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Mental Health Counselors and Marriage and Family Therapists

If you have an interest in the mental and emotional health of others, can set good boundaries and are empathetic, persistent and capable of handling stress and stressful situations, the fields of mental health or marriage and family counseling may be a career choice to consider.

The median salary for mental health counselors is $43,300. The median salary for marriage and family therapists is $48,790. Both career paths are growing much faster than average at a rate of 23 percent. Licensure requirements vary by state, though most states require counselors to have a master's degree in counseling or psychology and pass a state-administered counseling exam.

Visit the Department of Labor Military Spouse License Recognition Map for up-to-date legislation and licensure information for your specific state. If you move due to a PCS, your service branch can now help reimburse licensure and certification costs up to $1,000. Learn more.

Counselors must also receive up to two years of supervised counseling experience after obtaining their master's degree. Counselors must be able to work effectively with many types of families, people, students, employees and others and are required to learn and observe strict ethical and safety regulations. Continuing education courses and workshops may be additional requirements for remaining licenses and are important for keeping up with the latest information, resources and studies.

As a military spouse considering a counseling career, weigh the costs and time to earn a degree against the median salary you may receive and make sure you truly have a passion for counseling. You will need six to seven years of additional education after high school before you can obtain your license, complete the supervision requirements and start working to pay off your student loans.

Mental health counselors support clients through difficult life experiences and teach them skills and attitudes to assist them in changing their behaviors. They may work with individuals, families, couples or groups and can specialize in specific populations like the elderly or children. Counselors assist clients in overcoming issues including anxiety, depression, grief, low self-esteem, stress or substance abuse.

Marriage and family therapists work with individuals, couples and families, evaluating family roles and development to understand how clients' families affect their mental health. Marriage and family therapists treat the clients' relationships, not just the clients themselves and assist with issues including low self-esteem, stress, addiction and substance abuse.

To learn more about counseling careers, review the Research Occupations tool on MySECO and investigate your options. Take self-assessments to make sure your skills and interests align with your career choice. Talk to others in the field and get their feedback. Once you decide to pursue a career as a mental health or marriage and family counselor, you can explore the many tools and resources on MySECO to assist with education planning. College Scorecard is a great starting point for researching and selecting an education institution. You can also use the Scholarship Finder to locate funding relevant to the military community to help pay for classes. See if you are eligible for the My Career Advancement Account Scholarship to help with education or licensure costs.

Finding employment

Once you've met the education, licensure and experience requirements to become a mental health or marriage and family counselor, it's time to find a job in your occupation. One of the first places to look is the Military Spouse Employment Partnership Job Search. Hundreds of partner employers have committed to recruit, hire, promote and retain military spouses in portable careers. Search the MSEP Job Search to find job listings with MSEP companies and organizations, which may include the following.

You can also search your local state and national job bank for mental health counselor and marriage and family therapist positions or use the MySECO Job Search Tools, which include the following:

Consider volunteering, if possible, or doing an internship and proactively networking to build your contacts and gain counseling experience. Tell family, friends, coworkers and all others that you are hoping to become a mental health counselor or marriage and family therapist and ask for contacts they might have who can help you build and expand your network. Remember, networking is the most effective job search method.

Professional organizations and networking

You may wish to consider joining a professional organization in your career field to gain a better understanding of current industry trends in counseling. Professional organizations are great ways to continue your education through workshops and conferences, which will add to your transferable skill set as you move.

Networking with other professionals will give you an edge in meeting the right people who may have the connections you need to obtain an interview or restart your career at your new location. They may provide important information about available internships and jobs, additional learning opportunities, seminars, networking events, hiring fairs and more. Read The Value of Professional Associations for more information on how becoming a member can help enhance your career.

Next steps

Call Military OneSource at 800-342-9647 and speak with a SECO career coach or use the Live Chat feature on the MySECO website to discuss career or education choices, searching for a job or overcoming challenges. Coaches are available to review your resume, practice interviewing, discuss networking or assist you in understanding employer requirements for this field.

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