Mental Health Counseling Degree

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What is Mental Health Counseling?

Mental health counseling is a field that provides holistic and developmental therapy to individuals suffering from mental health issues such as depression or anxiety. Counselors are responsible for identifying and assisting individuals demonstrating symptoms of as well as providing preventative counseling through education, regular sessions, and community service. Mental health counselors provide clarity to issues that may be plaguing individuals and developing a plan to resolve these issues with the patient.

Top Mental Health Counseling Degrees

For prospective students considering a career in mental health counseling, it is vital to understand the degree options available.  Below you will find a summary of each degree type along with quick, easy access to connect with accredited colleges and universities.  By providing a singular portal for your counseling career, you can quickly navigate from school to school and degrees within each program with ease.  The degrees offered by colleges in mental health counseling include the following:

Mental Health Counseling Bachelor's Degrees

Online bachelor’s degrees in mental health counseling along with their classroom-based equivalent are conferred as Bachelor of Science (BS) degrees at most institutions.  The bachelor degree program will take full-time students approximately 4-years to complete with part-time students taking longer as a function of course load.

Students will have the opportunity to blend liberal arts education such as communications, philosophy, history, and math with core classes. Core curricula will generally include classes such as: lifespan development, foundations of counseling, theories of personality, research methods, abnormal psychology, family interventions, social policy, contemporary issues in counseling, counseling children & adolescents, and applied group dynamics.

Mental Health Counseling Master's Degrees

Earning a master’s degree in mental health counseling will take 2-3 years of full time matriculation.  Degrees are conferred as Master of Arts (MA) or Master of Science (MS) correlated with the curricular design.  A master’s degree program will frequently allow students to select specializations or self-designed courses.

Areas of concentration can include: clinical counseling, art therapy, movement therapy, expressive arts therapy, dance therapy, music therapy, holistic studies, community counseling, trauma studies, school counseling, counseling psychology, mindfulness studies, and school psychology.  The thesis project and classes taken in a MA or MS program will depend upon the area of concentration.

PhD in Mental Health Counseling

The doctorate degree in mental health counseling can be earned online, in class, or a hybrid program of both online and on-site studies.  Most schools will confer degrees in the field as a PhD with a small number of schools offering degrees as a Doctor in Philosophy (PhD).   PhD programs will last 3-5 years dependent upon student pace and length of time taken to complete the board-approved dissertation project.  Upper level courses will vary from school to school but can include: transformative leadership, qualitative research, social justice in counseling, quantitative research, trauma counseling, interpersonal neurobiology, applied research, contemplative counseling, and social entrepreneurship.

Mental Health Counselor Requirements

Individuals wishing to become mental health counselors must earn a master's degree in counseling. Graduate programs require one to have earned a bachelor's degree, though the bachelor's degree need not be in counseling to be accepted.

A mental health counseling program will provide individuals with the knowledge and techniques necessary to perform one's duties, with courses describing the various disorders one may encounter, social factors that may be present, and the methodologies used for diagnosis and treatment.  A curriculum in mental health counseling may include:

  • Ethics
  • Counseling Theory
  • Psychopathology
  • Crisis and Trauma Intervention
  • Psychopharmacology

Employment Opportunities and Counseling Licensure

Individuals seeking employment as mental health counselors may find opportunities within hospitals, clinics, schools and colleges, private practices and private employers. Individuals will provide assistance based on the goals and needs of the employer, providing care and assistance to a variety of patients based on the type of employer. Individuals working in a private practice will have more control over their hours and choice of patients.

Licensure is required by all states in order to practice mental health counseling. Individuals must have earned a set number of hours of supervised clinical experience, take a state issued exam, and participate in annual continuing education courses in order to maintain one's license. Specific requirements will vary from state to state, and as such it is recommended that individuals research the requirements of the state they plan to practice in.

What Does a Mental Health Counselor Do?

Mental health counselors work with families and individuals with an array of psychiatric disorders and/or mental health problems.  A common set of mental health and psychiatric disorders a mental health counselor is trained to work with include: stress, substance abuse, self-esteem, anxiety disorders, bipolar disorders, eating disorders, OCD, panic disorder, postpartum depression, PTSD, schizophrenia, seasonal affective disorder, social anxiety disorder, hypersomnia, sex addiction, acute stress disorder, aging, kleptomania, antisocial personality disorder, and pain disorder.

A recent survey administered by the United States Department of Labor of mental health counselors helps to shed light on daily activities of professionals in the field.  A broad-based sample of counselors from across the country reveals a common set of job responsibilities we have clustered together.  The top 10 job duties of a mental health counselor include:

  1. Distinguish between physiological and psychological disorders & provide an accurate and timely diagnosis
  2. Build a working framework of psychological development at every stage of life
  3. Diagnose a variety of psychiatric disorders and mental health conditions
  4. Appropriately apply theories of human behavior to mental, emotional, and/or behavioral problems
  5. Manage a patient’s medication intake, usage, and results
  6. Develop unique treatment plans for individuals, couples, and groups
  7. Accurately document patient history in addition to clinical diagnosis, physical changes, emotional changes, treatment plans, and outcomes
  8. Evaluate behavior over time and update treatment plans accordingly
  9. Provide targeting intervention plans and counseling sessions
  10. Prudently apply multicultural & global perspectives into counseling practice

Mental Health Counselor Salary & Job Growth

Mean annual income of $46,050 which is equivalent to $22.14 per hour with the top 10% earning $70,100 a year and the bottom ten percent earning just under twenty-seven thousand dollars a year. The average salary for a counselor is approximately $48,000 per year, with starting and low end salaries being approximately $24,000 per year. Individuals working in larger, more populated cities will have an easier time finding work, and are more likely to have higher wages.

Job growth is expected to increase by some 54,500 jobs over the next decade equal to a 14% due to the effectiveness of such counseling and the increased interest in preventative healthcare.  These factors when coupled with the waning stigma of individuals seeking professional assistance will help the industry continue to flourish.  Additionally, insurance companies are beginning to provide more coverage for such assistance, resulting in a larger number of individuals able to seek assistance.

Where Do Mental Health Counselors Work?

A mental health counseling professional can work in a variety of professional settings.  The most common examples of work settings for counselors include public schools, private schools, colleges, hospital, mental health facility, medical office, correctional facility, medical office, medical clinic, home health organization, community health organization, social services, local government agencies, and state government agencies.

Top Employers of Mental Health Counselors

  1. Individual and Family Providers   30,170
  2. Outpatient Care Centers                  29,890
  3. Mental Health Facilities                  16,160
  4. Practitioners Offices                         11,490
  5. Local Government Agencies           11,130

States with the Highest Employment of Mental Health Counselors

  • California            15,300
  • Pennsylvania      13,020
  • Virginia                 8,980
  • New York              6,970
  • Massachusetts     6,830

Top Paying States for Mental Health Counselors

  1. Alaska             $64,520
  2. Utah                $61,080
  3. Wyoming       $58,020
  4. Oregon            $55,670
  5. New Jersey    $53,410

Resources for Mental Health Counselors

Individuals interested in mental health counseling may also be interested in social work, substance abuse and addiction counseling, or marriage counseling and family therapy.  Additionally, students may benefit from researching the AMHCA or ACA to learn more about the counseling industry.  Trade associations such as these provide graduates and working professionals with member benefits and resources to grow in the counseling sector.

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Career Summary: Mental health counseling Major




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