Professional Counselors Love Their Work, But Not Their Earnings

May 9, 2024

Alexandria, Va. (May 7, 2024) — The vast majority of professional counselors enjoy their work and feel appreciated by their clients, but nearly half say they feel poorly compensated for the important job they do, results of a survey commissioned by the American Counseling Association (ACA) show. One-third of counselors hold a second job to earn additional money, the survey reveals.

Licensed professional counselors represent the second largest segment of the mental health workforce, according to data from the Government Accountability Office.

More than 11,000 professional counselors and trainees responded to the survey, which was sponsored by HPSO and conducted on ACA’s behalf by McKinley Advisors. The responses showed that most counselors feel positive about their work but face the burden of low pay, high cost for their education and a desire for more professional support.

Survey highlights include:

  • Nearly three-fourths of respondents said they pursued a counseling career to have a positive impact, and more than 90% said they enjoy the work and feel appreciated by their clients. 86% said they plan to stay in the field over the next three years.
  • Nearly half of respondents reported a surge in demand for their services following the COVID-19 pandemic, and nearly 40% said they felt overworked. More than half said the threat of burnout from managing high caseloads was a major challenge for people working in the profession.
  • The average annual income for a professional counselor has climbed 43% to $71,000 over the past decade. Respondents say their income does not reflect their education, their skills and the cost of living.
  • More than half of the respondents have a student loan debt, owing roughly 113% more than the national average. Counselors from marginalized populations reported the highest amount of debt.
  • The majority of the 34% of counselors who hold a second job cited additional income as the primary motivation or need. Counselors working in school or university settings were the most likely to hold a second job, theoretically because they have more time for outside work because of summer and other school breaks. 

Explore more results of the Counseling Workforce Survey Report.

ACA’s research spotlights the inequalities and other concerns that the association can address to help professional counselors thrive in their work, said CEO Shawn Boynes, FASAE, CAE. He added that ACA is committed to addressing the concerns raised in the survey through its advocacy, educational resources, research and other available tools.

“We must take action to improve counselor pay and workforce participation given the critical importance of counselors’ role in addressing the mental health crisis in this country,” Boynes said. “Working to fix these disparities will not only enhance the profession but will open opportunities to bring more people into the counseling field, especially those from marginalized demographics.”

ACA will present the results of the survey, and discuss how the data can inform advancement and change in the field, during a town-hall style webinar on Friday, May 10. Register for the webinar on the ACA website or contact to schedule an interview with one of the panelists.

Founded in 1952, the American Counseling Association (ACA) is a not-for-profit, professional and educational organization that is dedicated to the growth and enhancement of the counseling profession. ACA represents nearly 60,000 members and is the world’s largest association exclusively representing professional counselors in various practice settings. Driven by the belief that all people can benefit from the power of counseling, ACA’s mission is to promote the professional development of counselors, advocate for counselors, and ensure that ethical, culturally inclusive practices protect our members’ clients and all people who seek counseling services.