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Top Mental Health Counseling Programs

Mental health counseling programs prepare learners for careers as mental health counselors. These professionals help people who experience trauma or behavioral and emotional disorders. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects jobs for mental health counselors to grow 23% from 2020-2030.

Mental health counselors need at least a bachelor's degree. Independent practice requires a license and a master's degree in mental health counseling.

Our ranking lists the best mental health counseling programs. Read on to learn about costs, common classes, and how to become a mental health counselor.

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Questions About Mental Health Counseling Degrees

Are Mental Health Counselors in Demand?

The BLS projects jobs for mental health counselors to increase much faster than average from 2020-2030. The organization also projects the need for all types of community and social services positions to grow 12% during this time frame.

What Is the Best Degree for Mental Health Counselors?

Aspiring mental health counselors should pursue a degree in a subject like counseling, social work, or psychology. Learners who want to work in a private practice should pursue a master's degree.

What Jobs Can I Get With a Mental Health Counseling Degree?

Graduates can work as counselors in a variety of settings. Some degree-holders work as school counselors. Others work in clinical settings like hospitals and mental health centers. Prisons and juvenile detention facilities also hire mental health graduates.

Why Get a Degree in Mental Health Counseling?

Some students earn a mental health counseling degree to pursue a job with meaning and purpose. Many mental health counseling jobs also allow for a work-life balance. Self-employed mental health counselors can set their own schedules. They may choose to only see patients during traditional business hours. Other mental health counselors can work from home and provide virtual counseling services.

This field allows people to pursue their passion. For example, aspiring counselors who want to help children may work as adolescent mental health counselors.

Earning a mental health counseling degree online offers flexibility. Students can continue their career while earning their degree.

Featured Online Counseling Programs

How Much Does a Mental Health Counseling Degree Cost?

The exact cost of mental health counseling programs varies. In 2019-2020, bachelor's degree-seekers spent an average of $25,280 on tuition and fees, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. Learners attending private colleges spent an average of $45,570.

Students who pursue an online degree in mental health counseling may pay the most affordable tuition. An online bachelor's degree costs an average of $51,090, according to

How Much Do Mental Health Counseling Majors Make?

Many factors influence salary, including employer, years of experience, and geographic location. For example, counselors at federal prisons may receive higher pay and retirement benefits than those at nonprofits. Self-employed counselors with a private practice may also earn more since these individuals set their own rates.

Mental health counselors in California earn an average of $59,790 annually. Texan mental health counselors earn $49,510.

Courses in a Mental Health Counseling Program

Students pursuing a bachelor's degree in mental health counseling typically take 120 credits. This amounts to about 40 classes. Full-time degree-seekers can earn a bachelor's in four years. A master's degree in mental health counseling may require 40-60 credits. A master's takes around two years to finish.

While specific classes vary, most programs cover topics found on state licensing exams. Students learn the ethics of the mental health counseling field. They also hone their interpersonal and group speaking skills. This helps them facilitate one-on-one and group therapy sessions.

See below for three common classes in mental health counseling programs.

  • Psychology Theories

    This class highlights common mental health theories and practical applications. Learners discover theories by Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung. The class also examines research that supports and rejects certain theories. Students gain an understanding of how psychology theories influence modern approaches.
  • Ethics in Mental Health Counseling

    This class offers an overview of legal and ethical issues in the mental health field. Students learn the process and requirements for mandated reporting and client confidentiality. Learners read through case studies about real-life ethical dilemmas in the field. They engage in classroom discussions to practice implementing ethical frameworks.
  • Research in Mental Health Topics

    Learners choose a mental health topic to research. After learning best practices for the research process, they gather data to fill gaps in industry knowledge. Students learn how to facilitate interviews between variable and control groups. They format their findings in a whitepaper format and rmay pitch to a scholarly journal.

How to Become a Mental Health Counselor

Aspiring mental health counselors first need a mental health counseling degree. Many counselors start by earning a bachelor's degree in counseling or a closely related field. Then, they pursue a master's degree.

Mental health counseling programs include a combination of lectures, traditional coursework, and hands-on experience. Learners complete in-person clinical hours. Many programs require a thesis or capstone project that contributes information to the mental health field.

Some bachelor's degree-holders enter the workforce immediately. They may enroll in a master's program part time while gaining supervised experience. In the next section, we highlight the optional process of pursuing licensure.

Licensure for Mental Health Counselors

Not every employer and state requires licensure. However, mental health counselors who wish to work in private practice must earn licensure. Requirements vary by state, but typically involve completing 2,000-4,000 supervised clinical hours.

Counselors may need to complete additional requirements if they wish to move their practice. Many states participate in reciprocity agreements. This means counselors can transfer their licenses between certain states.

Every U.S. state requires an exam by the National Board for Certified Counselors for licensure. The organization's interactive map outlines licensure requirements by state. Many states use the National Counselor Examination for Licensure and Certification to verify qualifications. This test features 200 multiple-choice questions. The organization offers several study materials to help learners prepare.

Once counselors earn licensure, they must complete continuing education requirements. Most states require about 40 of these hours for renewal. Since every state features different requirements, licensed counselors may need to complete additional requirements when switching states.

Top Mental Health Counseling Programs

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