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.
According to U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) data, the broader job classification of mental health counselor will experience 20% employment growth from 2014-24, nearly three times faster than the national average for all occupations (7%).
Growth rates within that classification will vary by discipline or area of specialization, such as social worker or marriage and family therapist.
Candidates with advanced educational qualifications, and relevant training and experience generally have stronger career options.
Potential Youth Counselor Salaries
The BLS reports that mental health counselors nationwide earned an average annual wage of $46,050 as of May 2016, with salaries for the top 10% of these professionals exceeding $70,100.
Potential salary ranges, like employment opportunities, are determined by multiple factors, including a candidate’s work history and level of educational attainment, regional market conditions, and employer type and size.
Education and Training
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 support career opportunities. Volunteering in youth homes and social services centers can also provide hands-on experience.
A degree program in applied psychology should prepare graduates to:
- Understand psychological principles and theories
- Value socio-cultural diversity, including key concepts
- Apply best practices to issues such as substance abuse, crime prevention and juvenile delinquency
- Understand challenges facing adolescents and the organizations that advocate for youngsters
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.
Not all positions require a graduate-level education, although a master’s degree and appropriate licensing and certification generally are necessary for career advancement in mental health counseling. Additionally, child and youth counselors may be required to complete supervised clinical experience and pass a state exam.
Is a Youth Counselor Career a Good Fit for You?
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, creative problem-solving and the relevant educational qualifications – you may find a rewarding career as a youth counselor career.