Online associate degree programs related to mental health counseling prepare students for entry-level work in the mental health profession or for advanced study in the field. While a bachelor's degree is typically required for certification as a mental health counselor, many students pursue an online associate degree to break into the field. Majors that include mental health counseling courses include human services, social work, and alcohol and drug counseling. Associate's degree programs typically take around two years to complete. These programs may be offered fully online or in hybrid formats that include on-site supervised internship experiences, for which students may need to complete criminal background checks.
Associate Degree with Mental Health Counseling Coursework
Distance learning or campus-based programs specifically in mental health counseling are uncommon, since becoming a counselor requires a broader education. However, students could find online programs in related fields that contain coursework involving mental health and/or counseling topics. These may include associate's degrees in human services, alcohol and drug counseling or social work. Online associate's-level programs in these areas of study are typically found through community colleges or private distance education schools.
Information and Requirements
Distance learning students watch or read lectures, complete assignments, take tests and participate in discussions all within a virtual classroom available through schools' websites. Message boards, chat rooms and email may be used to foster interaction between instructors and their students.
Coursework in a mental health counseling associate's program can usually be completed totally online, but some schools require students to participate in internships or practicum experiences in order to apply their knowledge in a supervised environment. Such on-site requirements typically involve part-time hours on a weekly basis for the duration of a semester or term.
Online associate degree programs in mental health counseling combine general education coursework with human services and counseling classes. Many degree programs train students in the processes of interviewing and counseling, social service systems and workplace professionalism. Students may have the option to specialize in an area, such as substance abuse counseling. Examples of common courses include the following:
- Community Mental Health Care
- Children's Mental Health
- Crisis Counseling
- Case Management
- Sexual Abuse and Trauma
- Chemical Dependency Counseling
- Mental Health and Aging
Mental health counseling graduates typically pursue entry-level work as social and human service assistants. These professionals often work in community-based roles and assist with crisis intervention, client assessment, symptom control education and psychosocial rehabilitation. They may work in the following fields:
- Convalescent care
- Geriatric care
- Early childhood services
- Substance abuse treatment
- Developmental disabilities
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the number of employed social and human service assistants is projected to increase 11% from 2014-2024, which is faster than average. Much of this growth is expected to take place in elder care, substance abuse facilities, and individual and family services. The median salary for social and human service assistants was $30,830 in May 2015, as reported by the BLS.
Continuing Education Information
Graduates of online associate degree programs in mental health counseling can go on to earn a bachelor's degree in mental health counseling.
In an associate's degree program that covers mental health counseling, students can expect to receive a broad overview of mental health challenges and the strategies used to address them in a counseling setting. After earning this degree, graduates are prepared for entry-level work in the social services field, or they can continue on the track to becoming a certified counselor by pursuing further education.