Earning Your Counseling Degree

Mental health counselors evaluate, treat, and improve their patients' social, emotional, and interpersonal disorders. A counseling career requires a unique set of verbal and behavioral skills. Mental health counseling degrees prepare people for working with many different types of patients and their conditions.

Students enrolled in mental health counseling programs receive instruction on a variety of therapy methods to help patients with short-term and long-term mental disorders. Students also gain an understanding of how to help people with specific incidents, such as loss of a family member. Most positions require a master’s degree, and many schools offer programs in mental health counseling, psychology, and other related fields. Entrance into a master’s degree program typically requires a bachelor’s degree in a related area and a qualifying score on an entrance examination.

Once enrolled, students will take classes in counseling psychology, cognitive psychology, personality theories, psychopathology, mental health counseling theories, research for professional counselors, and legal issues in professional counseling. Students commonly participate in internships and other field experiences to gain practical know-how in career settings.

Licensing Requirements
Most states require mental health counselors to become licensed to practice. Licensing requirements differ by state, but they commonly include at least a master’s degree in a mental health field, a minimum of two years of clinical experience, and receiving a qualifying score on a licensing examination. Many individuals choose to gain additional certification to remain competitive in the field. The National Board for Certified Counselors offers a few different options, such as the National Certified Counselor designation.

Job Settings
People with degrees in mental health counseling can find jobs in a variety of settings that include mental health clinics, academic institutions, correctional facilities, social service organizations, medical centers, and private practices.

Time Commitments
Since a master’s degree is typically required to practice mental health counseling, students must complete a bachelor's degree and two years of full-time master's-level classes. Some aspiring counselors opt to receive their master's degrees in three to four years by attending school part-time. The credit requirements for graduation vary by program, but they often fall between 60-100 credits. Some individuals choose to further their education at the doctoral level to pursue positions in research or academia. Doctoral degree programs are generally received four to eight years after a bachelor’s degree.

Job Outlook and Pay
The United States Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that job growth for mental health counselors is projected to rise 29% by 2022. This is considerably faster than the average job growth rate. The median yearly pay for professionals in this field was around $40,000 in 2012. Psychologists use many of the same skills as mental health counselors, and the expected job growth for psychologists during the next decade is deemed average, at 12%. The median salary for psychologists was around $68,000 in 2012.

Last Updated: April 22, 2015