Social Work vs. Counseling Salary

Social workers and counselors fall into a broad category of occupations called “helping professions,” made up of people who dedicate their professional lives to helping others. Sounds simple enough, right? Yet, there is a wide range of job titles within the helping professions — therapists, counselors, community health workers, social workers, psychologists and psychiatrists.

This article compares two key professions — social workers and counselors — and their pay, based on data collected by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Read on to learn the potential salary differences between a licensed professional counselor (LPC) and licensed clinical social worker (LCSW).

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Demand for Social Workers and Counselors

The BLS estimates there were more than 707,000 social workers in the U.S. in 2018, with an 11% increase in overall demand for these positions expected through 2028.

Growth within the counseling field is expected to be as high as 22% (for marriage and family and substance abuse, behavioral disorder and mental health counselors) through 2028, according to the BLS.

How Much Do Social Workers Make?

The BLS reports the 2018 annual median pay for social workers was $49,470 in the United States. The job growth outlook is 11% through 2028, which is faster than the average for all occupations in the United States.

Salaries are affected by a number of factors, including your experience, where you live and the type of social worker you are. The BLS categorizes social work jobs and their 2018 median salaries into four types:

  • Health care social workers ($56,200)
  • Child, family and school social workers ($46,270)
  • Mental health and substance abuse social workers ($44,840)
  • All other social workers ($63,140)

States with the highest 2018 mean wages for social workers were:

  1. District of Columbia ($82,900)
  2. Hawaii ($81,790)
  3. Rhode Island ($75,710)
  4. Massachusetts ($75,340)
  5. Nevada ($75,020)

The top-paying job categories for social workers, based on 2018 median wages, were:

  1. Federal executive branch ($77,610)
  2. Agencies ($73,950)
  3. Other ambulatory care services ($73,090)
  4. Insurance carriers ($70,000)
  5. Scientific research ($69,290)

If you want to be a social worker, start with this guide, our list of online MSW programs and more information about social work careers and licensure.

How Much Do Counselors Make?

The BLS classifies counselors into five types:

  1. Educational, guidance, school and vocational ($60,160)
  2. Marriage and family ($54,150)
  3. Rehabilitation ($39,930)
  4. Substance abuse, behavioral disorder and mental health ($47,920)
  5. Other ($47,740)

The next five sections look at these professions in more detail — providing states with top-earning counselors, typical work environments and career resources for each type of counselor.

How much do educational, guidance, school and vocational counselors make?

Counselors in educational settings earned a mean annual average of $60,160 in 2018, according to the BLS. Of the approximately 285,000 educational counselors in the United States, more than half worked in elementary and secondary schools, earning a mean of $66,910. Colleges, universities and professional schools paid counselors a mean annual salary of $53,180 in 2018.

Educational counselors earn the highest incomes in California, New Jersey, Massachusetts, New York and the District of Columbia.

If you’re interested in being a counselor in an education setting, start with this guide on how to become a school counselor, or browse our list of online master’s in school counseling programs.

How much do marriage and family counselors make?

The BLS reports marriage and family counselors made a mean annual average of $54,150 in 2018. The highest-paid marriage and family counselors work for state governments, earning $69,080. Those who work in individual and family services, which have the highest level of employment among marriage and family counselors, report mean average annual pay of $49,790.

Marriage and family counselors earned the most in Hawaii, Maine, Colorado, New Jersey and Utah.

To learn what these counselors do and their licensure requirements, refer to “How To Become a Marriage and Family Therapist.”

How much do rehabilitation counselors make?

Rehabilitation counselors earned a mean average annual pay of $39,930 according to 2018 BLS data. Rehabilitation counselors who work in the insurance carrier industry tend to earn the most, at $61,410. The highest concentration of rehabilitation counselors is in vocational rehabilitation services, where they earn a mean average of $35,860 per year.

These counselors earned the most in New Jersey, Alaska, Rhode Island, Colorado and Maine.

Wondering how to become one of these helping professionals? Learn about the six steps in “How to Become a Rehabilitation Counselor.”

How much do substance abuse counselors make?

The BLS combines substance abuse, behavioral disorder and mental health counselors together, reporting they had a mean annual income of $47,920 in 2018. These counselors work in mental health centers, addiction treatment facilities, prisons, private practices and government. Junior colleges paid the most for substance abuse counselors in 2018, $63,760 annually. Outpatient care centers had the highest concentration of employed substance abuse counselors, with income of $46,260 in 2018.

Substance abuse counselors earned the most in Utah, Alaska, the District of Columbia, Oregon and New Jersey.

Learn more, including the five levels of substance abuse counseling, in “How to Become a Substance Abuse Counselor.”

How much do other counselors make?

All other counselors who don’t fall into one of the four previous classifications earned a mean average of $47,740 annually in 2018, according to the BLS. These individuals work in private practice, local and state government, elementary and secondary schools, and outpatient care centers. The2018 annual mean wage of “other” counselors by employer:

  • Individual and family services ($44,650)
  • State government ($43,440)
  • Local government ($59,020)
  • Elementary and secondary schools ($61,510)
  • Outpatient care centers ($49,820)

States where counselors in this catch-all category earned the most were New Jersey, Nevada, Alabama, Alaska and Texas.

If you’re interested in learning about the other types of counselors, check out this counseling careers resource. If you want to see more state comparisons, view our main page on counselor salaries.

Does a Person with a Degree Earn More?

The short answer is yes, but it depends. Data collected by the BLS illustrate that the more education you have, the higher your earning potential. However, it’s never guaranteed that you’ll earn a reported salary amount, even if you meet educational and work requirements. Salaries are determined by many other factors, including geographic location and type of employer.

Explore Social Work and Counseling Careers

Online Counseling Programs is packed with information about how to become a social worker and how to become a counselor. In addition, there are resources about related professions, such as therapists and psychologists. If you’re interested in furthering your helping career through education, you’ll also find relevant online bachelor’s and master’s degree program information that can help you reach your career goals.