While there are more than 165 schools in the United States that offer master's degree programs in mental health counseling, only a few schools offer online programs. Of these schools, only two online master's programs have been approved by the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP). Students considering an online graduate program in mental health counseling should be aware in advance that these programs often have internship and/or residency requirements.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), mental health counselors must have a license (www.bls.gov). While individual state requirements vary, candidates should have a master's degree in mental health counseling or a related field, which can help them prepare for the licensing exam. In general, the programs require upwards of 60 semester hours of course and clinical work.
While a master's degree is required for most counseling positions, students interested in helping people with substance abuse issues may be able to get started with a high school diploma and a professional certification.
M.S. in Mental Health Counseling
Master's degree programs in mental health counseling are designed to prepare graduates for state licensure and work in a variety of business, community and institutional settings. These can include employee assistance programs, substance abuse centers and hospitals. Through classroom and practical training experiences, students learn how to identify the symptoms and create counseling plans for individuals suffering from emotional or mental disorders. Some programs offer concentrations in crisis, forensic or substance abuse counseling.
Online Master of Science in Mental Health Counseling programs are available at both public and private universities (profit and not-for-profit). While online programs allow students to take most classes online, supervised internships and residencies must take place in person. These provide students with the opportunity to develop their critical thinking, counseling and interviewing skills while collaborating with peers and professors.
Program Information and Requirements
Applicants to a master's degree program in mental health counseling must have a bachelor's degree. In addition, some schools may require students to submit GRE scores, a resume, letters of recommendation and/or an essay.
Through a course management system, such as Blackboard, students can access class materials and library services at their own convenience. Assignments are submitted and reviewed electronically, and students interact with faculty and peers by way of chat rooms, email and discussion threads.
In general, an online master's program in mental health counseling requires around 60 credits to complete and includes core courses in personality studies, psychopathology and psychotherapy. Clinical training components are mandatory and take place through internships, practicums and residential colloquia.
Core and specialized courses may include topics in:
- Counseling for diverse or multicultural populations
- Crisis assessments and interventions
- Diagnosis and treatment of psychopathological disorders
- Group counseling
- Psychological measurements and tests
- Vocational development
All 50 states require mental health counselors to be licensed, and the minimum requirements include completion of a master's degree program in a relevant field of study, 2,000-4,000 hours of supervised training in a clinical setting and a passing score on a state-approved exam. Aspiring professionals should be aware in advance that individual programs may not be recognized by certain states.
According to the BLS, opportunities for mental health counselors are projected to increase by 20%, or much faster-than-average, between 2014 and 2024. As of May 2015, mental health counselors earned a median annual wage of $41,880, according to the BLS. Those in the lowest 10% received salaries of $26,300 or less and the top 10% earned $68,790 or more.
Students who would like to earn an online master's degree in mental health counseling should be aware of CACREP accreditation, internship and residency requirements. Some of the topics that students might study during this program include group counseling, vocational development and psychological measurements and tests.