No, counseling psychology is not a terrible major in college

Of course salary numbers in mental health look bad when you leave out people with the graduate degrees necessary to practice.

US CurrencyNPR ran a story last month punctuated by a graph of the highest- and lowest-earning college majors. The worst on the list, by far, was Counseling Psychology. Those who majored in Counseling Psych brought in a median income of under $30,000 per year.

No one gets into mental health care for the money, but the numbers were a black eye for the Counseling field — the American Counseling Association has even responded by commissioning its own study of salaries among its members.

But there was a big problem with that original chart, one that the researchers themselves had noted but which was often ignored in discussions of their findings: It didn’t include people with graduate degrees.

In just about any mental health field, you need at least a master’s degree to practice. Those who don’t take that extra step are often limited to very basic, entry-level jobs with little hope for advancement.

So NPR is back this week with another chart, one that includes graduate-degree earners. And Counseling Psychology no longer shows up on the list of the 10 lowest-earning undergraduate majors. Counseling Psych majors get a big bump in median incomes when you include those who go on to advanced degrees, as should be expected.

Notably, social work stayed in the bottom 10, even when those who get their graduate degrees are included. Their median incomes went from just under $40,000 a year (with graduate degree earners excluded) to about $45,000 a year (with graduate degree earners included).

It’s hard to place family therapy here, since MFTs come from a wide variety of undergraduate majors, most commonly (but by no means exclusively) psychology or family studies. For MFT salary data, the best place to start is this Bureau of Labor Statistics page.

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