as part of a team of psychologists, social workers and teachers.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that employment in the occupational category of mental health counselors is expected to grow 29% nationwide between 2012 and 2022, which is a much higher growth rate than the 11% average for all occupations. Job growth will occur as insurers and employers seek to reduce costs by using skilled counselors as an alternative to psychologists or psychiatrists. Candidates with advanced educational qualifications and specialized training should have stronger career options.
The BLS reports that mental health counselors nationwide earned an average annual wage of $43,700 as of May 2013, with the highest 10% of these professionals earning in excess of $67,000. Salary potential and employment opportunities can be influenced by several factors, such as local market conditions, and a job candidate’s work history and education.
Education and training requirements for youth counselor jobs vary by employer, and licensing requirements vary by state. Entry-level positions in this field typically are open to applicants with a bachelor’s degree.
The first step for individuals interested in a youth counselor career could be a bachelor’s degree in applied psychology with a concentration in child advocacy. Coursework typically includes lifespan development and psychology, multicultural issues, learning and motivation, child psychology and abnormal psychology. Completing a practicum or internship under the supervision of an experienced counselor in a school, clinic or social services agency can provide valuable experience and increase career opportunities. Volunteering in youth homes and social services centers can also provide quality hands-on experience.
A degree program in applied psychology should prepare graduates to:
Hiring organizations and agencies may offer opportunities for continuing education, making it possible for individuals to gain entry to the profession with a bachelor’s degree and then use an employer’s tuition assistance program to pay for a master’s degree. Although not all positions require a graduate-level education, a master’s degree and appropriate licensure and certification generally are required for a career in mental health counseling. Additionally, child and youth counselors typically must complete supervised clinical experience and pass a state exam.
Youth counselors must have excellent listening and communication skills in order to discuss a child’s development with parents, guardians, teachers and government officials. They must also be sympathetic, caring and patient in dealing with children who have a wide range of mental and emotional issues.
If you have a strong desire to help young people – and possess a high level of maturity, flexibility and creative problem-solving – you may have what it takes to attain success in a youth counselor career.