Mental Health Counseling Degree Programs

Therapist talking to patient on a couch.

Mental health counseling is a psychology subspecialty in which the professional works with children, adolescents, adults or families to help resolve emotional or behavioral issues. Mental health counseling can include diagnosing, treating and helping prevent mental health disorders, addictions, school, work or relationship problems or trauma. Typically, mental health counselors work in an office where they see clients throughout the day, although they may also work in nontraditional settings.

Mental health counselors approach their practice in a different manner than other health professionals. Instead of relying on traditional medical illness treatments, mental health counselors work with the client to encourage positive life choices and a general wellness model for growth. A mental health counselor makes determinations through interviews, observation and testing to clarify a client’s needs.

Clients may be individuals, couples or entire families, as the origins for mental health issues can be environmental, social or family-based in nature. A mental health counselor will often work alongside other professionals, such as marriage and family counselors, school therapists and social workers in aiding the growth and improvement of the patient.

What Does a Mental Health Counselor Do?

The typical day for a mental health counselor often consists of appointments with patients, generally in treatment facilities, homes or hospitals. Evaluating and determining patient risk is a vital component of the job. From there, the counselor must help the patient make healthy life decisions to positively shape their future and improve their existing relationships.

Depending on the nature, position and severity of the patient, it can be important to collaborate with other health professionals. Collaboration ensures more effective treatments for problems such as substance abuse, sex addiction, depression and anger management.

Featured Counseling Programs

Careers in Mental Health Counseling

As of May 2015, the Bureau of Labor Statistics projected that 128,200 professionals were currently practicing within this industry. Earnings for the group were as follows:

  • Mental health counselors in the 90th percentile earned an annual salary of $68,790 (or $33.07 per hour).
  • Mental health counselors in the 90th percentile earned an annual salary of $68,790 (or $33.07 per hour).
  • Mental health counselors in the 90th percentile earned an annual salary of $68,790 (or $33.07 per hour).
  • Those in the 10th percentile earned an annual salary of $26,300 (or $12.65 per hour).
  • Annual mean wages were highest at $62,360 for those who worked at junior colleges.
  • Annual mean wages were lowest at $37,680 for those who worked at residential intellectual and developmental disability, mental health, and substance abuse facilities.
  • Private practices generally earned more than those working at facilities.

Obtaining a Mental Health Counseling Degree

An undergraduate degree in psychology or counseling is a first step, but graduate education is essential. You are required to earn your master’s degree in counseling, social work or a similar field. That means earning your MA, MS, or MSW, or attaining a Ph.D. in mental health therapy or clinical or counseling psychology.

Internships and volunteer work at treatment facilities or hospitals are also great resume builders. In all but two states and the District of Columbia, further certification/licensing procedures are required. This includes passing a state or nationally certified licensure exam and completing two years of supervised work as a post-graduate in a clinical setting.

Working within a peaceful environment conducive to professional growth is a perk of the field. Perhaps the greatest benefit, however, is your role in helping individuals, couples and families achieve happiness and peace of mind.

Useful Mental Health Counseling Resources

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