What Can You Do With a Masters in Mental Health Counseling?

A mental health counseling master's program trains students to treat patients in private clinics, hospitals and rehabilitation facilities. A master's degree is commonly required for counselors to begin practice in the field. Licensure is also mandated by all states, though criteria for license eligibility varies.

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Careers Associated with a Master's Degree in Mental Health Counseling

Once the master's program has been completed, the graduate may become licensed to work as a mental health counselor working with families, individuals and groups. These counselors often treat suicidal patients, trauma, self-esteem issues and relationship problems. In some cases, the counselor helps a client with a patient's job, life or educational concerns.

A mental health counselor's earnings often depend on location. Counselors may find jobs in outpatient care centers, family service centers, hospitals, schools and private practice. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, mental health counselors earned an average annual wage of $43,290 in 2012. The highest salaries were earned by those working for insurance carriers, while counselors working in junior colleges reportedly earned the lowest (www.bls.gov).

Alternative career options may include clinical director, substance abuse counselor and mental health clinician. In February 2014, PayScale.com reported the 10th to 90th percentile salary ranges for master's degree holders working in these careers: clinical director ($50,980-$64,500), substance abuse counselor ($29,770-$42,680) and mental health clinician ($33,320-$64,564).

Degree Program Overview

Most master's programs expect applicants to have an undergraduate degree in psychology or, at a minimum, completed prerequisite courses in counseling and psychology. Graduate programs train students to understand and recognize cultural diversity, professional problem solving, scholarly inquiry and ethical practice. Several specialized programs exist at the master's level under the umbrella of mental health counseling, such as community or public health, education, rehabilitation and clinical counseling.

Courses

Master's programs provide students with clinical work in an intern capacity. The internship may take place at a local community health center or a university-affiliated hospital. Prior to this practical experience, students must participate in courses that train them how to properly care for and manage a variety of patients and mental disorders. Lectures and simulated lab work may consist of the following topics and activities:

  • Psychotherapy
  • Neuropsychology
  • Behavioral approaches
  • Group therapy
  • Ethical behavior
  • Treatment planning
  • Research methods
  • Personality theory

State Licensure Info

Depending on the state, students may have to gain a certain amount of post-graduate supervised work experience to become a certified counselor. For instance, those interested in marriage and family counseling may have to complete two years or 3,000 hours of mentored practice beyond a master's degree in order to become licensed. A master's degree is the minimal degree required in most states to practice as a licensed mental health counselor.

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