Mental Health Counseling Careers
Becoming a mental health counselor is the most common career option for those with a Master's in Mental Health Counseling, though other potential career paths are available. Find out about this counseling field and explore the topics covered during a master's degree program.
Once a mental counseling master's program has been completed, the graduate may become licensed to work as a mental health counselor working with families, individuals, and groups. Mental health counselors often treat suicidal patients, trauma, self-esteem issues, and relationship problems. In some cases, the counselor helps clients with job, life, or educational concerns.
Counselors may find jobs in outpatient care centers, family service centers, hospitals, schools, or private practice. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, mental health counselors earned a median annual wage of $42,840 in May 2016. The highest salaries were earned by those working for consulting services, while counselors working in residential care facilities reportedly earned the lowest. A mental health counselor's earnings are also affected by location.
Depending on the master's program, graduates may be prepared to pursue alternative positions as career counselors, substance abuse counselors, or mental health supervisors. According to March 2017 data from PayScale.com, the median salary for these jobs was:
- $46,463 for college career counselors
- $37,847 for substance abuse counselors
- $49,211 for mental health supervisors
In all states, mental health counselors must be licensed to practice. Depending on the state, students may have to gain a certain amount of post-graduate supervised work experience to become eligible for licensure. A master's degree is the minimal degree required in most states to practice as a licensed mental health counselor. Check with your individual state's requirements for the appropriate information.
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Mental Health Counseling Degrees
Most master's programs expect applicants to have a bachelor's degree in psychology or, at a minimum, completed prerequisite courses in counseling and psychology. Graduate programs train students to understand and recognize cultural diversity, professional problem solving, scholarly inquiry, and ethical practice. Several specialized programs exist at the master's level under the umbrella of mental health counseling, such as community or public health counseling, educational counseling, rehabilitation counseling, and clinical counseling.
Mental health counseling master's programs combine lectures, simulated lab work, and clinical experience to educate students. Student internships may take place at a local community health center or a university-affiliated hospital. Prior to this practical experience, students must participate in courses that train them how to properly care for and manage a variety of patients and mental health disorders. Topics covered in the program curriculum may include:
- Behavioral approaches
- Group therapy
- Ethical behavior
- Treatment planning
- Research methods
- Personality theory
Learning through classwork, lab work, and internships will prepare graduate students to become mental health counselors. After earning a mental health counseling master's degree, aspiring counselors will need to obtain a license to practice in their state. Other potential career options include substance abuse counselor, college career counselor, and mental health supervisor.