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).
The BLS reports the 2021 annual median pay for social workers was $50,390 in the United States. The job growth outlook is 12% through 2030, 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 2021 median salaries into four types:
Health care social workers ($60,840)
Child, family and school social workers ($49,150)
Mental health and substance abuse social workers ($49,130)
Educational, guidance, school and vocational ($63,090)
Marriage and family ($59,660)
Substance abuse, behavioral disorder and mental health ($53,490)
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 $63,090 in 2021, according to the BLS. Of the approximately 296,370 educational counselors in the United States, more than half worked in elementary and secondary schools, earning a mean of $70,790. Colleges, universities and professional schools paid counselors a mean annual salary of $54,570 in 2021.
Educational counselors earn the highest incomes in California, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Washington, and Maryland.
The BLS reports marriage and family counselors made a mean annual average of $59,660 in 2021. The highest-paid marriage and family counselors work for home health care services, earning $97,780. 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 $54,820.
Marriage and family counselors earned the most in Colorado, Nevada, New Jersey, Minnesota, and Utah.
Rehabilitation counselors earned a mean average annual pay of $44,740 according to 2021 BLS data. Rehabilitation counselors who work in the insurance carrier industry tend to earn the most, at $72,380. The highest concentration of rehabilitation counselors is in vocational rehabilitation services, where they earn a mean average of $37,990 per year.
These counselors earned the most in Maine, New Jersey, Rhode Island, Alaska, and Massachusetts.
The BLS combines substance abuse, behavioral disorder and mental health counselors together, reporting they had a mean annual income of $53,490 in 2021. These counselors work in mental health centers, addiction treatment facilities, prisons, private practices and government. Business, professional, labor, political and similar organizations paid the most for substance abuse counselors in 2021, $78,570 annually. Outpatient care centers had the highest concentration of employed substance abuse counselors, with an income of $51,980 in 2021.
Substance abuse counselors earned the most in Utah, Alaska, New Jersey, Rhode Island, and the District of Columbia.
All other counselors who don’t fall into one of the four previous classifications earned a mean average of $49,730 annually in 2021, according to the BLS. These individuals work in private practice, local and state government, elementary and secondary schools, and outpatient care centers. The 2021 annual mean wage of “other” counselors by employer:
Individual and family services ($43,630)
State government ($48,710)
Local government ($53,630)
Elementary and secondary schools ($57,630)
Outpatient care centers ($51,980)
States, where counselors in this catch-all category earned the most, were New Jersey, New York, North Dakota, North Carolina, and Oregon.
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.