2021 Best Masters in Mental Health Counseling Online

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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.

Masters in Mental Health Counseling Online

Mental health counseling graduate programs can help prepare you for rewarding and challenging career opportunities.

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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.

Online Master’s in Mental Health Counseling

Mental Health Counselor with patient

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.

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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

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
Industrial-Organizational Psychologists $96,270
Marriage and Family Therapists, State Government $78,450
Social and Community Service Managers $69,600
School and Career Counselors $58,120
Marriage and Family Therapists, Outpatient Care Centers $55,690
Substance Abuse, Behavioral Disorder, and Mental Health Counselors, Government $54,070
Social Workers $51,760
Substance Abuse, Behavioral Disorder, and Mental Health Counselors, Hospitals $50,460
Substance Abuse, Behavioral Disorder, and Mental Health Counselors, Outpatient Facilities $45,960
Substance Abuse, Behavioral Disorder, and Mental Health Counselors, Residential Facilities $40,560

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%).

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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

Mental Health Counseling Masters

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 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.

Admissions Requirements

Mental Health Counseling student

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.

Accreditation

Mental Health Counseling Accreditation

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.

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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)

Mental Health Counselors meeting

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

Mental Health Counseling Masters student

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.

Financial Aid

Mental Health Counseling Financial Aid

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?

Mental Health Counseling careers

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.

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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?

Mental Health Counseling salary

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors earn an average salary of $47,660 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 $96,270, $51,340, and $58,120, respectively.

How Long Does It Take to Become a Mental Health Counselor?

Mental Health Counselor working

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?

Mental Health Counselor with teenager

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?

Mental Health Counselors

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.

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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?

Mental Health Counselor with couple

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?

Mental Health Counselor at work

Yes, a masters in mental health counseling is worth it for many professionals. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, jobs in community and social service field are set to grow at 12% 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.

Adams State University

Adams State University

Adams State University offers a Master of Arts in Clinical Mental Health Counseling and School Counseling online and on-campus.

The degree program requires 60 credit hours to complete. It is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission, the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs, and the Colorado Department of Education.

ASU is accredited by The Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools.

Bellevue University

Bellevue University

Bellevue University offers a Master of Science in Clinical Mental Health Counseling. It takes 60 credit hours to complete and is designed to prepare students for the National Licensing Exam.

The degree program requires 100 hours of practicum and 600 hours of clinical internship. Online students may complete their clinical hours in their home states.

Bellevue University is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.

Bradley University

Bradley University

Bradley University offers online graduate degrees in both Clinical Mental Health Counseling and Professional School Counseling. The curriculum at Bradley blends academic theory and hands-on experience.

Both degree programs are designed to give students opportunities to study neurocounseling, participate in virtual residencies, and prepare for the National Counselor Exam.

Bradley University is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.

Grace College

Grace College

Grace College offers a Master of Clinical Mental Health Counseling. It is accredited by the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs.

Students are required to complete an annual, seven-day residency on campus in Winona Lake, Indiana but can otherwise complete their degrees online. Courses at Grace College are taught from a biblical worldview.

Grace College is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association.

Hodges University

Hodges University

The online master’s degree program in Clinical Mental Health Counseling at Hodges University is a fast-track program that can be completed in just seven semesters. Licensed faculty can assist you in developing an individualized professional career plan.

Hodges University offers small class sizes and flexible options for adult students.

Hodges University is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

Indiana Wesleyan University

Indiana Wesleyan University

Indiana Wesleyan University offers a Master of Arts with a major in Clinical Mental Health Counseling. Indiana Wesleyan provides a Christ-centered community.

Courses are available both online and on campus. The program is 60 credit hours long. It is designed to prepare students for the National Counselor Examination during their last semester of coursework.

Indiana Wesleyan University is accredited by The Higher Learning Commission.

Lamar University

Lamar University

Lamar University’s online M.Ed. in Clinical Mental Health Counseling is a 60-credit hour program that can potentially be completed in 30 months. This is a licensure-track degree program accredited by SACS.

The program includes practicum and internship experiences and two 5 day, face-to-face residency seminars.

Lamar University is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

Lindsey Wilson College

Lindsey Wilson College

Lindsey Wilson College offers an online Master of Education in Counseling and Human Development. This degree program offers flexible scheduling, 8 week courses, and the opportunity to earn a certificate in Substance Abuse Counseling.

The degree program is 60 credit hours long and is accredited by CACREP. Lindsey Wilson College emphasizes ethics and multiculturalism.

Lindsey Wilson College is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

Lock Haven University

Lock Haven University

Lock Haven University’s Master of Clinical Mental Health Counseling is available 100% online and is CACREP accredited. The program is designed to help students become eligible for licensure in many states.

Courses are available year-round for both part-time and full-time students. The program does not require any campus visits or residencies.

Lock Haven University is accredited by The Middle States Commission on Higher Education.

Malone University

Malone University

Malone University offers a Master of Arts in Education in Clinical Mental Health Counseling or School Counseling online and hybrid. It also offers dual programs for Clinical Mental Health Counseling and School Counseling for hybrid delivery format only.

It is accredited by the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs.

Malone University is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.

New York University

New York University

New York University offers an online Master of Arts in Counseling for Mental Health and Wellness. The program provides weekly live classes with no more than 15 students per session.

You can complete coursework from anywhere you can connect to the internet, and you may complete internships at placement sites near where you live.

New York University is accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education.

North Carolina Central University

North Carolina Central University

North Carolina Central University offers an online MA in Clinical Mental Health Counseling. This is a 60 credit hour degree program that is designed to help students become a Licensed Professional Counselor in the state of North Carolina.

Taking three additional courses through this program can also help prepare you to become a Licensed Clinical Addictions Specialist.

North Carolina Central University is accredited by the Commission on Colleges of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools.

North Carolina State University

North Carolina State University

North Carolina State University students can earn a Master of Education in Clinical Mental Health Counseling either online or on campus. Both formats are 60 credit hours long and feature identical curricular requirements.

Students in the online program study using a platform called Moodle and also meet for weekly live web conferences.

North Carolina State University is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

Northwestern University

Northwestern University

Northwestern University’s online Master of Arts in Counseling is CACREP accredited. It can typically be completed in 18 to 39 months, depending on whether you take classes part-time or full-time. Field specialists can help you find placement for hands-on clinical experience.

Northwestern University also offers a Bridge to Counseling program for students who are new to counseling.

Northwestern University is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.

Palo Alto University

Palo Alto University

At Palo Alto University, you can earn a Master of Arts in Counseling with an emphasis on Clinical Mental Health. This degree program is available both on campus and online via videoconference. It is designed to prepare students for pursuing licensure as an LPCC or LMFT in the state of California.

Palo Alto University is accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges.

Regent University

Regent University

Earning an M.A. in Clinical Mental Health Counseling from Regent University can help prepare you to become a Licensed Professional Counselor. The degree program is available in both online and on-campus formats and is 60 credit hours.

The program teaches counseling techniques and how to apply Biblical principles in a mental health setting.

Regent University is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

The Chicago School of Professional Psychology

The Chicago School of Professional Psychology

An M.A. in Clinical Mental Health Counseling at the Chicago School of Professional Psychology is a part-time online program that usually takes 3 years to complete. Professional development plans are specific to the state or country in which you intend to pursue licensure.

Topics of study include ethics, research, and multiculturalism.

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

Union Institute and University

Union Institute and University’s Master of Arts in Clinical Mental Health Counseling is CACREP accredited and requires 60 credit hours of coursework. This is an online program with full-time and part-time scheduling options.

Residencies are currently being held virtually. This program can help enable you to become a Licensed Professional Counselor or to pursue a doctoral degree.

Union Institute and University is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.

University of Louisiana – Monroe

University of Louisiana Monroe

An M.S. in Clinical Mental Health Counseling is available in a completely online format at the University of Louisiana—Monroe. The program uses a cohort model and offers a variety of electives and focus areas.

Class sizes are capped at 15 students. Because the program is entirely online, there is no out-of-state tuition.

The University of Louisiana Monroe is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

Wake Forest University

Wake Forest University

Wake Forest University offers an online Master of Arts in Counseling with a concentration in Clinical Mental Health Counseling. Graduates of this program have a 95% pass rate on the National Counselor Exam.

The curriculum emphasizes building therapeutic relationships and learning specialized clinical skills. Internships are available through Wake Forest’s network of industry partners.

Wake Forest University is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

Getting Your Masters Degree Online

masters in clinical mental health counseling 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.

Ready to start your journey?
Brenda Pyzik
WRITTEN BY
Brenda Pyzik
Brenda earned her bachelor’s degree in sociology from the University of Waterloo, with a minor in legal studies. She obtained a graduate certificate in human resource management from Georgian College. Brenda’s focus is on employment, entrepreneurship, business, and training and development.