Mental health counselors are in demand, and several schools have responded to this need by offering flexible online career training programs in the field. These programs help students develop the practical skills and theoretical knowledge needed to assess and treat emotional and mental disorders, as well as promote mental health. Most programs are at the graduate level and lead to a master's degree because this is the standard academic requirement to obtain licensure to practice in this field.
Four-year universities or colleges as well as some private online schools offer distance learning options. While most of the coursework can be completed online, students may be required to complete on-site clinical sessions, campus-based residencies and a practicum or internship prior to graduation.
Master's Degree in Mental Health Counseling
Students who are interested in pursuing a master's degree in mental health counseling must have a bachelor's degree and may be required to have some undergraduate credits in the social sciences. Relevant work or volunteer experience could also be a factor for admission, as could recommendation letters and personal statements. Once admitted, distance learning students should be prepared to complete on-site clinical sessions in addition to online coursework. Common course topics include the following:
Foundations of Mental Health Counseling
A course in the foundations of mental health counseling provides students with an overview of the basic practices of mental health. Students learn about the following:
- Philosophies of mental health counseling
- Roles of mental health counselors
- Professional ethics
- Managed care
- Mandated clients
- Organizational structures
Substance Abuse and the Family
Students taking an online substance abuse and family course explore families with members who suffer from addictions and substance abuse. Lessons explore the resources and methods for helping these families function in a positive way.
Counseling Theory and Practice
Counseling theory and practice focuses on major theoretical approaches involving mental health. While traditional approaches include behavioral, humanistic and dynamic methods, students explore non-traditional approaches as well, including the therapeutic value of films, role playing and tape recordings.
Online programs in mental health counseling provide course materials to distance learners in a virtual classroom environment. Students can interact with peers or instructors, download assignments and view lectures at a time convenient for them. Many programs in this field offer courses in a fully online format, excluding practicum or internship requirements, which can be completed in the student's local area. Some programs have short campus-based residencies at certain points in the program as well.
All professionals entering this field must be able to work independently and have the emotional stamina needed to deal with an array of patient issues on a daily basis. Once earning their master's degree, graduates who have attained enough clinical hours (between 2,000 and 4,000) can sit for a state exam to obtain licensure. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment of mental health counselors was expected to climb 20% between 2014 and 2024.
Students who want to dedicate their careers to helping patients deal with mental health issues can complete an online master's degree program in mental health counseling. These programs provide advanced psychology and communications instruction in a flexible distance learning format.