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Mental health counselors help meet the mental, emotional and behavioral needs of individuals, groups, organizations and communities. Their work includes assessing clients experiencing psychological distress, developing treatment plans and providing therapeutic support, psychotherapy and crisis management.
Earning a master’s degree in mental health counseling is an essential step toward licensure and starting your career in the field.
Admission Requirements for a Master’s in Mental Health Counseling
Admission requirements for mental health counseling master’s programs vary depending on the school. Applicants must hold a bachelor’s degree to qualify for enrollment. While some programs accept applicants from any academic major, many prefer candidates to hold degrees in related fields such as psychology, counseling, social work and human services.
It’s essential to research your desired program’s admission requirements. Applicants may need to meet a minimum GPA and submit letters of recommendation, an admission letter or personal statement and GRE scores.
Master’s in Mental Health Counseling Coursework
Below you’ll find examples of course topics and coursework typically included in mental health counseling curricula at the graduate level.
Theories and Practice of Counseling
Courses on counseling theories and practice provide an overview of foundational theories, counseling processes and methods, treatment modalities and interventions. Students learn to conceptualize client presentations and determine appropriate interventions while also considering matters of diversity.
Substance Use and Dependence
Substance use and dependence courses examine the history of addiction, the neurological and psychological effects of substance use and dependency and approaches to prevention, assessment and treatment.
Students may explore how substance abuse and addiction impact individuals, families and communities. They also learn about available healthcare, social care and criminal justice resources in their state.
Human Growth and Development
Courses on human growth and development explore theories about, approaches to and models and research on human development across the lifespan. Students explore these concepts within various biological, situational, environmental and cultural contexts. Students gain the skills required to critically evaluate and implement evidence-based practices when working with diverse populations of all ages.
Behavior Disorders and Psychopathology
In courses focused on behavioral disorders and psychopathology, students explore key concepts, definitions and theories of various mental and behavioral disorders and conditions.
These courses typically overview behavioral and cognitive assessment models and evidence-based practices used to treat major disorders. Students learn about the cultural factors impacting mental illness and behavioral disorders.
Mental Health Counseling Career Options
Substance Abuse and Behavioral Disorder Counselor
Median Annual Salary: $48,520 per year
Projected Job Outlook: 23%
Job Description: A substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselor works with individuals struggling with substance use, addiction and other behavioral conditions. They create treatment plans suited to their clients’ needs. These professionals also teach coping mechanisms, provide one-to-one and group counseling and arrange aftercare plans to assist their patients in finding long-term paths to recovery. Some specialize in issues affecting particular populations such as youth, the elderly and veterans.
Median Annual Salary: $48,860 per year
Projected Job Outlook: 17%
Job Description: Health educators provide healthcare education to individuals, groups, organizations and communities. They promote health and wellness, teach about disease prevention and educate people about available healthcare sources in their communities and state. Health educators assess healthcare needs, establish goals and develop plans to help their clients make informed decisions in health and wellness matters.
Median Annual Salary: $50,390 per year
Projected Job Outlook: 12%
Job Description: Social workers advocate for individuals, families and communities to help them meet their needs and improve their overall quality of life. These professionals help their clients cope with various challenges such as illness, substance abuse, divorce and unemployment. They also conduct assessments to determine essential resources and develop personalized treatment plans to support their clients’ needs.
Marriage and Family Therapist
Median Annual Salary: $49,880 per year
Projected Job Outlook: 16%
Job Description: Marriage and family therapists diagnose and treat mental illnesses. They also address psychological distress and interpersonal and behavioral issues, helping to resolve conflicts within relationships and family units. They provide premarital, relationship, separation, child and divorce counseling to help their clients achieve stronger and healthier relationships.
Frequently Asked Questions About Mental Health Counseling
What major is best for a mental health therapist?
Psychology and counseling are the most common majors for mental health therapists. Mental health counseling encompasses several career pathways, so make sure to research the education requirements of your desired profession and the licensure requirements in the state where you plan to work.
What is the difference between a therapist and a mental health counselor?
Counselors focus on specific issues that prevent patients from meeting their goals, offering straightforward, short-term treatment. Therapists address mental problems in social and relational contexts, helping their clients trace the roots of their problems and offering long-term care.
How do I become a mental health counselor?
To become a mental health counselor, you must earn at least a master’s in mental health counseling. All states require mental health counselors to pass one or more National Board for Certified Counselors exams. Certain levels of licensure require mental health counselors to complete between 2,000 and 3,000 clinical hours under a licensed counselor’s supervision.
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