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The Master’s in Mental Health Counseling Career Guide

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Mental health counseling jobs exist across many settings — from hospitals and government agencies to schools and private practices, and they’re projected to grow. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects the demand for these jobs will grow 25% from 2019 to 2029. That’s over six times greater than the projected growth for all occupations.

If you have a bachelor’s degree in psychology, human development, or something similar, obtaining a master’s degree in mental health counseling is your next step to gain the licensure required to counsel others professionally. Knowing more about master’s programs in mental health counseling and jobs for graduates can help you chart your education and career.

What Is a Master’s in Mental Health Counseling?

A master’s in mental health counseling is a graduate degree designed to deepen your expertise in mental and behavioral health and offer experience in real settings. Compared to master’s degrees in psychology, which broadly cover cognition and behavior, counseling degrees focus on sharpening your skills to work one-on-one with clients and prepare you to pass the exam and requirements to become licensed.

Your coursework will cover foundational topics in human development, practitioner ethics, multi-cultural awareness, and research methods. You will also train to work with people across the mental health continuum. For example, the University of Louisiana Monroe’s master of science degree in clinical mental health counseling aims to build students’ knowledge and skills in topics ranging from mood disorders to substance abuse, to everyday life stressors.  

These master’s programs also include an experiential component, called a practicum. A practicum allows students to observe people in clinical mental health jobs and to work under supervision. Practicums typically require students to log around 100 hours, some of which should be working directly with clients.

The Benefits of Getting a Master’s Degree in Mental Health Counseling

There are many upsides to earning your master’s degree in mental health counseling. For one, obtaining a master’s degree in counseling is a must for becoming licensed to practice many jobs in counseling. According to the American Counseling Association, licensing requirements vary by state. They include many titles, and each one requires a master’s degree in counseling.

A degree in mental health counseling comes with the benefit of learning more about mental health challenges like anxiety, depression, and phobias. You can even specialize in mental health, focusing on aging adults, veterans, or children, for instance. By specializing, you can prepare for the type of career that inspires you.

You may also gain an advantage in the job market with a master’s in mental health counseling. The BLS projects that employment for substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselor jobs will grow by about 25% through 2029 — which is nearly twice the growth compared to other jobs for counselors, social workers, and community and social service specialists.

Who Should Pursue a Master’s in Mental Health Counseling?

You might consider pursuing a master’s degree in mental health counseling if:

  1. You want to become a licensed counselor.  

To counsel clients in any clinical setting, you must have a license. And, a master’s degree in counseling is required to gain a license in this field.

  1. You have a passion — and the skills — to help others.

The O*NET Program lists important skills for mental health counseling jobs, including active listening, critical thinking, dependability, negotiation, and stress tolerance. If you have the passion and the qualities for the work, getting a master’s degree can help you turn your interests into a career.

  1. You want to take the next step in your career.

If you have a bachelor’s degree in psychology or a related field, a master’s degree in mental health counseling can teach you what you need to know in order to specialize in individual client services.

Learn more about if a master’s degree in mental health counseling makes sense for you or compare it to a master’s degree in psychology.

Where Can I Work With a Master’s Degree in Mental Health Counseling?

With a master’s degree and license, you may pursue employment opportunities in a variety of environments, including some listed by the BLS:

  • Government, such as state and city health departments, correctional centers, and veterans’ affairs agencies
  • Hospitals, side-by-side with medical staff, assessing patients’ mental health and advising on treatment
  • Individual and family services, in private or group practices or as part of a nonprofit
  • Outpatient clinics, servicing clients’ mental health and behavioral health issues
  • Residential facilities, such as assisted living and rehabilitation centers

Master’s degree holders can also find jobs in corporate environments, helping employees in large companies access mental healthcare benefits, or at colleges in a role where they counsel students.

Job and Salary Opportunities With a Master’s Degree in Mental Health Counseling

There are many jobs you can do with a master’s degree in mental health counseling. Northwestern University cites common job titles for their master’s graduates:

–   Career counselor

–   Clinical director

–   Psychotherapist

–   Substance abuse counselor

Chicago School for Professional Psychology lists jobs working with specific populations:

–   Geriatric counselors

–   Military personnel counselors

–   Sports counselors

Salaries for mental health counseling jobs vary. According to the BLS, the median annual wage for all substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors was about $47,660 as of 2020.

Median annual wages in other mental health counseling jobs are:

–   Rehabilitation counselor: average annual wage as of 2020 was $37,530

–   School and career counselor: average annual wage as of 2020 was $58,120

–   Medical or health services manager: average annual wage as of 2020 was $104,280

–   Human resources manager: average annual wage as of 2020 was $121, 220

What Employers Look For in a Mental Health Counselor

There are some fundamental qualifications and top traits employers look for when hiring a mental health counselor. These include:

  1. Appropriate and up-to-date licensure: A license is required to practice clinical counseling. You must also keep your license current by completing continuing education (CE) coursework. The American Counseling Association lists licenses required by each state and online CE opportunities.
  2. Evidence of hands-on practice: Master’s graduates can gain experience through the practicum of their degree program.
  3. Relevant knowledge and experience: It is important to have coursework and experience working with the type of individuals you will be supporting in the relevant environments, be that with children or older adults, in agency settings, or in hospitals.
  4. Skills and qualities: Mental health counseling jobs require caring for others, maintaining relationships, resolving conflict, and analyzing information to solve problems. Candidates should have clear examples of demonstrating these skills.

Tips for Making Yourself Marketable In This Field

You can market yourself to potential employers or clients directly by showing off your learning, your experiences, and your network.

  1. Continue your learning: CE credits won’t just help you renew your license. They also keep you fresh on evolving mental health topics. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration lists organizations that provide CE classes, training, and mentoring programs.
  2. Tell your story: Some people are drawn to mental health counseling because they have overcome adversity in their own life. If life experience drives your motivation, don’t shy away from including this information in your resume or cover letter.
  3. Build your network: Finally, references and recommendation letters help clients and employers get to know you from the lens of others. You can ask for references from your instructors or, sometimes, clients.  

Lyss Welding picture

Lyss Welding

CONTRIBUTING WRITER

Lyss Welding is a staff writer who covers education content for Best Value Schools, Grad School Hub, and Criminal Justice Degree Schools, among others. She graduated from the University of Chicago with a bachelor’s degree in linguistics. Since, she has worked in academic environments as a curriculum specialist and in corporate environments writing about training and educational resources for employees and jobseekers.

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Angelica Leicht

SCHOOLS EDITOR

Angelica Leicht is the schools editor at Best Value Schools who oversees our college rankings, school profiles, and other higher education coverage. She previously served as an education reporter at Kearney Hub, and an editor at the Dallas Observer and Houston Press. Her writing has appeared in Affordable Colleges Online, Bankrate, The Simple Dollar, and elsewhere.

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