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Mental Health Counselor Careers

If you've a strong sense of compassion, enjoy helping people, and are willing to learn and grow by facing new challenges, you may enjoy the role of a mental health counselor. In general, a mental health counselor is a person who helps people manage or overcome psychological and emotional disorders and problems with their families and relationships. As a mental health counselor, you may deal with individuals, families, groups, and communities as you help them overcome their cognitive, behavioral, or emotional issues and improve their mental well-being.

A career as a mental health counselor brings a lot of potential benefits with it. One of the remarkable rewards of being a mental health counselor is the gratification and fulfillment you get by helping people and improving their quality of life. Other than potential meaningfulness, a role as a mental health counselor offers you high earning potential, flexible schedules, and an opportunity to work with new people every day. Not only this, but the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects a growth rate of about 22 percent for mental health counselor employment, which is significantly faster than the average for all occupations.

Many aspiring mental health counselors hold a bachelor's degree in a human services field such as psychology, sociology, or social work. However, earning a master's degree in counseling or a related field may help burnish your resume. Further, you may specialize in areas such as trauma, addiction, or youth services. The licensing and certification guidelines vary state by state. As a mental health counselor, you may work in various family services, outpatient mental health, substance abuse centers, hospitals, government schools, or a private practice. Typically your hours will include frequent one-on-one patient contact. Other hours may consist of time leading group counseling, meeting with supervisors and peers, and reviewing notes. What's more, once you get experience under your belt, you may start your own private therapy practice to earn an even better living.

What Does a Mental Health Counselor Do

Mental health counselors and marriage and family therapists help people manage and overcome mental and emotional disorders and problems with their family and other relationships. They listen to clients and ask questions to help the clients understand their problems and develop strategies to improve their lives.

Duties

Mental health counselors and marriage and family therapists typically do the following:

  • Diagnose and treat mental and emotional disorders, such as anxiety and depression
  • Encourage clients to discuss their emotions and experiences
  • Help clients process their reactions and adjust to difficult changes in their life, such as divorce and layoffs
  • Guide clients through the process of making decisions about their future
  • Help clients develop strategies and skills to change their behavior and to cope with difficult situations
  • Refer clients to other resources or services in the community, such as support groups or inpatient treatment facilities

Mental health counselors and marriage and family therapists use a variety of techniques and tools to help their clients. Many apply cognitive behavioral therapy, a goal-oriented approach that helps clients understand harmful thoughts, feelings, and beliefs and teaches how to replace them with positive, life-enhancing ones. Furthermore, mental health counselors use cognitive behavioral therapy to teach clients to eliminate unwanted and damaging behaviors and to replace them with more productive ones.

Although some disorders can be overcome, others need to be managed. With the latter, mental health counselors and marriage and family therapists help the client develop strategies and skills to minimize the effects of their disorders or illnesses.

Many mental health counselors and marriage and family therapists work in private practice. They must spend time marketing their practice to prospective clients and working with insurance companies and clients to get payment for their services.

Mental health counselors provide treatment to individuals, families, couples, and groups. Some work with specific populations, such as the elderly, college students, or children. Mental health counselors deal with a variety of issues, including anxiety, depression, grief, low self-esteem, stress, and suicidal impulses. They also help with mental and emotional health issues and relationship problems. 

Marriage and family therapists work with individuals, couples, and families. Unlike other types of mental health professionals, they bring a family-centered perspective to treatment, even when treating individuals. They evaluate family roles and development, to understand how clients’ families affect their mental health. They treat the clients’ relationships, not just the clients themselves. They address issues, such as low self-esteem, stress, addiction, and substance abuse.

Mental health counselors and marriage and family therapists coordinate patient treatment with other professionals, such as psychiatrists and social workers.

How To Become a Mental Health Counselor

Mental health counselors and marriage and family therapists are typically required to have a master’s degree and a license to practice.

Education

To become a mental health counselor or a marriage and family therapist, applicants typically need a master’s degree in psychology, clinical mental health counseling, marriage and family therapy, or a related mental health field. A bachelor’s degree in most fields is acceptable to enter a master’s program.

Counseling programs prepare students to recognize symptoms of mental and emotional disorders and to use effective counseling strategies. Marriage and family therapy programs teach students about how marriages, families, and relationships function and how these relationships can affect mental and emotional disorders.

Many employers prefer to hire counselors who have graduated from programs accredited by the Council for Accreditation of Counseling & Related Educational Programs.

Training

Candidates gain hands-on experience through postdegree supervised clinical work, sometimes referred to as an internship or residency. In training, they learn to provide family therapy, group therapy, psychotherapy, and other therapeutic interventions, under the supervision of a licensed counselor.

Licenses

All states require mental health counselors and marriage and family therapists to be licensed in the state in which they practice. Licensure requires a master’s degree and 2,000 to 4,000 hours of postdegree supervised clinical experience, sometimes referred to as an internship or residency. In addition, counselors and therapists must pass a state-recognized exam and complete annual continuing education classes.

Contact information for state boards regulating mental health counselors is available through the National Board for Certified Counselors.

Contact and licensing information for marriage and family therapists is available through the Association of Marital and Family Therapy Regulatory Boards.

Important Qualities

Compassion. Counselors and therapists often work with people who are dealing with stressful and difficult situations, so they must be compassionate and empathize with their clients.

Interpersonal skills. Being able to work with different types of people is essential for counselors and therapists. They spend most of their time working directly with clients and other professionals and must be able to encourage good relationships.

Listening skills. Good listening skills are essential for mental health counselors and marriage and family therapists, both of whom need to give their full attention to their clients to understand their problems, values, and goals.

Organizational skills. Good organizational skills are especially important for counselors and therapists in private practice, who must keep track of payments and work with insurance companies.

Speaking skills. Mental health counselors and marriage and family therapists need to be able to communicate with clients effectively. They must express ideas and information in a way that clients can understand easily.

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Average Salary
$39,813
Average Salary
Job Growth Rate
11%
Job Growth Rate
Job Openings
93,305
Job Openings

Mental Health Counselor Career Paths

Top Careers Before Mental Health Counselor

Top Careers After Mental Health Counselor

Therapist
11.0 %

Mental Health Counselor Jobs You Might Like

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Tell us your goals and we'll match you with the rights job to get there.

Average Salary for a Mental Health Counselor

Mental Health Counselors in America make an average salary of $39,813 per year or $19 per hour. The top 10 percent makes over $59,000 per year, while the bottom 10 percent under $26,000 per year.
Average Salary
$39,813
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Best Paying Cities

City
ascdesc
Average Salarydesc
Salt Lake City, UT
Salary Range39k - 61k$50k$49,621
Shreveport, LA
Salary Range37k - 60k$48k$47,938
Jackson, MS
Salary Range37k - 60k$47k$47,485
Scottsdale, AZ
Salary Range37k - 60k$47k$47,444
San Francisco, CA
Salary Range35k - 58k$45k$45,343
Dallas, TX
Salary Range34k - 55k$44k$43,717
$30k
$61k

Recently Added Salaries

Job TitleCompanyascdescCompanyascdescStart DateascdescSalaryascdesc
Mental Health Counselor
Mental Health Counselor
Healthcare Partners
Healthcare Partners
06/29/2021
06/29/2021
$73,00006/29/2021
$73,000
Cdoc Unlicensed Mental Health Counselor
Cdoc Unlicensed Mental Health Counselor
State of Colorado
State of Colorado
06/29/2021
06/29/2021
$30,00006/29/2021
$30,000
Bilingual Mental Health Counselor/Social Worker (Spanish/English)
Bilingual Mental Health Counselor/Social Worker (Spanish/English)
Youth Villages
Youth Villages
06/29/2021
06/29/2021
$46,00006/29/2021
$46,000
Mental Health Residential Counselor
Mental Health Residential Counselor
Servicenet
Servicenet
06/29/2021
06/29/2021
$29,21806/29/2021
$29,218
Mental Health Counselor
Mental Health Counselor
Wexford Health
Wexford Health
06/28/2021
06/28/2021
$50,00006/28/2021
$50,000
See More Recent Salaries

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Mental Health Counselor Resumes

Designing and figuring out what to include on your resume can be tough, not to mention time-consuming. That's why we put together a guide that is designed to help you craft the perfect resume for becoming a Mental Health Counselor. If you're needing extra inspiration, take a look through our selection of templates that are specific to your job.

Learn How To Write a Mental Health Counselor Resume

At Zippia, we went through countless Mental Health Counselor resumes and compiled some information about how best to optimize them. Here are some suggestions based on what we found, divided by the individual sections of the resume itself.

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Mental Health Counselor Demographics

Gender

female

63.3 %

male

31.2 %

unknown

5.4 %

Ethnicity

White

71.1 %

Black or African American

13.1 %

Hispanic or Latino

10.4 %

Foreign Languages Spoken

Spanish

63.3 %

French

9.3 %

Portuguese

4.3 %
See More Demographics

Mental Health Counselor Education

Majors

Degrees

Bachelors

54.7 %

Masters

29.1 %

Associate

6.4 %

Top Colleges for Mental Health Counselors

1. California State University - Long Beach

Long Beach, CA • Private

In-State Tuition
$6,798
Enrollment
31,503

2. Hunter College of the City University of New York

New York, NY • Private

In-State Tuition
$7,182
Enrollment
16,205

3. University of Pennsylvania

Philadelphia, PA • Private

In-State Tuition
$55,584
Enrollment
10,764

4. Boston University

Boston, MA • Private

In-State Tuition
$53,948
Enrollment
17,238

5. New York University

New York, NY • Private

In-State Tuition
$51,828
Enrollment
26,339

6. University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Chapel Hill, NC • Private

In-State Tuition
$8,987
Enrollment
18,946

7. Northwestern University

Evanston, IL • Private

In-State Tuition
$54,568
Enrollment
8,451

8. SUNY at Albany

Albany, NY • Private

In-State Tuition
$10,011
Enrollment
13,434

9. San Jose State University

San Jose, CA • Private

In-State Tuition
$7,796
Enrollment
27,125

10. Columbia University in the City of New York

New York, NY • Private

In-State Tuition
$59,430
Enrollment
8,216
See More Education Info

Online Courses For Mental Health Counselor That You May Like

Addiction & Mental Health (Dual Diagnosis) Integrative 12hrs
udemy
4.5
(1,090)

Substance Abuse & Mental Health Interventions: Drug & Alcohol Addiction & Mental Health - Integrative Holistic Approach...

Managing mental health issues in the workplace
udemy
4.2
(856)

Learn how to support your own mental health and wellbeing and that of your staff...

Certificate in Integrative Mental Health
ed2go

(20 contact hours) Learn a groundbreaking, holistic and integrative approach to treating mental health problems. This course will provide complementary methods of care which are combined with medications and psychotherapy to effectively address the physical, psychological, and spiritual needs of individuals with a variety of mental health conditions...

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Top Skills For a Mental Health Counselor

The skills section on your resume can be almost as important as the experience section, so you want it to be an accurate portrayal of what you can do. Luckily, we've found all of the skills you'll need so even if you don't have these skills yet, you know what you need to work on. Out of all the resumes we looked through, 17.5% of mental health counselors listed crisis intervention on their resume, but soft skills such as communication skills and emotional skills are important as well.

Best States For a Mental Health Counselor

Some places are better than others when it comes to starting a career as a mental health counselor. The best states for people in this position are Nevada, Alaska, Washington, and Utah. Mental health counselors make the most in Nevada with an average salary of $50,319. Whereas in Alaska and Washington, they would average $50,264 and $49,745, respectively. While mental health counselors would only make an average of $49,636 in Utah, you would still make more there than in the rest of the country. We determined these as the best states based on job availability and pay. By finding the median salary, cost of living, and using the Bureau of Labor Statistics' Location Quotient, we narrowed down our list of states to these four.

1. Arizona

Total Mental Health Counselor Jobs:
1,246
Highest 10% Earn:
$74,000
Location Quotient:
1.38
Location Quotient is a measure used by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) to determine how concentrated a certain industry is in a single state compared to the nation as a whole. You can read more about how BLS calculates location quotients here

2. Louisiana

Total Mental Health Counselor Jobs:
634
Highest 10% Earn:
$74,000
Location Quotient:
1.29
Location Quotient is a measure used by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) to determine how concentrated a certain industry is in a single state compared to the nation as a whole. You can read more about how BLS calculates location quotients here

3. Vermont

Total Mental Health Counselor Jobs:
160
Highest 10% Earn:
$73,000
Location Quotient:
1.36
Location Quotient is a measure used by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) to determine how concentrated a certain industry is in a single state compared to the nation as a whole. You can read more about how BLS calculates location quotients here
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How Do Mental Health Counselor Rate Their Jobs?

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2.0

2.0

What do you like the most about working as Mental Health Counselor?

The (working) clients will always be the best part of this job. There are certain individuals who you can feel want to learn more about their conditions and to adopt healthier thinking patterns or lifestyles. Show More

What do you NOT like?

The insane amount of paperwork, the insurance/agency politics, the high expectations, the low amount of support. Burnout is very concerning for a profession where people in the frontline are the ones trying to make a difference. Individuals who work in this field need to have an incentive to keep pushing. I’m sorry but a kind heart and good intentions are not enough to sustain this type of career. Show More

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Top Mental Health Counselor Employers

We've made finding a great employer to work for easy by doing the hard work for you. We looked into employers that employ mental health counselors and discovered their number of mental health counselor opportunities and average salary. Through our research, we concluded that Riverside Community Care was the best, especially with an average salary of $37,748. Walden Co follows up with an average salary of $40,319, and then comes Seneca Center with an average of $42,375. In addition, we know most people would rather work from home. So instead of having to change careers, we identified the best employers for remote work as a mental health counselor. The employers include None, None, and None

1. Riverside Community Care
3.8
Avg. Salary: 
$37,748
Mental Health Counselors Hired: 
62+
2. Walden & Company Realty
3.9
Avg. Salary: 
$40,319
Mental Health Counselors Hired: 
59+
3. Seneca Center
4.4
Avg. Salary: 
$42,375
Mental Health Counselors Hired: 
57+
4. MHM Services
4.8
Avg. Salary: 
$39,154
Mental Health Counselors Hired: 
56+
5. Mental Health America
3.4
Avg. Salary: 
$48,526
Mental Health Counselors Hired: 
49+
6. Catholic Charities USA
4.4
Avg. Salary: 
$48,860
Mental Health Counselors Hired: 
46+

Mental Health Counselor Videos

Updated October 2, 2020