How to Become a Mental Health Counselor

Mental Health Counselor Key Stats
Avg. Salary / year $43,250
Avg. Pay / hour $20.79
Education 4+ Years
Job Outlook 22%

Mental Health Counselors are experienced working with individuals who have been diagnosed with an emotional or mental disorder.

They may begin working with an individual to provide a diagnosis and follow up with them to provide a treatment plan that includes strategies that will help them manage and live with their disorder.

Individuals who want to become a Mental Health Counselor will benefit from having a combination of personal characteristics, such as listening and interpersonal skills, a graduate degree and licensure in order to enter this profession.

Education Requirements to Become a Mental Health Counselor

Individuals who want to become a Mental Health Counselor will need a postsecondary and a master’s degree, a license in order to practice and thousands of hours of clinical experience.

Individuals pursuing this career will also benefit from working on personal characteristics such as compassion and interpersonal skills in order to succeed in this profession.

Completing an undergraduate bachelor’s degree is the first step in order to become a Mental Health Counselor.

An undergraduate degree in most areas of studies is acceptable although a focus in psychology provides continuity between a bachelor’s and a master’s degree.

In order to become a Mental Health Counselor, a master’s degree in psychology, counseling, social work, family therapy or a closely related field is suggested.

Students completing a graduate counseling program will learn how to identify mental and emotional disorders by observing their symptoms.

They will also learn the qualifications needed to diagnose a mental or emotional disorder.

Individuals will also learn a variety of useful counseling plans to begin treatment.

Individuals must then seek licensure in order to become a Mental Health Counselor.

Licensure is typically administered through individual state boards but many have similar requirements.

Standard requirements include completing an accredited master’s counseling program, 2,000 to 4,000 hours of supervised clinical experience after graduating and passing a state recognized exam that requires continuing education.

Regulation for mental health professionals is administered by individual state boards.

You may visit the National Board for Certified Counselors to learn more information about state boards and their licensure requirements.

Mental Health Counselor Job Description

Mental Health Counselors are licenses professionals who are experienced in meeting, diagnosing and treating individuals with mental or emotional disorders.

After diagnosing a mental or emotional disorder, they will also work with the individual to determine a treatment plan that will improve a patient’s mood or symptoms.

Mental Health Counselors will use the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorder (DSM) in order to diagnose mental disorders.

This manual is the standard text compiled by the American Psychiatric Association and is used throughout the profession for reference.

These professionals will diagnose several types of mental illnesses including some of the following disorders:

  • Anxiety disorders
  • Mood disorders
  • Psychotic disorders
  • Eating disorders
  • Impulse and addiction disorders
  • Personality disorders
  • Obsessive compulsive disorders and
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder

After providing clients with a diagnosis, Mental Health Counselors will determine a treatment plan that may recommend prescription drugs that improve chemical imbalances.

They will also discuss strategies that will help them change their behaviors and skills on how to handle intense emotions.

During appointments, these professionals will also provide therapy to help individuals process their emotions.

Mental Health Counselor Salary and Career Path

In 2012, Mental Health Counselors earned a median salary of approximately $40,080 per year.

Exact wages will depend on several things including the industry an individual works in and level of experience.

Mental Health Counselors working for the federal government can expect a median wage of approximately $48,060 per while those who work nursing and residential care facilities can expect a median wage of approximately $32,530 per year.

Some Mental Health Counselors can expect to earn up to $66,630 per year.

The job growth for Mental Health Counselors is expected to grow by 29 percent through the year 2022.

This growth in jobs is considered much faster than average when compared to other professions and is attributed to changes in federal legislation mandating the coverage of mental health counseling services under insurance policies.

Individuals covered under these new federal guidelines are likely to use mental health counseling services for preventative and treatment purposes.

Individuals pursuing a career as a Mental Health Counselor can look forward to working with individuals and help improve their overall wellbeing.

These professionals will also be able to observe their patient’s progress which may increase their job satisfaction.

BLSThe below information is based on the 2021 BLS national averages.

  • Annually
  • Monthly
  • Hourly

National Average Salary


Average Salary by State

StateAvg. Annual Salary
District of Columbia$64,920
New Hampshire$47,610
New Jersey$63,430
New Mexico$60,720
New York$56,050
North Carolina$52,850
North Dakota$59,880
Rhode Island$64,640
South Carolina$44,250
South Dakota$45,410
West Virginia$41,520
Puerto Rico$20,290
Virgin Islands$46,900

The top earning state in the field is Utah, where the average salary is $66,190.

These are the top 5 earning states in the field:

Utah - $66,190
Alaska - $65,090
District of Columbia - $64,920
Rhode Island - $64,640
New Jersey - $63,430
* Salary information based on the May 2021 Occupational Employment Statistics (OES) Survey for Substance Abuse, Behavioral Disorder, and Mental Health Counselors, OCC Code 21-1018, BLS.
* Employment conditions in your area may vary.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is a mental health counselor?

Mental health counselors advise and provide treatment to people who suffer from mental or behavioral problems.

They may work with individuals, couples, and groups and can help treat a variety of conditions, including anxiety, grief, stress, and depression.

Some specialize in working with specific populations, such as the elderly or children.

If you are a compassionate person, with good speaking and listening skills, a career as a mental health counselor may be the right choice for you.

As a mental health counselor, you will also need interpersonal skills in order to build and nurture good relationships with your patients and other health professionals.

Most mental health counselors work full time but those who work in inpatient facilities or similar settings may need to work evenings, nights and weekends in order to accommodate their patients’ needs.

How much does a mental health counselor make?

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual wage for substance abuse, behavioral disorders, and mental health counselors was $44,630 in May 2018.

Salaries in this field vary based on a wide range of factors; some counselors earn less than $30,000 a year, while others make more than $70,000 a year.

How much does it cost to become a mental health counselor?

Mental health counselors typically need a bachelor’s and a master’s degree in psychology, mental health counseling or a similar field.

Mental health counselors also need a state license in order to be able to practice.

A bachelor’s degree program in counseling can cost anywhere between less than $15,000 a year and more than $30,000, depending on the school you choose.

Master’s degree programs in this field cost, on average, around $9,000 a year for in-state students at public institutions.

What is the demand for mental health counselors?

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment of substance abuse, behavioral disorder and mental health counselors is projected to grow 22 percent from 2018 to 2028.

Job prospects are expected to be good for mental health counselors especially in rural areas and places that are underserved by mental health professionals.

How long does it take to become a mental health counselor?

Mental health counselors typically need a master’s degree in mental health counseling or a related field.

Before enrolling at a master’s degree program you will usually have to complete a four-year bachelor’s degree program.

Graduate programs in counseling can be completed in around 2 years.

In order to be able to practice, mental health counselors also need a state license.

Before getting your license you will need to complete a period of supervised clinical work after earning your degree.

During this period you will work under the supervision of a licensed counselor.

Exact licensure requirements vary by state but they all involve passing an exam.

Jamie Willis
Career Specialist at BecomeopediaHi, my name is Jamie Willis, and I have been helping students find their perfect internships and education paths for the last ten years. It is a passion of mine, and there really is nothing better than seeing students of mine succeed with further studies.

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