Mental Health Counselor
How to Become a

Mental Health Counselor

The complete career guide to be a Mental Health Counselor: salary, job growth, employers, best schools, and education you may need to get started.

Why We Love It

  • $45,080
    Potential Avg. Salary
  • 19.6%
    Job Growth Rate
  • Growing Demand
    Job Outlook
  • Growing Industry
    Career Attribute

Mental health counselors assist individuals who are struggling with issues like depression, suicidal impulses, low self-esteem, and anxiety. They provide an outlet for discussing thoughts and concerns without judgement, and help clients find ways of changing their mindset to overcome mental issues.


What is a Mental Health Counselor?

The following job responsibilities are common for individuals in mental health counselor roles:

  • Meet with clients who are struggling with mental problems and disorders, and listen to patients’ thoughts and concerns
  • Create a safe environment where patients feel they can be open in discussion without feeling judged, guilted, or shamed
  • Provide patients with strategies for changing thought processes or behaviors to overcome negativity and other mental problems
  • Refer patients to psychiatrists or other services when counseling is unable to resolve issues
  • Perform administrative responsibilities like billing patients and insurance companies, and marketing services to attract more patients

A Day in the Life

Mental health counselors work with patients who are struggling with mental disorders and other mental issues like depression, low self-esteem, grief, anger, anxiety, and suicidal impulses. They commonly work in private practices and accept patients of all types, or they may work for an organization like a school, college, or nursing home, specializing in treating certain types of patients like children, young adults, or seniors. Those who specialize deal with specific issues common to certain age groups or life stages.

Mental health counselors spend the majority of their time listening and talking to patients. They work initially to get patients to open up and express their thoughts and concerns freely, creating a safe environment that’s free from judgement, guilt, or shame. In doing so, they’re better able to understand the causes of a patient’s mental issues. In some cases, the problem may be a chemical imbalance, and in other cases, the problem is a result of a patient’s tendency to apply negative thoughts to life events.

When a mental health counselor determines that a patient’s mental state is the result of a chemical imbalance, he/she often refers the patient to a psychiatrist who can prescribe medications to resolve the imbalance. When the issue is a result of the way a patient thinks about things, the counselor works with the patient to develop strategies for altering their thought processes. The counselor teaches the patient how to avoid negative thoughts, improving their overall outlook on life and eliminating issues.

Typical Work Schedule

Most mental health counselors have a full-time working schedule of about 40-50 hours per week. Their working schedule mostly follow standard business hours from 8-9 am to 4-5 pm. However, they sometimes need to work on evenings and weekends to accommodate the needs of the clients. The job can sometimes get stressful when you are helping someone or a family facing a devastating crisis. This is more common when you have a large network of clients who trust your services.

Projected Job Growth

According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are currently around 140,000 mental health counselors working in the country. The number is expected to grow by at least 25 % from 2019 to 2029. This is much faster than the expected growth for other jobs. The criminal justice system is recognizing more and more the importance of mental health treatment in treating first offenders. In addition, some research suggests that the cost of the mental health treatment is less than the cost of incarceration. Another important field will be the increasing need for counselors to work with military veterans to provide them the appropriate mental health counseling care to help transitioning into civilian life. Many educational and work institutes currently provide mental health counseling as a service to the employees. You should consider finishing a professional bachelor’s or master’s degree to find better opportunities in the job market.

Mental Health Counselor Specializations

Some mental health counselors are generalists who deal with people of all ages suffering from a variety of mental health conditions and issues. Others specialize in treating certain issues and age groups.

  • Marriage counselors specialize in working with couples and families, and work to improve the home life and relationships of patients who seek counseling and care.
  • Grief counselors specialize in helping people who’ve lost loved ones overcome their grief and develop strategies for moving on with their lives.
  • School counselors specialize in treating children, adolescents, teenagers, and/or young adults and provide their services on-site at schools and colleges.
  • Anger management therapists work with people who struggle with high emotions and are prone to anger, teaching them how to deal with their emotions in a production—rather than destructive—manner.

Typical Employers

Mental health counselors can work for outpatient mental health centers that provide individual as well as family therapy, substance abuse and other mental health services. Other employers include working in specialized offices of other medical organizations and outpatient care centers. The list of employers also includes governmental organizations and public agencies, which include prisons, probation and parole agencies. In addition, some may be employed by hospitals and residential mental health and substance abuse facilities.


How To Become a Mental Health Counselor

The first step in becoming a mental health counselor is earning a bachelor’s degree. Common majors for aspiring mental health counselors include psychology, counseling, sociology, or social work. A bachelor’s degree is a prerequisite for entering a master’s degree program, and all counselors must hold master’s degrees to practice as counselors. After completing your bachelor’s degree program, you’ll need to earn a master’s degree in psychology, counseling, clinical mental health counseling, or a related field.

In addition to the required education, all states require counselors to be licensed to work in the field. While licensing requirements vary by state, most require aspiring counselors to have earned a master’s degree in a related field and completed 2,000 to 4,000 hours of supervised clinical experience. Some master’s degree programs may include supervised internships or residencies as part of their program. If not, you’ll need to find a residency to gain the required experience after graduating from your program.

After completing the education and experience requirements, you may also need to take and pass a written exam to earn your license. Additionally, most states require mental health counselors to meet continuing education requirements throughout their careers to maintain their counseling licenses.


Mental Health Counselor Salary Data

We’ve provided you the following to learn more about this career. The salary and growth data on this page comes from recently published Bureau of Labor Statistics data while the recommendations and editorial content are based on our research.

National Anual Salary

Low Range

$32,720

Average

$45,080

High Range

$68,790

National Hourly Wage

Low Range

$16/hr

Average

$22/hr

High Range

$33/hr

How do Mental Health Counselor salaries stack up to other jobs across the country? Based on the latest jobs data nationwide, Mental Health Counselor's can make an average annual salary of $45,080, or $22 per hour. This makes it an Above Average Salary. On the lower end, they can make $32,720 or $16 per hour, perhaps when just starting out or based on the state you live in.

Salary Rankings And Facts

  • #449 Nationally for All Careers


Programs and Degrees

Here are the most common degrees for becoming a Mental Health Counselor. a is usually recommended and specifically a degree or coursework that prepares you for the particular field, see below.


Highest Education Among Mental Health Counselors

  • 5.4%   Doctorate
  • 48%   Masters
  • 25.1%   Bachelors
  • 5.4%   Associates
  • 10.1%   College
  • 5%   High School
  • 1%   Less than High School

Job Growth Projections and Forecast

2014 Total Jobs

134,500

2024 Est. Jobs

160,900

Job Growth Rate

19.6%

Est. New Jobs

26,400

How does Mental Health Counselor job growth stack up to other jobs across the country? By 2024, there will be a change of 26,400 jobs for a total of 160,900 people employed in the career nationwide. This is a 19.6% change in growth over the next ten years, giving the career a growth rate nationwide of Below Average.

Growth Rankings And Facts

  • #54 Nationally for All Careers


What Companies Employ The Most Mental Health Counselors

Industry Current Jobs New Jobs Needed % Increase
Outpatient mental health and substance abuse centers 23,100 7,600 8%
Residential mental health and substance abuse facilities 11,500 4,600 5%
Self-employed workers 10,200 1,900 2%

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