Human services

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October 14, 2007

Today's many societal problems are generating ever-increasing needs for human service professionals.

While the resultant job picture is good, the amount and types of work are dependent upon the economy and the availability of government funding. Insurance companies' willingness to cover such services affects the market, too.

Psychologists, social workers, and human-service assistants are needed to help people deal with a huge range of issues, including alcohol and substance abuse, job stress, marital and family problems, depression and other mental disorders, teen pregnancies, physical and mental disability, post-traumatic stress disorders, and homelessness.

An aging population is in greater need of counseling, adult day care, and other services; schools need help in dealing with children experiencing a growing number of mental, psychological, and physical problems.

When government funding is cut, work often is contracted out to private agencies that tend to employ lower-paid assistants rather than social workers with degrees.

Corporations, too, cut back on popular employee-assistance programs when the economy slows.

Psychologists with doctoral degrees usually fare well in private practice; those with less education have fewer choices.

Check socialservice.com for career information.

SOCIAL WORKERS AND COUNSELORS

Average salaries: $52,760 (vocational and school counselors); $33,910 (mental health counselors); $37,850 (substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors); $47,960 (marriage and family therapists)

Demand: Good. Opportunities are strong for those with backgrounds in gerontology, substance abuse, home healthcare services, and school counseling. Some agencies hire lower-cost assistants.

Qualifications: Minimum social work, sociology, psychology, or related degree; master's usually needed for counseling. Social workers must be licensed.

PSYCHOLOGISTS

Average salaries: $60,450 (clinical, counseling, and school psychologists); $67,730 (other psychologists)

Demand: Good. Needs are increasing for professionals to counsel people plagued with mental and psychological issues including alcoholism, addiction, depression; and marital, family, and job problems. Schools increasingly rely on psychologists to help students with mental health and behavioral problems. Pay and private-practice opportunities are better for those with PhDs.

Qualifications: PhD usually required for state licensure, research, teaching, and clinical jobs; those with master's or bachelor's do research or work as assistants.

SOCIAL AND HUMAN SERVICE ASSISTANTS

Average salary: $32,230

Demand: Very good. With lower salaries, human-service assistants are getting many jobs that once went to counselors holding degrees and social workers. Their skills are needed to help the elderly, deinstitutionalized mentally and physically disabled patients, substance abusers, former prisoners, and those needing job training.

Qualifications: High school diploma; post-secondary schooling necessary for some fields of counseling, rehab, and social work.