Working a job you hate should never be something to strive to achieve. If you ask most people, they’ll tell you all of the things they wish they could do – and most people never mention something that is in their field.

If you’re going to spend 40 hours a week working, it should be rewarding.

Counselors are able to make drastic differences in the lives of their patients. A thriving career with limitless potential, more and more people are finding themselves going to counselors whether it be to overcome addiction, family issues or simply to talk to another person without being judged the entire time.

But you have no idea how to become a counselor, or even what degree is needed.

We’re going to take a look at how you can become a counselor, what education requirements exist and how much you can expect to make in this field with a major focus on addiction counselors.

How to Become a Counselor 101

How Much Do Therapists Make

If you want to become a counselor, you’ll need formal education at a college or university. This is a profession that requires in-depth knowledge in psychology.

What Degree Do You Need to Be a Counselor?

The degree needed to become a counselor depends on what type of counselor you’ll aspire to be. MFT programs (marriage and family therapists) will be required to secure a Master’s degree and will need to become licensed, too which can take an additional 1 – 2 years of an internship before being granted.

Substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors is the right clarification of a “addiction counselor.”

And the good news is that these counselors do not need the same level of education and internships to enter the field unlike their therapist counterparts that require immense educational requirements.

General counselor education requirements include:

  • A Bachelor’s degree from an accredited college or university
  • Licensing (more on that soon)

But the educational requirements will also depend on the employer. You’ll find that some positions may require only a high school diploma while other positions will require a master’s degree.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics indicates that the majority of positions will require only a Bachelor’s degree.

Most people will pursue a Bachelor of Science program in Addiction Counseling. There are numerous degree programs that will help you enter this field under different names depending on the school:

  • Bachelor’s of Arts (Addiction Studies concentration)
  • Bachelor’s of Science in Addiction Studies
  • Bachelor’s of Science in Psychology and Addiction Studies
  • Bachelor’s of Arts in Substance Abuse Counseling

And there may be variations in the title of the degree you pursue. It’s important to evaluate each program accordingly to ensure that the program entered can lead to a career in addiction counseling.

How to Become a Counselor

Licensing Requirements

The Bureau of Labor Statistics does indicate that licensing is required to enter this field. All private practice counselors will need to be licensed. But if you’re not in your own private practice, you may not need to pursue a license depending on the requirements of your employer.

Anyone with ambitions of opening their own private practice will be required to:

  • Earn a Master’s Degree (2 additional years of schooling)
  • Undergo supervised clinical experience of 2,000 – 4,000 hours
  • Pass a state-issued exam
  • Complete yearly ongoing educational requirements

And this is a lot of extra education and experience, but you’ll be able to earn more from your own private practice, too. In terms of time, you’ll spend 2 years earning a Master’s degree going to school full-time plus 1 – 2 years meeting the clinical experience requires of your state.

Licensing is conducted on a state-by-state basis. Any counselor that wishes to relocate a practice to a new state will need to be relicensed before legally being allowed to open their practice.

Keep in mind that a Master’s degree will lead to higher paying careers, too.

Marriage and Family therapists can earn in excess of $71,000 a year depending on the state where they practice. But if you’re dead set on becoming a therapist, it’s important to look at the differences between the addiction specialization and other forms of therapy in terms of salary.

Click here to find programs that are geared towards Addiction Counselor careers.

How Much Do Therapists Make?


Now that you’re familiar with how to become a counselor, you may be wondering what you can expect in terms of salary and career outlook.

 Substance Abuse or Behavioral Disorder Counselor Salary

The BLS provides in-depth information in terms of salary and career outlook for this thriving career path. There were 94,900 jobs in the field in 2014, and the BLS expects this field to grow at a staggering rate of 22% between 2014 and 2024. This is a much faster rate than average meaning you’ll have an easier time finding employment and enjoy greater career stability as a result.

There will be 21,200 jobs added to the field during this 10-year period.

As of May 2015, the following salary information was collected by the BLS:

  • Median Annual Salary: $39,980
  • Median Hourly Salary: $19.22

The median is the midpoint salary, but it does not reflect the average as well as the mean salary does. Mean salary data is as follows:

  • Mean Annual Salary: $42,920
  • Mean Hourly Salary: $20.64

These figures have likely risen since the data was released in May 2015. There are also further breakdowns of importance that will provide you with a clearer picture of the salary you can expect based on your experience level:

  • Bottom 10th Percentile: $25,860 in annual salary and $12.43 hourly
  • Bottom 25h Percentile: $31,850 in annual salary and $15.31 hourly
  • Median (50%): $39,980 in annual salary and $19.11 hourly
  • Top 75th Percentile: $51,140 in annual salary and $24.59 hourly
  • Top 90th Percentile: $63,030 in annual salary and $30.30 hourly

The bottom 10th and 25th percentile salaries are in underpaid areas or for people that have 0 – 2 years’ experience in most cases. The top 75th percentile has 5 – 10 years of experience in most cases while the top 90th percentile will earn $63,030 a year on average.

Location, industry and experience have a lot to do with the salary received by an addiction counselor.

Industries with the Highest Number of Employment

The industries that most commonly employ addiction counselors are:

  • Outpatient Care Centers: These centers employ 20,870 people in the field and offer an annual mean wage of $42,290.
  • Substance Abuse Facilities: These facilities employ 18,430 people in the field and offer an annual mean wage of $38,500.
  • Individual and Family Services: These services employ 12,230 people in the field and offer an annual mean wage of $40,700.
  • Local Government: The local government employs 6,000 people in the field and offer an annual mean wage of $47, 910.
  • Psychiatric and Substance Abuse Hospitals: These hospitals employ 5,510 people in the field and offer an annual mean wage of $45,340.

These five employers account for over 50% of all employed addiction counselors.

Top Paying States for this Occupation

The state in which you are employed will have a major impact on your annual mean wage. The following states have the highest mean wage for an addiction counselor:

  1. New Hampshire: The state employs 150 counselors in this field with an annual mean wage of $56,070 and an hourly mean wage of $26.96.
  2. New Mexico: The state employs 520 counselors in this field with an annual mean wage of $52,540 and an hourly mean wage of $25.26.
  3. North Dakota: The state employs 280 counselors in this field with an annual mean wage of $51,490 and an hourly mean wage of $24.76.
  4. District of Columbia: The state employs 150 counselors in this field with an annual mean wage of $50,980 and an hourly mean wage of $24.51.
  5. New Jersey: The state employs 3,070 counselors in this field with an annual mean wage of $50,330 and an hourly mean wage of $24.20.

The data provided is also a good indicator of how demand in the field can change from one state to the next. New Jersey employs more people in the field than the other four states combined, and the state is the most densely populated in the country.

Substance abuse is rampant in New Jersey, too which has led to such a high demand for this career.

Drug-related deaths in the state jumped 53% between 2010 and 2012 with the rates of people doing heroin on the rise, too.

Counselors have the ability to change lives. Whether you’re a substance abuse counselor or a family therapist, you’ll be directly involved with patients to help them overcome some of life’s most difficult issues.