What You Need to Know About Clinical Mental Health Counseling

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For those in need of mental health care, mental health counselors can provide a more affordable alternative to hiring a psychologist or a psychiatrist. They provide similar services in the field of mental health, but are only required to have a master’s degree, as opposed to the M.D. required for psychiatrists, or the Ph.D. required for psychologists.

Job Description

Counselling session

Image via Flickr by Alan Cleaver

According to the American Mental Health Counselors Association, a mental health counselor’s job is fairly comprehensive. They provide psychotherapy, treat alcoholism and substance abuse, provide crisis management, and create educational programs on mental health, among other responsibilities. They can work in various facilities where mental health services are needed, such as community agencies, hospitals, employee assistance programs, and substance abuse treatment centers.

Many mental health counselors work out of their own independent practice, which allows them to set their own hours, choose their patients, and charge their desired rate per session. Mental health counselors work with patients of all ages from a variety of different backgrounds.


To become a certified mental health counselor, one must complete a master’s degree program in counseling. Coursework can be completed in two years, but depending on state laws, graduates may have to complete a supervised internship before they become fully licensed. These internships typically involve 2,000 to 4,000 hours of work supervised by an already licensed mental health counselor.

The coursework for a master’s degree in counseling includes courses on diagnosis and psychopathology, professional orientation, research and program evaluation, group counseling, human growth and development, counseling theory, social and cultural foundations, lifestyle and career development, and more.

A master’s degree and license in counseling obtained in pursuit of a mental health counselor job can also serve as a qualification for other jobs, including clinical social worker and marriage and family therapist.

Continuing education is also required for mental health counselors. Attending annual seminars keeps counselors up to date on the latest techniques for successful counseling.


If you plan on running your own independent practice, you set your own rates per session, so your income will vary. Income can also vary based on your number of clients. Data indicates that mental health counselors received an average yearly salary of $40,080 in 2012. A 2006 study found that counselors charged an average rate of $63 per session, compared to psychologists at $75 per session and clinical social workers and marriage and family therapists at $60 per session.

Employment Opportunities

Mental health counseling is a growing industry. Insurance companies are pushing patients toward counseling rather than a psychiatrist or psychologist because it’s less expensive. The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates job growth in this field to be 28.5 percent over the next ten years, creating 36,700 new positions in the field by the year 2022.

Those looking to become mental health counselors will probably find the job worthwhile. The job requires less time spent in education compared to a psychiatrist or psychologist, pays well, and has many new positions opening up across the country. This is a great job to consider if you are interested in benefiting people’s lives by improving their mental health.