Mental Health Counselor: Career and Salary Facts

Explore the career requirements for mental health counselors. Get the facts about education and licensure requirements, salary, and potential job growth to determine if this is the right career for you. Schools offering Mental Health Counseling degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Is a Mental Health Counselor?

Mental health counselors work with patients who have mental, social or family issues that are affecting their life. They meet with patients individually or in groups and assess their issues and then develop a treatment plan to help patients address those issues. Counselors work with their patients to process events and the choices they make, and they help patients learn coping strategies. Additionally, they document the progress of their patients and must maintain patient confidentiality. Check out the table below for more information:

Degree Required Master's degree
Training Required 2,000 to 4,000 hours of post-degree supervised clinical experience
Education Field of Study Counseling, psychology, social work, marriage and family therapy, or related field
Licensure Licensure is required
Job Growth (2014-2024) 20%*
Mean Salary (2015) $45,080*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

What Education Do I Need to Become a Mental Health Counselor?

You'll typically need a master's degree in order to become a licensed counselor; however, other requirements vary by state. Master's programs in mental health counseling typically require between 48-60 credit hours of coursework. In addition to your classroom hours, you'll have to complete supervised practica or internships in a clinical setting. Courses you might take in your master's program include counseling theories, counseling research and assessment, psychopathology, psychopharmacology and professional ethics.

What Are the Licensure Requirements for This Career?

Licensure requirements for mental health counselors vary by state and by your area of practice. However, to become licensed, you'll likely have to obtain a master's degree, complete approximately 2 years of supervised practice after completing your master's degree and pass a licensure or certification exam. In addition, to maintain your license or certification, you might be required to complete continuing education credits annually.

What Kind of Work Might I Do?

As a mental health counselor, you might conduct individual or group counseling sessions. You could help people with a wide range of issues, including substance abuse and other addictions, depression, anxiety and behavioral problems. You might also collaborate with other mental health workers, such as psychiatrists, social workers and school counselors.

Your work environment and clientele will depend largely on your area of specialization. You might have a private practice that allows you to counsel individual clients in your own office, or you might work with elderly adults in assisted living homes. Other places where you might work include hospitals, community health centers, substance abuse clinics and other mental health facilities.

What Salary Might I Expect?

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that, as of May 2015, the average annual salary for mental health counselors was $45,080 ( According to the BLS, mental health counselors working in management, scientific and technical consulting services made the highest salary, an average of $69,900 per year. Those working for junior colleges and religious organizations also did well, earning $62,360 and $57,190 per year, respectively.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

Social workers and substance abuse counselors work in the same general professional field as mental health counselors. Social workers and substance abuse counselors see patients, discuss issues they're struggling with, and then develop a plan to help the patient address that issue in their life. Social workers, substance abuse counselors and mental health counselors all see patients individually or in groups. They all must maintain patient confidentiality, and they must all document the progress of their patients. Social workers need a bachelor's or master's degree. Substance abuse counselors need a bachelor's degree to work in their field.

To continue researching, browse degree options below for course curriculum, prerequisites and financial aid information. Or, learn more about the subject by reading the related articles below:

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