Mental Health Counselor Careers








$39,700 /yr

$19.09 /hr

All Stats from

Mental health counselors help people deal with emotional and personal issues in a wide variety of fields. This description is extremely broad, and applies to many different specialties, from marriage counselors to substance abuse counselors.

What is a Mental Health Counselor?

Mental health counselors diagnose and treat disorders such as depression, bipolar disorder, addiction, suicidal thoughts, eating disorders, and other mental health problems. They also work with clients who don't suffer from particular disorders to deal with emotional issues and improve their lives and relationships. The scope of your job description in this field will depend on the specific job and your focus within the industry.

Generally, though, you will help your client discuss their experiences; process reactions to major changes; and make decisions about their lives. You’ll also help clients find ways to cope with challenging situations and modify their behavior. Mental health counselors often refer patients to outside resources and work with psychiatrists, social workers, doctors, and other medical professionals to provide patient care.

As a mental health counselor, your clients may be individuals, families, or couples. You may provide group or individual counseling. And you may specialize in a specific group such as the elderly, couples and families, children, adolescents, or those suffering from addiction.  You may work in a substance abuse treatment center, an employee assistance program, a health center, a college, or in your own private practice.

Education Needed to Become a Mental Health Counselor

Generally, a online Master’s degree is the most commonly required—although some fields, such as substance abuse counseling, require a lower level of education.

Your counseling education program should be accredited by the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Education Programs (CACREP). This organization accredits both online and in-person programs; a complete directory of accredited programs. Accredited online schools  are starting to offer many degrees, including Master’s degrees, in mental health counseling.

Licensure is required, and this often involves earning a Master’s degree and up to 4,000 hours of supervised clinical experience. You’ll also have to pass a state-administered exam and keep up your license through yearly continuing education. Check out the National Board for Certified Counselors for more information regarding the requirements in your state.

Mental Health Counselor Salary

According to the Occupational Outlook Handbook, mental health counselors earned an average of $38,150 as of 2010. The lowest average wage was around $24,180, and the highest rose to above $63,630. Those earning the most tend to work for government agencies—the average is around $46,590—while those earning the least, at around $30,260, were those working in residential facilities.

Psychologists vs. Mental Health Counselors

Psychologists and mental health counselors all treat people for mental disorders as well as emotional, family, and personal issues. Both are licensed by the state, and both provide services that can be reimbursed by insurance. Their jobs are similar, but not exactly the same.

Psychologists are required to earn a doctoral-level degree, while mental health counselors are typically educated at the Master’s degree level. In addition, psychologists are more likely to focus on serious mental illnesses, while mental health counselors usually focus on areas of personal growth and development, emotional and relational improvement, and other personal issues. 

In addition, psychologists are more likely to be involved in research, while counselors are more likely to provide hands-on clinical work—although both may work in either area.

Pros and Cons of Becoming a Mental Health Counselor

This is a full-time job, and because mental health counselors must accommodate clients who may have full-time work themselves, the hours can be irregular and involve evening or weekend work.

Job Outlook for Mental Health Counselors

The job outlook for this career is strong, according to the Occupational Outlook Handbook—it’s expected to grow by approximately 36% within the next decade.

More and more, insurance companies prefer to reimburse costs for mental health counselors instead of psychiatrists and psychologists, as they are less expensive—and this preference is expected to drive demand.

Pros and Cons of Becoming a Mental Health Counselor

Mental health counselors usually work full-time—and the work may involve weekend and weeknight work to accommodate unpredictable client schedules. The work can be demanding, although private practice counselors generally set their own schedules and choose their clients.

Pay is not as high in this profession as it is for psychologists—but a smaller investment in education is required to get into the field, and growth prospects are better. Overall, this can be a highly rewarding and stable career for the right person.

Additional Information:

Occupational Outlook Handbook: Mental Health Counselors



Where to Look for Mental Health Counselor Jobs