Career Information for a Degree in Mental Health Services

A degree in mental health prepares students for work in counseling, substance abuse and addiction, assessment techniques, human development and psychopharmacology. Continue reading for an overview of degrees and licensing as well as career and salary info for some career options for graduates.

Individuals working in mental services can include counselors, psychologists, and psychiatrists, each having different educational requirements. Professionals in this field generally provide psychotherapy or counseling to clients.

Essential Information

A certificate or degree program in a mental health services field provides the professional training needed to administer psychological counseling and treatment. Graduates of degree programs in mental health services fields may find employment as mental health counselors or, with advanced education and clinical experience, as psychologists or psychiatrists. An advanced degree in psychology usually leads to higher pay and more job opportunities.

Career Mental Health Counselors Clinical, Counseling and School Psychologists Psychiatrists
Required Education Master's degree Ph.D or Doctor of Psychology degree Bachelor's degree and M.D.
Other Requirements Licensure (specific requirements vary by state) Licensure or certification is required in most states Residency and licensure
Projected Job Growth (2014-2024)* 20% 20% 15%
Median Annual Salary (2015)* $41,880 $70,580 $187,200

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Career Options

A wide variety of careers exist for the provision of mental health services. After earning the required degree, completing training and obtaining licensure or certification, people may pursue careers as mental health counselors, psychologists or psychiatrists.

Mental Health Counselors

Mental health counselors help clients achieve psychological wellness through individual or group therapy, counseling sessions and other treatment plans. Working in school, community, clinical and other settings, these counselors address a wide range of issues, including relationship difficulties, substance abuse, suicidal thoughts, emotional trauma and stress. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projected excellent employment prospects for mental health counselors, with an expected 20% increase in employment in the 2014-2024 decade ( Median earnings for mental health counselors were $41,880 per year in 2015.


Psychologists work in a wide range of settings and therapy situations. They might teach at the college level, conduct psychological research, advise companies on issues that affect employees' mental health or work in private practice. Although they cannot prescribe medications, psychologists may refer patients or use specialized therapy techniques to treat emotional and psychological issues. According to the BLS, most psychology careers require a Ph.D. or Doctor of Psychology (Psy.D.) degree and professional licensure.

The BLS also reports that job opportunities for psychologists who work in clinical, counseling and school settings are expected to increase 20% from 2014-2024. This particular group also earned a median salary of $70,580 per year as of 2015, while those in the industrial-organizational industry earned a median annual salary of $77,350 and are expected to see a high job growth rate of 19% from 2014-2024.


Psychiatrists are medical doctors who specialize in the assessment, diagnosis, treatment and prevention of psychological and mental disorders. They decide the appropriate means of patient care through an extensive examination of emotional and medical history, therapy sessions with the patient and collaboration with other healthcare providers.

Psychiatrists may choose analysis or therapy methods, prescribe medications or recommend hospitalization. This career requires completion of medical school, residency training and licensure. Psychiatrists earned median salaries of $187,200 per year, as of 2015, according to the BLS. These professionals are expected to see nearly a 15% increase in job growth from 2014-2024.

Mental Health Services Degree Overview

Few educational institutions offer undergraduate degree programs in mental health services; however, many colleges and universities offer post-master's certificates and graduate degrees in mental health, mental health counseling or similar fields that prepare students for work as counselors or other mental health professionals. Coursework in these programs typically includes counseling methods, group and family counseling, substance abuse and addiction, assessment techniques, human development and psychopharmacology. Many graduate programs prepare students for professional licensure examinations and also require clinical experience prior to graduation.

A mental health services-related degree, which is sometimes only available at the graduate level, is sought by those wishing to become psychologists, psychiatrists, or counselors. Many mental health jobs require a graduate degree of some kind in addition to licensure.

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