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Mental Health Counselor Degree Program Information

Individuals interested in becoming mental health counselors need at least a master's degree in the field. Education Specialist (Ed.S.) degrees are also available. Degree programs explore topics such as mental health therapy, psychological disorders and intervention counseling strategies.

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Essential Information

Mental health counseling master's programs generally require the completion of at least 60 credit hours, which include classes and practical training. Once in the master's program, students can choose a specialization such as vocational, substance abuse or senior counseling. Applicants to a mental health master's degree program must have a bachelor's degree, preferably in psychology or a related field. After acceptance, students may need to purchase liability insurance in order to participate in practical experiences.

Several colleges offer Ed.S. programs to master's degree holders, though students can also find dual-degree programs that combine the graduate curricula. When students graduate from a dual program, they receive both a master's and Ed.S. degree. Programs typically take two to three years to complete, depending on the concentration and whether a student pursues only one degree or both simultaneously. Some courses may be available in an online format, though many have in-person clinical requirements.


Master's Degree in Mental Health Counseling

Students in mental health counseling master's programs learn skills in patient evaluation and treatment, as well as how to conduct private and group counseling sessions. Many master's degree programs include an internship and a practicum that can be applied toward state licensure requirements. In addition, students generally complete a capstone project or master's thesis. Aspiring mental health counselors develop research skills and examine professional topics through the following courses:

  • Mental health drug therapy
  • Ethical and legal issues
  • Adult psychological disorders
  • Family counseling techniques
  • Developmental psychology

Education Specialist (Ed.S.) in Mental Health Counseling

An Ed.S. mental health degree program often incorporates practicum and internship experiences. Courses generally cover a variety of behavioral disorders, counseling strategies for different types of patients and pharmaceutical therapies, as well as clinical and cognitive theories. In an Ed.S. or dual degree program, students can specialize in clinical, school or family counseling. Some examples of course topics include:

  • Human biological and psychological development
  • Counseling for culturally diverse populations
  • Crisis and intervention counseling strategies
  • Sexual abuse
  • Supervisory training

Popular Career Options

Graduates with a degree in mental health counseling can find jobs in health care facilities, service agencies and private practice. With a Ed.S. degree, graduates are qualified to work in government agencies, substance abuse rehabilitation centers, clinics, schools or physician's offices. Relevant job titles include:

  • Family counselor
  • Couples therapist
  • Drug and alcohol counselor
  • Guidance counselor

Employment Outlook and Salary Information

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), employment of mental health counselors was predicted to rise 20% from 2014 to 2024. In 2015, the BLS indicated that the median annual wage for these professionals was $41,880, though certain industries paid higher than the national median.

Continuing Education and Certification Information

Most states throughout the U.S. require mental health counselors to be licensed. Each state has its own requirements; however, most mandate graduation from an accredited master's degree program, passing a qualifying exam, and completing at least 3,000 hours of postgraduate work experience. In addition, voluntary certifications are available through industry organizations, such as the National Board for Certified Counselors. Both voluntary certifications and licensure must be renewed, typically through continuing education courses. Individuals who seek advanced training in the field can find additional studies available in a doctoral degree program in clinical psychology or counseling.

Students who wish to serve as mental health counselors in health care facilities or service agencies may pursue a master's or Ed.S degree in mental health counseling. While a master's degree is all that's typically required for licensure, many go on to earn a Ed.S. to pursue jobs in academia.

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