What is a Mental Health Counselor?

Female patient clasps her hands while talking to a mental health counselor takes notes.

Mental health counselors are skilled professionals who treat a wide range of presenting concerns including anxiety, depression, relationship problems and substance use.

Common tasks for a mental health counselor include:

  • Evaluating clients’ mental and physical health and assessing readiness for treatment
  • Developing and overseeing treatment goals and plans with clients
  • Helping clients with the skills and behaviors needed to face issues
  • Referring clients to resources and services, such as support groups
  • Conducting outreach programs to help people identify signs of destructive behavior

Many mental health counselors work with a variety of individuals, families, couples, and groups. However, some counselors specialize within populations like children, college students, or the elderly. Common work environments include mental health centers, hospitals, prisons, and private practice.

Techniques and approaches utilized are based on the situation as well as the mental health counselor’s background and preferences. One common example is cognitive behavior therapy (CBT). It is used to treat illnesses such as anxiety, eating disorders, personality disorders, and substance abuse. For instance, CBT may be used in the treatment of specific phobia, which is an anxiety disorder involving a fear of something like flying, heights, or animals. CBT for specific phobia would involve strategies to view and cope with the feared object or situation. A major focus would be exploring alternative beliefs about fears (cognitively), and exposure therapy would try to gradually change the client’s response to the feared object or situation (behaviorally).

Career Growth

Nearly one in five adults in the United States is diagnosed with a mental illness, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. This statistic is one of the factors contributing to a projected increase to the employment rate of mental health counselors of 23 percent by 2026. Other factors include people continuing to seek mental health counseling services and state governments turning to treatment and counseling services for individuals suffering from substance use disorder instead of jail time, as well as the ongoing need for mental health counselors to work with military veterans.

As of 2016, nearly 140,000 mental health counselors were employed in the United States.

Mental Health Counselor Salary Potential

The annual mean wage for mental health counselors is $46,050, according to the BLS. The highest 10 percent earn more than $70,100, while the lowest 10 percent earn less than $26,950. A mental health counselor’s salary can vary greatly depending on the industry. Top paying industries include management, scientific, and technical consulting services ($65,680), junior colleges ($65,090), and insurance carriers ($62,100).

Education Required

All states require mental health counselors to have a master’s degree and 2,000 to 4,000 hours of supervised clinical experience. The degrees accepted vary by state but are typically in mental health counseling or psychology. Counselors must pass a state-issued exam and complete continuing education annually.

Undergraduate study typically involves a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology. This degree is standard for obtaining a foundation in psychology needed for entry-level industry roles and graduate study associated with careers like mental health counselor. Start your journey toward becoming a mental health counselor with an online bachelor’s in psychology from Rivier University. You’ll develop writing and analytical skills while learning about specialized study topics in the program, including drugs and behaviors, counseling theories and practice, human sexuality, social psychology, and more. That strong foundation will open up several career paths after graduation.

Once you earn your degree, you’ll be able to immediately pursue roles such as social service case manager, residential counselor, youth rehabilitation counselor, group care worker, site support specialist, research assistant, and behavior interventionist. You’ll also be prepared to enter graduate study to pursue roles like mental health counselor, marriage and family therapist, and psychologist.

Study in a fully online learning environment, which allows you to complete your education and maintain your current work and personal schedule. Multiple term starts, a generous transfer credit policy, and competitive tuition rates are all designed to help you start, and finish, faster. Rivier University has been educating students to transform the world for more than 80 years, so you can trust you will receive a high-quality education in a format designed to help you succeed.