The Risks of Being a Counselor

You'll tap into the dark side of your patients' psyches, so make sure you're in a safe environment.
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You'll tap into the dark side of your patients' psyches, so make sure you're in a safe environment.

In your seat as a counselor, you face a host of risks, ranging from internal stress about your patients’ progress and what they might do next to actual violence from those very same clients. Though you have a caring and compassionate nature, you need to take care of yourself first – or you won’t be around long enough to take care of anyone else.


It may be rare, but it does happen. Clients you treat are often unstable and prone to violence. Maybe they’ve skipped their medications or have had a breakdown during therapy, but you then become physically at risk. The risk of violence can occur in your office or clinical setting and is especially prevalent if you make house calls. Counselors treating families often face angry spouses and parents who take out their frustrations on the therapist. When you work in urban areas with high crime rates, your risks of being on the end of a violent attack increase substantially.


You’re vulnerable to the many physical and mental side effects of stress when you work as a counselor. In many cases, you work in isolation because of the confidential nature of your job, and don’t have a sufficient support network for your own release. The American Psychological Association reports that counselors are often not very good at taking care of themselves and seeking mental health help because they fear being stigmatized within the professional community. When stress mounts, you risk developing depression, guilt, anxiety, addictions, high blood pressure and other stress-related physical illnesses.


A common risk that counselors face is getting over-involved with patients and their problems. It may be difficult to forget about the pain and suffering you listen to in your work. You may put yourself at risk of crossing professional boundaries and becoming personally involved with those patients and less objective with your treatment. You may destroy your reputation by risking ethics violations and could even lose your license if your risky behavior becomes public or a patient sues you for ethical violations.

Loss of Effectiveness

Once you become over-involved or stressed-out from your work, you run the risk of not being able to do your job effectively. You can’t pay attention to their problems when your own life is poring over with heaping challenges. It’s difficult to be empathetic when you have so many problems of your own. In addition to not giving patients your full attention, you risk giving wrong or harmful advice to clients that could lead to drastic consequences for them.

2016 Salary Information for Mental Health Counselors and Marriage and Family Therapists

Mental health counselors and marriage and family therapists earned a median annual salary of $44,150 in 2016, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. On the low end, mental health counselors and marriage and family therapists earned a 25th percentile salary of $34,550, meaning 75 percent earned more than this amount. The 75th percentile salary is $57,180, meaning 25 percent earn more. In 2016, 199,200 people were employed in the U.S. as mental health counselors and marriage and family therapists.

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