Master of Arts (MA): Mental Health Counseling Degree Overview

A Master of Arts in Mental Health Counseling program trains students in the knowledge, skills and ethics required to work as a mental health counselor for groups, individuals and/or families.

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Essential Information

In a master's degree program in mental health counseling, students explore counseling theories, psychological testing methods, human development, drug and alcohol abuse, group counseling dynamics and signs of mental health issues. Program admission may call for a bachelor's degree in a related field as well as counseling or other work experience in the mental health field.

Graduates are eligible to seek licensure and work in a variety of health institutions or organizations. Most states require mental health counselors to have a license or certification, but the requirements differ by state.


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Master of Arts in Mental Health Counseling

Mental health counseling master's programs train students in research methodologies so they can dig deeper into mental health topics that interest them. Research projects are commonly required. Students also complete a specific amount of practical training, where they work under the supervision of a licensed mental health counselor. Common classroom courses may cover counseling principles, human development, counseling ethics, psychopharmacology, and family counseling methods. Other courses may include the following topics:

  • Career counseling methods
  • Group counseling techniques
  • Legal applications in counseling
  • Patient assessment and evaluation
  • Drug and alcohol counseling

Employment Outlook and Salary

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), employment of mental health counselors is expected to grow 20%, which is higher than the national average, between 2014 and 2024 (www.bls.gov). This growth is attributed in part to insurance companies' providing better reimbursement benefits for patients who visit these lower-cost professionals instead of psychologists or psychiatrists. As of May 2015, mental health counselors earned a median annual salary of $41,880, BLS data shows.

Licensure and Continuing Education Information

According to the BLS, most states require some type of licensing or certification for counselors, but licensure requirements differ by state. Individuals can consult their state licensing board for specifics. Additionally, voluntary certifications are available through various credentialing agencies, such as the National Board for Certified Counselors, which awards the Certified Clinical Mental Health Counselor credential. Candidates must possess an approved graduate degree, have sufficient clinical experience and pass an exam.

Doctoral programs in mental health counseling and related fields are available at many colleges and universities. Students in these programs may earn a Doctor of Philosophy or Doctor of Education degree. Advanced coursework, clinical training and original research often are required. Students may be able to choose the focus of their courses.

Mental health counseling is a career option for students who wish to assist others with mental health and emotional issues. Master's degree programs in mental health counseling teach students counseling methods for a variety of audiences as well as how to recognize mental and emotional disorder symptoms.

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