Mental Health Counselor Careers: Salary Info & Job Description

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A mental health counselor's annual median salary is $40,850. Is it worth the education requirements? See real job descriptions and get the truth about career prospects to find out if becoming a mental health counselor is right for you.
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Pros and Cons of a Mental Health Counseling Career

The duties of a mental health counselor include helping people overcome emotional and stressful problems. It is important to evaluate the pros and cons of a mental health counseling career to determine if it is the right choice for you.

Pros of a Mental Health Counseling Career
High growth field (increase in employment of 29% expected between 2012 and 2022)*
Potentially meaningful career helping others*
Counselors can work in a variety of settings, such as hospitals, mental health facilities and private offices*
Good career choice if you like interacting with people*

Cons of a Mental Health Counseling Career
Advanced education required*
State licensing requirements*
High-stress position*
Evening and weekend hours may be required*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Essential Career Information

Job Description and Duties

Mental health counselors work with individual clients and families to find solutions and strategies for overcoming emotional and mental issues. Counselors listen to clients and ask questions that can help to shed light onto their problems. You'll evaluate clients to diagnose emotional and mental disorders and develop treatment plans. Treatment may include cognitive behavioral therapy, which involves replacing destructive behaviors and thoughts with more productive ones.

As a mental health counselor, you'll coordinate treatment plans with other mental health professionals, such as psychiatrists. In addition, you may help clients find additional treatment through hospitals and support groups.

Job Prospects and Salary

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment of mental health counselors was expected to grow 29% between 2012 and 2022 (www.bls.gov). You could find employment in hospitals, private practice, mental health facilities and colleges. The median annual salary for mental health counselors in 2014 was $40,850, according to the BLS. Some industries pay a higher annual salary to counselors. For example, mental health counselors working in the scientific, management and technical consulting industry earned a mean annual salary of $70,540 during the same period.

What Are the Requirements?

To become a mental health counselor, you must complete a master's degree program. According to the BLS, a bachelor's degree in other fields may be acceptable for entry into a graduate degree program. A master's degree program in mental health counseling includes courses such as abnormal psychology, counseling techniques, group counseling, family therapy and psychological testing. You must also complete a practicum or internship to complete the program. The internship will provide you with practical experience under the supervision of a licensed mental health counselor.

All states require that you earn a license to practice as a mental health counselor. The licensure requirements include earning a master's degree, obtaining supervised clinical experience and successfully passing a state examination. You'll need to complete continuing education courses to maintain your state license.

Job Postings from Real Employers

Employers putting up job postings may provide information on the client population the counselor will serve, such as children, adolescents or the elderly. Mental health job listings also include information regarding the facility and licensure requirements. Below are some examples of job postings available on Monster.com and CareerBuilder.com in April 2012:

  • A community mental health center in Missouri is searching for a mental health counselor to work with children, adolescents, adults and families in their facility. The employer requires a graduate degree and at least two years of experience as a counselor to qualify for the job. Candidates must also have a valid Missouri license as a psychologist or clinical social worker.
  • A correctional center in New Jersey is looking for a licensed mental health counselor to work with the inmate population. The candidate must have a graduate degree and a valid mental health counselor's license in the state of New Jersey.
  • A nonprofit employer in Florida is seeking a mental health counselor to work in their facility. The candidate must have a master's level counseling license and experience working with emotionally disturbed children to qualify.
  • An employer in Ohio is looking for a mental health counselor to work in their clinic providing services to children, adolescents, adults and families. The candidate must have a master's degree, license, communication skills and treatment skills.

How to Stand Out in the Field

Get Specialized

Mental health counselors work with client populations such as adults, adolescents, children and the elderly. You may specialize in a particular client population to gain an edge in the job market. You could also specialize in a particular area of counseling, such as substance abuse or marriage and family counseling. Furthermore, you could specialize in treating patients suffering from a specific ailment, such as anxiety or depression.

Earn Certification

The National Board for Certified Counselors (NBCC) states that earning voluntary certification can be advantageous in your career. The NBCC offers a Certified Clinical Mental Health Counselor (CCMHC) designation, which may be of interest to you. In order to earn this credential, you must first earn the National Certified Counselor (NCC) designation, also offered by the NBCC. You must also meet experience requirements and pass an examination.

Other Careers to Consider

Psychologist

If you wish to pursue additional education in human behavior, you may prefer a career as a psychologist. While entry to the field does require a minimum of a doctorate degree, the pay for psychologists is higher than that of mental health counselors. The annual median salary for clinical, school and counseling psychologists was $68,000 in 2011, according to the BLS. Those working in the employment services industry earned a higher salary of $97,000 during the same year. As a psychologist, you may counsel individuals and families, research human behavior and develop programs to improve work and school environments. You can specialize in a variety of areas, such as forensic, clinical or industrial psychology.

Social Worker

If you would like to perform the duties of a counselor, but would also like to help people in need of social services, you may consider becoming a social worker. Social workers provide counseling and support for children, families, adolescents and adults. You could specialize in child and family, healthcare or school social work. Depending on your specialization, you may help clients find childcare services, help students improve academic performance or provide information on home healthcare services. Clinical social workers must have a license to practice and a minimum of a master's degree in social work. While the education for a clinical social worker is similar to that required for a mental health counselor, some areas of specialization provide higher salaries. For example, the annual median salary for a healthcare social worker specializing in clients with acute, terminal or chronic illnesses was $49,000 in 2011, according to the BLS.

Popular Schools

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    1. Kaplan University

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    2. Regent University

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    3. Colorado State University Global

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Featured Schools

Kaplan University

  • Master: Psychology/Applied Behavioral Analysis
  • Master: Psychology/Addictions
  • BS in Psychology in Addictions
  • Bachelor: Health and Wellness

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Regent University

  • Doctor of Strategic Leadership - Healthcare Leadership
  • Master of Arts in Organizational Leadership - Coaching and Mentoring
  • Bachelor of Science in Psychology - Clinical and Counseling Psychology

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Colorado State University Global

  • Graduate Specialization - Healthcare Administration

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Penn Foster High School

  • HS Diploma

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Yeshiva University

CDI College

  • Diploma in Addictions Recovery for Youth and Families
  • Diploma in Assistance in Health Care Facilities - Assistance la Personne en tablissement de Sant
  • Diploma in Health Care Aide

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