2021 Best Masters in Mental Health Counseling Online
If you’re passionate about supporting people who are experiencing psychological distress, mental health issues, or dependency issues, then earning a masters in mental health counseling online may be a good fit for you.
Mental health counseling graduate programs can help prepare you for rewarding and challenging career opportunities.
Graduates tend to work with people in a one-on-one or group setting, helping them navigate emotional, mental health, familial, or substance abuse issues that they are experiencing. Occupations in this field also tend to have higher than average salaries and positive job growth.
Best Online Master’s in Mental Health Counseling
Mental health master degree programs are structured to help you develop advanced level knowledge in this field.
Your program may include study areas relating to theories of counseling, mental health and addictive disorders, counseling and multiculturalism, ethics in counseling practice, assessment and diagnosis, and group dynamics in counseling.
These programs may be offered as an MS in Mental Health Counseling or as an MA in Mental Health Counseling, depending on the school you choose to attend. Online graduate degrees in mental health counseling can lead you on a path towards state licensure in the field.
Graduates often pursue careers as licensed mental health counselors, clinical professional counselors, or substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors.
An online mental health counseling masters may equip you for other professional roles as well, including industrial-organizational psychologist, psychologist assistant, or family therapist.
When pursuing your degree, you can often choose between a number of different concentrations or specialties. Specializations can include general studies, addiction counseling, forensic counseling, couple and family counseling, or crisis counseling. Specific concentration or specialty options can vary from school to school.
Each program, school, and academic concentration will offer a distinct selection of courses, but some common courses include introduction to counseling, assessment in counseling, psychopharmacology, and basis to drug and alcohol addiction.
Other courses can include foundations of mental health counseling, childhood behavioral therapy, legal considerations in counseling, group process and dynamics, career counseling, and research methods.
Mental Health Counseling Careers
A masters degree in mental health counseling online can help prepare you to work in a number of different environments and settings. Graduates tend to work in outpatient mental health centers, private counseling offices, hospitals, and residential mental health facilities.
There can also be rewarding opportunities in correctional centers, detox centers, juvenile detention centers, and schools.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, earning a degree in mental health counseling online may qualify you to work in a number of different positions in those professional settings, including the positions listed below.
|Careers||Annual Median Salaries|
|Marriage and Family Therapists, State Government||$72,230|
|Social and Community Service Managers||$67,150|
|School and Career Counselors||$57,040|
|Substance Abuse, Behavioral Disorder, and Mental Health Counselors, Government||$52,720|
|Marriage and Family Therapists, Outpatient Care Centers||$52,140|
|Substance Abuse, Behavioral Disorder, and Mental Health Counselors, Hospitals||$49,100|
|Substance Abuse, Behavioral Disorder, and Mental Health Counselors, Outpatient Facilities||$44,750|
|Substance Abuse, Behavioral Disorder, and Mental Health Counselors, Residential Facilities||$39,690|
The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that a number of career paths in the field of mental health counseling will experience growth over the coming years. These positions include psychologist (3%), school and career counselor (8%), social worker (13%), marriage and family therapist (22%), and social and community services manager (17%).
Notably, the positions of substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors are expected to experience significant growth over the next decade, with a projected growth rate of 25%.
Serving as a school counselor could also be a rewarding career, plus a growing number of universities now offer online school counseling programs with no GRE required for admission.
Sample Curriculum for a Masters in Mental Health Counseling
When pursuing an online masters in mental health counseling, you will be required to complete a number of different courses related to mental health, addiction, and counseling practices.
While the specific course load can vary depending on the school and concentration you enroll in, sample courses may include those listed here.
- Introduction to Mental Health Counseling: This course is a review of foundational counseling practices as they relate to treatment of mental health and substance abuse issues.
- Theories of Counseling: You’ll look at various therapeutic theories and when different approaches should be utilized during counseling.
- Techniques in Counseling: This course is an overview of how to establish trusting relationships with clients and implement therapeutic processes into the counseling process.
- Group Counseling Practices: This course is a review of approaches used in group counseling, including creating a structured setting and understanding group dynamics and ethical considerations of the process.
- Couples and Family Counseling: You’ll look at different approaches used in family counseling settings and explore family dynamics in the counseling process.
- Substance Use Counseling: This course is an overview of addictive disorders, influences on behavior, and treatment trends and options that may be implemented in the counseling process.
- Crisis and Trauma in Counseling: You’ll review the impact that trauma, disasters, and crises have on individuals, including practical application of crisis assessments.
- Psychopharmacology: You’ll look at psychotropic medications and the role they play in the treatment of mental health and addiction issues.
- Assessments in Addictions: This course is an overview of assessment and diagnostic tools used in the addiction treatment process.
- Ethics in Mental Health Counseling: This course is a review of ethical issues and legal considerations in the process of mental health counseling, assessment, and treatment.
In addition to coursework, you may be required to complete an internship and thesis in order to graduate with your degree.
How to Become a Mental Health Counselor
Mental health counselors are required to hold a valid license in order to practice. Licensing for mental health counselors is managed at a state level, so each state has its own specific set of licensure requirements.
There are a number of steps required to become a mental health counselor. These requirements can vary from one state to the next, but common criteria include:
- Master’s degree. Across all states, in order to become a mental health counselor, you are required to hold at least a master’s degree in mental health counseling. Typically, a bachelor’s degree is first needed in order to enroll in a master’s level program.
- Supervised clinical work hours. In many cases, states require the completion of between 2,000 and 3,000 supervised work hours. In some instances, there may be a timeframe or time limit around the completion of those hours.
- Professional examination. In order to obtain a license, all states require you to pass an examination that confirms you have the knowledge, understanding, and ability to perform the work of a mental health counselor.
Many states require you to complete a master’s degree program that is accredited and includes at least 48 hours of academic study.Some states may also require you to pass a jurisprudence examination, which covers topics related to legal implications of the practice in addition to state laws and requirements.
Admission requirements for an online masters in mental health degree program can vary from school to school, but common criteria typically includes the following:
- Official transcripts from all postsecondary studies
- Reference letters from academic or professional colleagues or supervisors
- A statement of intent
When writing a statement of purpose or intent, you might describe your academic background or history along with your goals for enrolling in a masters in mental health counseling online program. Some schools also require you to submit GRE or GMAT scores as part of your application, but this requirement is becoming less common over time. It is possible to earn an online masters in counseling no GRE from reputable programs.
An academic program’s regional accreditation status certifies that its curriculum and educational content is high quality and meets a certain set of standards.
A school’s accreditation status can impact your ability to transfer credits to another program and influence future admissions into PhD programs. Accreditation can also impact professional licensing in various states.
You can find out if the school or program you’re interested in attending is accredited by visiting the U.S. Department of Education‘s website.
Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP)
The Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs, or CACREP, is the programmatic accreditation for mental health counseling. In other words, CACREP applies the merit of accreditation to specific mental health counseling education programs that meet a minimum set of academic standards.
Accreditation standards focus on the assessment and evaluation of a number of areas. These areas include program content and internship or practicum requirements, the quality and qualifications of academic faculty, and institutional and program missions and goals.
Other considerations in the accreditation process include student advisement, evaluation, and instruction.
Mental Health Counseling Licensure & Certification
If you wish to become licensed as a mental health counselor, you can check with your state board to see what requirements—including educational, work, and examination requirements—have to be fulfilled. These requirements can vary from state to state.
The general path to becoming a licensed mental health counselor includes completing a bachelor’s degree at a regionally accredited institution and then completing an accredited master’s in mental health counseling program.
Before becoming certified in your profession, you may be required to perform between 2,000 and 3,000 supervised clinical work hours. The final step to obtaining your license is to pass a professional examination in the state where you plan to work.
While there is a cost associated with obtaining your master’s in mental health counseling online, there are a number of financial aid options available that you may qualify for to help ease the financial aspect of your degree. Financial aid options can include federal aid, state aid, scholarships, and employer training programs.
State and federal government financial aid options, offered in the form of grants or loans, and private and publicly funded scholarships may be good options for you to look into to help finance your education. Grants and scholarships do not require repayment after your studies while loans generally do.
If you are employed, then another option may include a professional development or employee training program through your employer. For more information on financial aid options available to you, you can visit the US Department of Education website and access the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).
What Can You Do with a Masters in Mental Health Counseling?
There are a variety of career options available with a master’s degree in mental health counseling and licensure. These options can include industrial-organizational psychologist, couple and family therapist, community service manager, and school and career counselor.
Other positions can include substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselor, outpatient mental health counselor, or residential mental health counselor.
You can also pursue rewarding positions in different work settings, such as government institutions, schools, hospitals, or residential mental health facilities. You might also have the opportunity to work in private practice or community-based nonprofits, so there are a variety of jobs that you can do with a masters in mental health counseling.
How Much Does a Mental Health Counselor Make with a Masters Degree?
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors earn an average salary of $46,240 per year.
The earning potential of a mental health counselor varies depending on the specific position, employer, and field they work in. Other factors, such as education level, experience, and certification, can also influence salary levels.
For example, counselors working in government, hospital, or family service settings tend to make more per year than those who work in outpatient or residential mental health settings.
In some cases, mental health counselors may work as industrial-organizational psychologists, marriage and family therapists, or school and career counselors. These positions earn average annual salaries of $92,880, $49,610, and $57,040, respectively.
How Long Does It Take to Become a Mental Health Counselor?
The length of time it can take to become a licensed mental health counselor can vary according to a state’s licensing requirements. Generally, though, completing the coursework in a master’s degree in mental health counseling program typically takes 1 to 2 years when enrolled full-time.
Factors that can influence the length of time it takes to complete your degree include the number of credit hours required by your academic program, thesis or internship requirements, and whether you’re enrolled on a full-time or part-time basis.
Following the completion of your master’s degree, you will typically be required to complete a certain number of supervised work hours and pass a knowledge exam if you want to obtain licensure.
What Is the Difference Between Clinical Mental Health Counseling vs. Mental Health Counseling?
A clinical mental health counselor may have a stronger focus on serious mental health issues, such as psychosis, as opposed to the more holistic and community-based approach of a mental health counselor.
In some cases, depending on state licensure requirements, a clinical mental health counselor may be considered a higher level or more advanced professional than a standard mental health counselor.
What Is the Difference Between MPCAC vs. CACREP?
MPCAC stands for Masters in Psychology and Counseling Accreditation Council. This council specifically focuses on the accreditation of masters in psychology programs at various educational institutions. They do not provide accreditation for doctorate level programs.
MPCAC may provide accreditation to programs in psychology that are not intended to lead to state licensure.
CACREP, on the other hand, stands for Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs, and it is specifically focused on programs that can lead to state licensure. CACREP provides accreditation for master and doctorate level programs.
Some states require applicants to graduate from a CACREP accredited institution in order to obtain a license to practice.
What Is the Difference Between a Mental Health Counselor vs. Psychologist?
Both mental health counselors and psychologists provide counseling to individuals dealing with psychological distress and emotional, mental, and dependency issues. There are some key differences, though, between the professions, including scope and education.
Mental health counselors require a masters degree in order to practice with a license. They generally approach treatment with a more holistic approach and provide support in activities of daily living. Mental health counselors tend to use talk therapy in client sessions.
Psychologists, on the other hand, tend to approach treatment with a more clinical, scientific mindset. They may focus less on holistic treatment and place greater emphasis on disorder-specific treatment. Psychologists generally require a doctorate to practice and obtain licensure.
Is a Masters in Mental Health Counseling Worth It?
Yes, a masters in mental health counseling is worth it for many students. The Bureau of Labor Statistics is projecting 12% job growth in community and social service occupations over the next 10 years.
Common careers in this field include mental health counselor, substance abuse counselor, industrial-organizational psychologist, family therapist, and social and community service manager.
Universities Offering Online Masters in Mental Health Counseling Degree Programs
Methodology: The following school list is in alphabetical order. To be included, a college or university must be regionally accredited and offer degree programs online or in a hybrid format.
ASU is accredited by The Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools.
Bellevue University is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.
Bradley University is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.
Grace College is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association.
Hodges University is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.
Indiana Wesleyan University is accredited by The Higher Learning Commission.
Lamar University is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.
Lindsey Wilson College is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.
Lock Haven University is accredited by The Middle States Commission on Higher Education.
Malone University is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.
New York University is accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education.
North Carolina Central University is accredited by the Commission on Colleges of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools.
North Carolina State University is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.
Northwestern University is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.
Palo Alto University is accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges.
Regent University is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.
The Chicago School of Professional Psychology is accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges Senior College and University Commission.
Union Institute and University is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.
The University of Louisiana Monroe is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.
Wake Forest University is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.
Getting Your Masters Degree Online
A masters in clinical mental health counseling online program can open the door to various career opportunities in this exciting and rewarding field.
If your goal is to become a licensed mental health counselor, the path to licensure includes earning a masters degree, completing supervised work hours, and passing a professional exam.
Obtaining a license to practice counseling can help put you on the right course to supporting individuals experiencing poor mental health, substance use, and other emotionally challenging life circumstances. This field offers a variety of career options, higher than average annual salaries, and a positive job outlook.
If you’re interested in earning your masters degree in mental health counseling, you might want to explore accredited online programs. Many online programs are highly flexible, allowing you to earn your graduate degree at your own convenience.