Mental Health Counselors: Job Description and Career Info

Learn what duties a mental health counselor performs. Explore educational requirements, coursework, employment outlook and salary to make the right career decision.

Career Definition for a Mental Health Counselor

Mental health counselors work as primary mental health caregivers for their patients. Duties of a mental health counselor include conducting mental health assessments, developing individualized treatment plans, leading individual or group therapy sessions, running preventative mental wellness classes or workshops and making treatment referrals. Mental health counselors may work for a school, for a government department or an agency, as part of a social outreach agency or for another entity.

Required Education A master's degree and a state license required in all states
Job Duties Include conducting mental health assessments, developing individualized treatment plans, running classes or workshops, making treatment referrals and leading therapy sessions
Median Salary (2015)* $41,880
Job Outlook (2014-2024)* 20% growth

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Required Education

The requirements to become a mental health counselor, in all states, include a master's degree and a state license. Bachelor's degree programs can be completed in a variety of fields and usually take 4 years to complete, and master's degree programs in counseling take 2-3 years. Common coursework includes individual and group therapy methods, psychological development, group dynamics and social and behavioral theory. An internship or other supervised practical work component is also required, and generally between 2,000 and 4,000 hours of experience are necessary before qualifying to take the licensing exam.

Required Skills

To be successful as a mental health counselor, you should find it easy to connect with people and constructively discuss their problems and issues. Excellent written and verbal communications skills and an analytical approach will serve you well in mental health counseling.

Economic and Career Outlook

The career outlook for mental health counseling is excellent, with the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projecting 20% growth from 2014-2024. Job growth is expected because people are more willing to seek mental health help, and it is becoming a less expensive form of treatment. Also, the median salary in 2015 for mental health counselors was $41,880.

Alternative Careers

Here are some examples of alternative career options:


Although they use many of the same therapy techniques as mental health counselors, psychologists utilize scientific research and more advanced treatment options in their profession. Clinical psychologists usually hold a doctoral degree in psychology and complete a one-year internship as part of the degree program. All states require licensure for independently practicing psychologists, and professional certification is preferred by many employers. According to the BLS, psychologists should see a 19% increase in employment during the 2014-2024 decade. The median salary for clinical, counseling and school psychologists was determined to be $70,580, as reported by the BLS in 2015.

Social Worker

For those who want to focus more on providing mental health resources, a career in social work is an option. Social workers not only help those with emotional problems, they also can help individuals and groups find assistance through community and government programs. A bachelor's degree is the minimum requirement to enter this field, but a master's degree is more commonly required for employment. The BLS predicts 12% growth in job opportunities between 2014 and 2024 for all social workers, and in 2015, estimated the median income of mental health and substance abuse social workers to be $42,170.

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