Career Information for a Degree in Mental Health Counseling

A career in mental health counseling enables you to help people overcome emotional, psychological and behavioral difficulties. Get a quick view of the requirements as well as details about career options, job growth and salary information for jobs in the mental health counseling field.

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A degree in mental health counseling involves studying psychology, human development, psychotherapy and counseling theory. Those interested in pursuing a career as a mental health counselor or addiction counselor should consider completing a graduate program accredited by the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs. These programs should offer a practicum or internship so students can gain the hands-on experience needed to enter this field.

Essential Information

To begin work in mental health counseling, a bachelor's degree is necessary. Since mental health counseling programs at the undergraduate level are rare, students may consider human development, psychology or related majors. The Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP) accredits graduate counseling programs.

Mental health counseling programs include coursework and hands-on experiences. The American Mental Health Counselors Association (AMHCA) indicated that these curricula offer theoretical and practical topics, such as psychotherapy, counseling theory and assessment. Additional coursework in professional ethics or cultural foundations may also be required. Some programs include courses relevant to prospective addictions counselors like drug counseling or addictive behavior, while other programs offer an addiction counseling concentration.

The experience portion of a curriculum typically includes a practicum and an internship. During a practicum, students are supervised as they practice counseling techniques in simulated situations and with actual patients. Internships involve a student working in an agency, clinic or other facility under the supervision of a licensed counselor. Many schools have experience hour requirements that students must meet in order to graduate.

Both mental health and addictions counselors may work for government agencies, private companies or be self-employed.

Career Mental Health Counselor Addiction Counselor
Education Requirements Bachelor's Degree Bachelor's Degree
Projected Job Growth (2014-2024)* 20% 22%
Mean Annual Salary (2015)* $45,080 $42,920

'Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

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Career Options

Mental Health Counselor

According to AMHCA, these counselors treat individuals suffering from mental disorders by using a variety of methods, including psychotherapy. They assess clients to determine what they are suffering from. The conditions they treat range from depression and stress management to more serious cases, such as suicidal thoughts. After the diagnosis, mental health counselors design a treatment program specific to an individual's needs, which may include individual and group therapy sessions.

Mental health counselors often work in clinics, hospitals and government agencies. Established counselors may open their own practice. They often work in tandem with psychiatrists, physicians, social workers or other professionals to develop treatment plans. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), employment opportunities for mental health counselors were expected to increase 20% from 2014-2024 (www.bls.gov). Among the factors behind the anticipated growth, the BLS indicated that counselors are a more affordable alternative to other mental health professionals. Some openings may be on a contract or part time basis. The BLS reported that the mean annual salary for mental health counselors was $45,080 as of May 2015.

Addictions Counselor

According to O*Net Online, addictions counselors, also referred to as substance abuse or behavioral disorder counselors, work with individuals suffering from drug problems and other addictive behaviors. Besides working with clients, these counselors work with an addict's family members to help them cope with the problem. O*Net indicates that addictions counselors may orient new patients to chemical dependency programs and follow up with discharged patients. They often work with other mental health professionals and law enforcement.

The BLS indicated that employment for substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors is expected to increase 22% from 2014-2024. The major factor for the increase was the rise of drug offenders receiving treatment as opposed to jail time. Similar to mental health counseling, some positions may be on a part-time basis. The BLS reported that the mean annual salary for an addictions counselor was $42,920 as of May 2015.

Mental health counselors may work with clients who suffer from depression, suicidal tendencies, or issues with stress. Addictions counselors focus on working with patients who suffer from substance abuse issues or behavior disorders. Mental health counselors and addictions counselors are expected to experience a high rate of job growth from 2014 to 2024, according to the BLS.

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