Guide to Life Transitions Counseling Careers & Schooling

Life transitions counseling focuses on assisting clients through significant life changes. Those life changes can be positive ones (like earning a promotion to a higher level of responsibility), negative ones (like losing a loved one), or even seemingly neutral ones (moving abroad or returning home). 

These types of transitions can have significant mental health effects on those who undergo them, and life transitions counseling offers clients healthy coping mechanisms to make those transitions as smooth as possible. 

Change is a constant in life, and everyone undergoes significant life transitions. That means that life transitions counseling is applied in several different counseling careers, and is an important feature in the practice of many types of counselors and therapists. Whether it’s studied as part of a broader foundational degree, or through a specialized certificate program, life transitions counseling is an important skill for anyone working in mental health, but some careers focus on it more specifically. 

Read on to learn more about careers that emphasize life transitions counseling and what schooling is required to enter those careers.

Become a End-of-Life & Palliative Counselor

End-of-life counselors work with terminally ill patients to ease their suffering and provide them with mental comfort. They’ll also work with families of patients who are either terminally ill or who have recently passed. Death is the largest, and final, life transition; end-of-life counselors are adept at helping people handle that transition with dignity and strength.

Schooling requirements for end-of-life counselors can vary from state to state. A master’s degree in social work (MSW) may be most widely applicable; 35 accredited MSW programs have an emphasis on aging and gerontology. Those who have a master’s or PhD in a related field, like psychology or counseling, may choose to obtain a graduate certificate in palliative care.

Become a Forensic Counselor

Forensic counselors are mental health counselors with additional training and skills to work with individuals in the criminal justice system. They can work with prisoners, suspects, and people on probation. Movement between sections of the criminal justice system, and in and out of general society, is a major life transition, and forensic counselors can help their clients with the stress, anxiety, and logistics of such adjustments. 

Forensic counselors need at least a master’s degree in psychology, counseling, or a related field. Several master’s programs are specialized toward forensic counseling specifically, offering the additional training and skills necessary to work in this field. Forensic counselors will also need to be licensed by the state where they practice; professional certification is optional.

Become a Life Coach

Sometimes referred to as a transformational counselor, a life coach is an informal specialist in life transitions counseling, working with people to bring about the changes they want to see in their lives. Life coaches can help people make the decision to transition into a new phase of their life, or out of an old one. They can also assist clients in adapting to the transitions they’ve made. 

Schooling requirements for life coaches can vary, but life coaches who use the title of counselor will need at least a master’s degree in psychology, counseling, or a related field. New and aspiring life coaches can also seek out accredited certification programs through the International Coaching Federation or the Association for Coaching.

Become a Guidance Counselor

Guidance counselors, sometimes referred to as career counselors, help students make decisions about their career path. Typically, they’ll work with high school or college students, and, in addition to career guidance, they’ll offer resources for the transition to the working world. That transition is a major one; guidance counselors may also help students with the anxiety that goes with it. 

Schooling for guidance counselors can vary, but most states require at least a master’s degree in psychology or in counseling to be certified and licensed. Some guidance counselors also choose to obtain a master’s degree in education, either on their own or through a dual-degree option. Additional transitions-focused graduate certificate programs are available, too.

Become a Marriage and Family Therapist

Marriage and family therapists (MFTs) help people manage issues with their family and other relationships. Key responsibilities of MFTs include assisting clients with making decisions about the future and adjusting to major life transitions. More specifically, they can work with families considering or undergoing a divorce, or with divorcees who are considering remarrying. 

Every state requires marriage and family therapists to have at least a master’s degree in psychology, marriage and family therapy, or a related field; MFTs will also need to be licensed to practice. For transitions-focused training, graduate certificates remain the best option.

Become a Military Counselor

Military counselors provide confidential counseling to service members and their families. Employed at military bases at home and abroad, they can help new service members transition into active duty and separation from family, or help veterans transition back into general society and cope with post-traumatic stress. 

Military counselors can be social workers, professional counselors, marriage and family therapists, or psychologists. In each case, however, they will need a master’s degree or higher, in addition to licensure in the state where they practice.

Become a Rehabilitation Counselor

Rehabilitation counselors work with clients who have developmental, mental, or physical disabilities. They provide their clients with coaching and counseling and the mental and physical skills they need to work and live as independently as possible. Rehabilitation counselors can help people transition between settings or adjust to life with a disability. 

Schooling requirements vary from state to state, but most rehabilitation counselors will need a master’s degree in counseling or a related field; some master’s programs offer a specific emphasis in rehabilitation counseling. Rehabilitation counselors must also be certified and licensed by the state where they practice.

Become a School Counselor

School counselors at all levels help students navigate many major life changes. The transition from middle school to high school, or from high school to university, is fraught with change; the transition into and out of puberty is also a significant moment. School counselors equip students with the skills they need to manage the dynamic process of growing up. 

School counselors can work in elementary schools, middle schools, and universities. Most states require school counselors to complete a master’s degree in school counseling or a related field; they’ll also need to be licensed or certified by the state where they practice.

Become a Substance Abuse Counselor

Substance abuse counselors help people with issues related to alcoholism, addiction, and dependency. The transition into sober life is radical and life-changing, akin to rebirth. Substance abuse counselors also help recovering addicts carry their sobriety into different settings (i.e. out of a rehab facility and into general society, or a new job, or a new relationship), each of which can be its own life transition. 

The schooling requirements for substance abuse counselors vary from state to state. Some states only require an associate’s degree, but the highest levels of professional certification require an advanced degree, such as a master of science in addiction counseling.

Matt Zbrog

Matt Zbrog


Matt Zbrog is a writer and researcher from Southern California. Since 2020, he’s written extensively about how counselors and other behavioral health professionals are working to address the nation’s mental health and substance use crises, with a particular focus on community-driven and interdisciplinary approaches. His articles have included detailed interviews with leaders and subject matter experts from the American Counseling Association (ACA), the American Mental Health Counselor Association (AMHCA), the American School Counselor Association (ASCA), and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).