What Degree Do You Need to Be a Youth Counselor?

Youth counselors help steer troubled children down a better path.
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Youth counselors provide treatment and support to help children and teenagers recover from trauma, plan for the future or modify problem behaviors. This type of professional works in a variety of environments, including educational institutions, penal facilities, religious organizations and government agencies. A youth counselor might interact with her young clients one-on-one or within group counseling sessions, in both a public or private capacity. Most importantly, the ideal youth counselor candidate has a strong desire to help increase the well being of the young people around her.

Educational Requirements

    Degree requirements differ based on the type of youth counselor. For example, school counselors typically must have a master’s degree in psychology or education with a coursework focus in child development, academic counseling and education. A counselor working in the juvenile penal system, on the other hand, might be required to have a bachelor's or master's degree in psychology with coursework in criminal justice, substance abuse and behavioral health. In most cases, however, she must hold a state-issued credential or license to legally practice.


    A youth counselor interacts with children and teenagers in a one-on-one or group setting, helping guide their academic choices, control behavioral problems or overcome trauma. Her main focus is in helping children develop essential life skills -- including stress management, academic and career goal-setting, and strategic problem-solving. She will also typically deal with the child's parents or guardians, setting realistic goals for at-home treatment and the child's future. In addition to evaluating the youth's abilities and treating weaknesses, the youth counselor also helps the child or teen develop a sense of self-confidence.

Working Conditions

    Youth counselors work in a variety of environments and conditions, including schools, government centers, private practice and even within the home of her clients. She typically works a full-time schedule, though hours may vary depending upon the employer. For example, an elementary school counselor may only see her students during typical school hours whereas a youth behavioral counselor may be called upon in an emergency situation at any time of the day or night. Some youth counselors are also expected to be available during weekend hours.

Job Outlook

    Because youth counselors treat a variety of behavioral and social issues, the job outlook for the profession depends on the counseling focus. For example, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment of school counselors is expected to grow by 19 percent between 2010 and 2020 due to a steady increase in student enrollments. The BLS reports that employment of substance abuse counselors, on the other hand, will see as much as 27 percent growth as more individuals -- including teens and even children -- seek treatment for addictions or are sentenced to counseling rather than jail.

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