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Mental Health Counseling Degree

Mental health counseling deals with helping individuals balance their lives. It helps them deal with stressful situations in everyday life such as managing family and career life, relationship troubles, etc. Professionals in this field offer support, counseling and guidance to their patients, and assist them in dealing with overwhelming situations.

If helping people out in tough times is something you wish to do for a career, you should start looking at mental health counseling courses that are available in universities across the United States.

Mental health counseling

Mental Health Counseling Programs

Mental health counseling programs train individuals to help people in dealing with their personal and emotional issues. These programs expose you to a variety of techniques, disorders and symptoms to help you understand the deeper mental state of distressed people.
There are various degrees available in this field, both at the undergraduate and graduate levels, along with licensure and certification options.

Bachelors in Mental Health Counseling

A Bachelor of Health Counseling (BHC) is a four year program that prepares students for careers in mental health and addictions treatment. The program can also include an optional six-month co-op, to allow students to gain some practical experience in the field before they move on to further education.
The coursework would involve a broad range of evidence based practices associated with:

  • Individual and group counseling
  • Psychiatric rehabilitation
  • Person-focused assessment and treatment planning
  • Recovery-oriented treatment of substance-use disorders
  • Child and family focused interventions
  • Other important clinical skills in demand by behavioral health care employers

A lot of universities allow students to select courses that are in accordance with their individual interests and meet a variety of pre-professional development needs.

Mental Health Counseling Graduate Programs

Masters in Mental Health Counseling

While a bachelor’s degree would prepare you for entry level careers, apprenticeships, internships and assistantships, a master’s degree in mental health counseling, along with supervised clinical experiences, is typically required to become a mental health counselor.
Some universities might make it a requirement for students to hold an undergraduate degree or have completed relevant coursework in psychology, human development and social sciences. This degree would take around 2 years to complete.
Admission requirements include submitting an online application along with non-refundable fee. The admission board will also require transcripts from all previous undergraduate and graduate academic institutions that you have attended. You will also be required to have completed certain amount of coursework in the following areas:

  • Counseling theory and practice
  • Social and cultural foundations of counseling
  • Group dynamics
  • Lifestyle and career development
  • Research and program evaluation
  • Consultation

A personal statement or statement of interest will be required, outlining the reasons for you wanting to pursue an education in this field and any relevant work experiences. Along with this, you will be required to submit letters of recommendation and GRE test scores in some cases.
The common coursework associated with a master’s degree in mental health includes a combination of general education courses and human services. Students might be given the opportunity to pick a specialization topic such as substance abuse counseling. The general courses included within this degree might include the likes of:

  • Community mental healthcare
  • Children’s mental health
  • Crisis counseling
  • Case management
  • Sexual abuse and trauma
  • Chemical dependency counseling
  • Mental health and aging

PhD in Mental Health Counseling

For a doctorate program in mental health counseling, you must already possess at least a bachelor’s degree from an accredited institution of higher education. Some particular undergraduate courses might be required in psychology and preference may be given to individuals with prior knowledge of biology or statistics. Potential candidates are often asked to appear for an interview in front of a panel of senior faculty members.
The coursework involved at this degree level would include advance topics of biochemistry and psychology. Following might be some of the courses included in this program:

  • Psychological research methods
  • Assessment techniques
  • Diagnostic testing
  • Gender psychology
  • Human sexuality

The doctorate in mental health counseling program will also include a dissertation at the end. Typically this program lasts around 4-6 years.

Certificate in Mental Health Counseling

The National Board for Certified Counselors, Inc. is responsible for granting the credential of National Certified Counselor (NCC). To be eligible for this credential, applicants must hold at least a master’s degree with a concentration in counseling. Besides that, candidates must have two years or more of supervised practical counseling experience. With these requirements fulfilled, they will need to pass the National Counselor Examination. In addition to the general NCC credentials, students can also look for certification for three counseling specialties:

  • Addiction
  • School Counseling
  • Mental Health

Note that the NCC certification is voluntary and is not the same as the required state licensure.
A certification program will use various forms of media to prepare you for the National Counselor Examination For Licensure and Certification. The program might include independent study, online practice tests, workshop videos, audio books, web scenario simulators and study manuals. Mental health counselors are typically required to have a master’s degree or a Ph.D. prior to seeking national certification.

Online Mental Health Counseling Programs

With online education gaining noticeable popularity in the world of instruction and teaching, it is becoming simpler and more convenient for people to opt for this mode of instruction. Even though there are many universities and colleges in the United States, offering this program in the traditional, on- campus format, it is rare to find a mental health counseling program that is entirely online.
A few universities are offering these programs entirely online, while most offer a hybrid degree. Even in the 100% online programs, students might be required to complete residency or internship requirements. In addition to that, keep in mind that any institution offering a program in mental health counseling should be approved by the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP).

Mental Health Counseling session

Career Outlook for Mental Health Counselors

According to May 2014 data by the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, the annual median wage for mental health counselors was $40,850 and the number of jobs available in this field were 120,010. People with a degree in mental health counseling typically end up working in individual and family services, outpatient care centers, residential intellectual and developmental disability centers, mental health and substance abuse facilities, local government agencies and offices of other health practitioners.

Did you know?

Around 20% of the world’s children and adolescents have mental disorders.
Around half of the mental disorders begin before the age of 14. Similar types of disorders are being reported across cultures. Neuropsychiatric disorders are considered among the most common causes of universal disabilities in young people. Yet, regions with the highest under-19 populations in the world are usually the poorest in terms of mental health resources. Most low income and middle income nations in the world have only 1 child psychiatrist for every 1 to 4 million people.
Source: World Health Organization


States with the highest employment level in this occupation:



Employment per thousand jobs

Location quotient

Hourly mean wage

Annual mean wage

California 16600.111.2618.1337720
Florida 11300.141.6817.9737370
Illinois 9600.161.9217.937240
Texas 7600.070.7816.6234570
New York 6500.070.8520.1241840


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