Overview of Mental Health Counseling Degrees
Mental health counseling curricula share similarities with those in sociology and social work programs, but with a greater focus on counseling. Bachelor’s degree coursework may include classes in general psychology, clinical psychology, and human development, while master’s coursework may include classes such as the foundations of counseling, individual and group counseling, and ethical issues in counseling.
In recent years, colleges and universities have expanded their online degree programs, meaning that students interested in studying mental health counseling can choose to study on campus or online. The decision between in-person or remote higher education will be guided by lifestyle and learning preferences.
Consider a Featured Online Counseling Program
|School and Program Information||Online Program?|
Master's in Clinical Psychology
Bachelor's Degree Required
No GRE Required
Bachelor’s degree and minimum 2.5 GPA requiredLearn More
|University of Denver|
Online MA in School Counseling
Designed to adhere to CACREP standards
✔ Live, online classes
No GRE Required; Minimum GPA 2.5 Required
Earn your degree in as few as 24 monthsLearn More
Online MA in Counseling and Guidance
GRE not required; Bachelor’s degree and minimum 2.5 GPA required
Complete in as few as 18 monthsLearn More
|University of Southern California|
Online Master of Education (ME) in School Counseling
Prepares you for school counseling credential
✔ Live, online classes
No GRE requirement
Bachelor’s degree and minimum 2.5 GPA requiredLearn More
Bachelor of Science in Psychology
With FlexPath, you can earn a bachelor’s in psychology in 16 months for $15,000
Choose from General Psychology, Applied Behavior Analysis, or Pre-Counseling specializationsLearn More
*Sponsored Counseling Programs
Online CACREP Accredited programs | Online MPCAC Accredited programs
Online Mental Health Counseling Programs: What You Should Know
Online mental health degree programs are a great way for students to pursue a degree while continuing to work. If you are currently employed and do not want to quit your job to attend school full time, an online mental health degree program might be right for you. However, keep in mind that the independence and flexibility of online degree programs requires you to be self-disciplined, organized, and able to meet deadlines.
Application Requirements for Mental Health Counseling Degree Online Programs
Applicants to online bachelor’s degree programs must have a high school diploma or an equivalent GED transcript. Although some programs require students to submit SAT or ACT scores and an application essay, others do not. Bachelor’s programs consist of general education and degree-specific coursework.
Admissions requirements to an online master’s degree program include a bachelor’s degree from an accredited institution at a minimum. Although some programs require that students submit GRE or GMAT scores and an application essay, others do not. Online MA programs in this field focus entirely on the area of counseling.
Online doctoral programs often require a master’s degree from an accredited institution, letters of recommendation from professional colleagues, and official and unofficial transcripts from all prior degree programs. Some colleges and universities require that applicants submit a statement of purpose to indicate why they are pursuing a doctorate. Doctoral programs are academic-oriented, research-based degrees designed for professionals who want to be regarded as experts in their field.
How Long Will It Take to Complete a Mental Health Counseling Degree Online Program?
Students interested in working as licensed mental health counselors must complete at least a master’s degree, which full-time students can complete in approximately six years: four years of undergraduate study and two years of graduate school. Upon completing a master’s degree, aspiring mental health counselors must also complete one to two years of supervised work experience before they can sit for their state’s licensing exam. The post-master’s degree clinical hours requirement varies widely from state to state, so you will want to research the requirements for the state where you wish to practice.
Professionals who wish to complete a doctorate will need to complete additional coursework. Most doctoral students find that they can complete their doctorate within four to eight years, depending on their pace of study.
Campus-Based Learning at a Mental Health Counseling School
In the past, campus-based mental health counselor degree programs were the standard for mental health counseling students. While some students prefer the privacy and self-reliance of online degree programs, others prefer an in-person brick-and-mortar experience. Students coming straight out of high school or who have just completed a bachelor’s may prefer in-person learning due to the hands-on direction and face-to-face instruction. Campus-based curricula are often identical to those offered in online degree programs.
Differences Between Bachelor’s, Master’s, and Doctorate Level Mental Health Degrees
Whether you are just starting your educational journey or looking to enroll in an advanced mental health counselor degree program, our team has the information you need to help you understand how each degree can help further your career goals.
Bachelors in Mental Health Counseling
Undergraduate Mental Health Counseling programs are a great first step for people interested in pursuing a career within the field. Introductory courses such as psychology, sociology, and life span development provide students with an understanding of mental health’s foundations and expose students to various counseling techniques. Upon completion of a bachelor’s degree in mental health counseling, graduates are often prepared for entry-level jobs within this field, such as case manager, social worker, and intake and admissions counselor.
Masters in Mental Health Counseling
Master’s level programs focus more closely on mental health counseling practice. Coursework is designed to help students refine their counseling skills by providing them with advanced knowledge of various counseling techniques, such as client-centered counseling, cognitive behavioral therapy, and interpersonal counseling. Courses may include Mental Health Diagnostics, Treatment Planning, and Counseling Techniques. Upon completion of a master’s, graduates can participate in supervised clinical experience, which will ultimately enable them to sit for their state licensure exam.
Doctorate in Mental Health Counseling
PhD programs in Mental Health Counseling provide students with a more in-depth approach to the discipline. At this level, students can choose a research-based PhD program or a Doctor of Psychology (PsyD) program, which focuses less on research and more on clinical practice. Doctoral students may engage in independent research projects, participate in in-person counseling, and learn various relevant leadership competencies.
Mental Health Counseling as a Career
Professionals within the field work with clients to identify their psychological stressors. They also develop treatment plans and implement psychological techniques to help clients understand, cope with, and overcome their problems.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that as of May 2019, the median annual wage for mental health counselors was $46,240. The BLS also reports that employment of mental health counselors is projected to grow by 25% between 2019 and 2029, much faster than what’s projected for the overall job market. Job prospects will likely be best for individuals who have completed an education in a related field, such as an online bachelor’s or master’s degree in mental health counseling.
How to Become a Mental Health Counselor
Individuals interested in pursuing a career that allows them to provide support and treatment to clients working to overcome trauma; mental health issues; substance abuse; or behavioral disorders, such as eating disorders or gambling addiction, may be drawn to mental health counseling. People who struggle with depression, anxiety, and stress seek out mental health counselors to provide support and direction during their time of need.
Earn a Bachelor’s Degree
The first step toward becoming a mental health counselor is to obtain an education at a mental health counseling school. Students entering bachelor’s programs typically choose concentrations such as psychology or counseling to learn the foundations of the field before pursuing a higher degree. The undergraduate curriculum introduces students to the mental health discipline from exploratory and developmental standpoints.
Earn a Master’s Degree and Become Eligible for Counseling Licensure
Upon completion of a bachelor’s degree, students can move into a graduate degree program. At the master’s level, students can pursue different specializations depending on their career interests. Master’s in Counseling, Master’s in Counseling Psychology, and Master’s in Clinical Mental Health Counseling programs are popular choices.
The minimum requirement to become a licensed mental health counselor is to complete a master’s degree in a related field, such counseling or psychology. Upon completion of a master’s program, graduates must participate in a practicum involving supervised counseling experience before being eligible to sit for their state’s licensing exam. Although the clinical hours requirement varies from state to state, most aspiring mental health counselors find that they can complete this requirement in less than two years.
Masters in Counseling Degrees
- Masters in Counseling
- Online Masters in Counseling
- Online Master of Arts in Counseling
- Online Masters in Counseling Psychology
- Masters in Mental Health Counseling
- Masters in School Counseling
- Online Masters in School Counseling
Consider a Doctoral Degree
While the master’s is the most common degree level for mental health counselors, some students choose to complete a doctorate. The two doctoral programs available in the field are the PhD, which is research-based, and the PsyD, which places a greater emphasis on clinical work.
What Kind of Mental Health Counselor Program Should I Choose?
Prospective mental health counselors must start by completing a bachelor’s degree in a related field. Bachelor’s in psychology programs are a popular choice, as the coursework provides students with a foundational understanding of developmental, cognitive, abnormal, and clinical psychology. Sociology programs are also popular for aspiring mental health counselors, with coursework that may include sociological theory, group dynamics, and collective behavior dynamics. Students may also choose to enroll in a bachelor’s in counseling program, which may include coursework such as counseling theory, human development, and multicultural counseling.
Upon completing an undergraduate-level mental health counselor program, aspiring counselors must complete a master’s degree in a related field. Examples of related programs include a master’s in psychology with a concentration in mental health counseling or a master of arts in mental health counseling.
Accreditation for Mental Health Graduate Programs
The search for the right school can be overwhelming. Factors including the length of time needed to complete the program, cost, and a university’s reputation can all influence decision-making. Aspiring licensed mental health counselors must choose a degree program wisely. To meet state licensure requirements and sit for a licensing exam, students must have completed their bachelor’s and master’s degrees from an accredited program. The U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Postsecondary Education evaluates college and university programs and grants accreditation. A list of the nation’s accredited institutions can be found on its website.
While a school’s accreditation is important, it’s crucial to make sure that the specific program is also accredited. The most prominent agency that accredits mental health counselor programs is the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP). This organization reviews the curricula of bachelor’s and master’s degree programs to ensure that they provide the coursework necessary to produce effective professionals.
In researching mental health counseling schools, look for accreditation information on the degree’s webpage. If a university has regional but not program-specific accreditation, its degree may not allow you to become a licensed counselor.
Counseling Degrees by State
How Much Do Mental Health Counseling Programs Cost?
Your choice of institution for a mental health counseling program will play a role in the cost of your education. While some universities have higher tuition because they have a higher application rate, others include additional fees that drive up the total cost.
Our team of experts has looked at several CACREP-accredited programs to provide you with an understanding of the costs.
Walden University offers an accredited online MS in Clinical Mental Health Counseling program with total program tuition costs of $38,070. Other associated fees total between $4,510 and 4,710, bringing the cost to between $42,580 and 42,780.
The Chicago School of Professional Psychology is another popular online school dedicated to psychology-related mental health counseling programs. Tuition for MS programs is $1,127 per credit hour; the tuition can total well over $40,000 for a standard master’s-level program. Lab fees are $100 per semester, and students must pass a criminal background check, which has a fee of $45. Insurance fees vary depending on the student.
Mental Health Counseling Degree Salary and Job Growth
- Mental Health Counselors – All Fields:: $46,240 median salary in 2019, with an expected growth of 25% between 2019 and 2029 (BLS).
- Mental Health Counselors – Local Government:: $52,720 median annual salary (BLS).
- Mental Health Counselors – Individual and Family Services:: $46,090 median annual salary (BLS).
- Mental Health Counselors – Residential Intellectual and Developmental Disability, Mental Health, and Substance Abuse Facilities:: $39,690 median annual salary (BLS).
What Do Mental Health Counselors Do?
Mental health counselors work with people suffering from psychological stressors that negatively affect their day-to-day lives. Examples include domestic violence, trauma, sexual assault, divorce, the death of a child, and the loss of a loved one.
An Example of a Mental Health Counseling Client
Mental health counselors help people understand, cope with, and overcome psychological struggles. For example, a counselor may treat clients who struggle with anxiety disorders, panic attacks, anxiety, and persistent worry and fear that make it hard to complete daily tasks.
Clients may need help to formulate a plan of action to reduce their anxiety. Mental health counselors evaluate clients’ lifestyles; determine stressors and triggers, such as work deadlines, marital issues, or phobias; and develop treatment plans. Treatment plans’ goals are to reduce clients’ anxiety and change their lives for the better.
Clinical Settings for Emotional and Behavioral Issues
There is no replacement for a great mental health counselor. Counselors work in a variety of fields, from clinical settings, such as hospitals and mental health clinics, to private practice. Mental health counselors provide knowledgeable consultations for individuals struggling with psychological issues, such as anxiety and depression; emotional issues, such as trauma and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD); and behavioral issues, such as obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and eating disorders.
Mental health counselors play an important role in society because they help ensure that individuals can face their challenges with dignity.