What Can You Do With a Masters in Mental Health Counseling?

A mental health counseling master's program trains students to treat patients in private clinics, hospitals and rehabilitation facilities. A master's degree is commonly required for counselors to begin practice in the field. Licensure is also mandated by all states, though criteria for license eligibility varies.

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Careers Associated with a Master's Degree in Mental Health Counseling

Once the master's program has been completed, the graduate may become licensed to work as a mental health counselor working with families, individuals and groups. These counselors often treat suicidal patients, trauma, self-esteem issues and relationship problems. In some cases, the counselor helps a client with job, life or educational concerns.

A mental health counselor's earnings often depend on location. Counselors may find jobs in outpatient care centers, family service centers, hospitals, schools and private practice. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, mental health counselors earned a median annual wage of $40,850 in May 2014. The highest salaries were earned by those working for consulting services, while counselors working in residential care facilities reportedly earned the lowest.

Alternative career options may include college career counselor, substance abuse counselor and mental health supervisor. In February 2016, PayScale.com reported the average salary ranges for master's degree holders working in these careers: college career counselor ($52,400), substance abuse counselor ($32,847) and mental health supervisor ($52,850).

State Licensure Info

Depending on the state, students may have to gain a certain amount of post-graduate supervised work experience to become a certified counselor. A master's degree is the minimal degree required in most states to practice as a licensed mental health counselor. Check with your individual state's requirements for the appropriate information.

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Degree Program Overview

Most master's programs expect applicants to have an undergraduate degree in psychology or, at a minimum, completed prerequisite courses in counseling and psychology. Graduate programs train students to understand and recognize cultural diversity, professional problem solving, scholarly inquiry and ethical practice. Several specialized programs exist at the master's level under the umbrella of mental health counseling, such as community or public health, education, rehabilitation and clinical counseling.


Master's programs provide students with clinical work in an intern capacity. The internship may take place at a local community health center or a university-affiliated hospital. Prior to this practical experience, students must participate in courses that train them how to properly care for and manage a variety of patients and mental disorders. Lectures and simulated lab work may consist of the following topics and activities:

  • Psychotherapy
  • Neuropsychology
  • Behavioral approaches
  • Group therapy
  • Ethical behavior
  • Treatment planning
  • Research methods
  • Personality theory
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