Why You Maybe Need a Master’s in Mental Health Counseling (Spoiler Alert: Jobs)

Why You Maybe Need a Master’s in Mental Health Counseling (Spoiler Alert: Jobs)
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Katherine Gustafson profile
Katherine Gustafson May 1, 2019

"Therapy didn't help," said no one ever.

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More than three-quarters of Americans find mental health important and more than half are actively seeking mental healthcare these days. But mental health services can’t keep up with demand. Almost 40 percent of Americans have faced waits longer than a week for mental health appointments.

As the numbers suggest, the need for qualified mental health professionals is extremely strong, making for an ideal time to begin your career in mental health counseling. Beyond being in high demand, U.S. News & World Report includes mental health counselors and substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors on its list of 100 Best Jobs, and includes them both as among the top 10 Best Social Services Jobs.

A Master of Science in Clinical Mental Health Counseling degree is a straightforward path into this fast-growing field. These programs involve the study of the theoretical foundations, ethical standards, and socio-cultural dynamics of professional counseling. Between exploring the latest research in the healthcare field, students get hands-on learning through practicums and internships.

Here are nine reasons to pursue an MS in Clinical Mental Health Counseling.

1. The job market is hot.
When it comes to counseling, prospects for counselors specializing in substance abuse, behavioral disorders, and mental health are phenomenally strong. The job market for counselors is expected to grow by 23 percent by 2026, more than three times faster than average. The economy is on track to add 60,300 new jobs for substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors between 2016 and 2026.

2. Accredited programs will get you far.
The best MS in Clinical Mental Health Counseling degrees meet the standards set by the
Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs
(CACREP accreditation for short). Enrolling in a program with this certification allows students to proceed in confidence that their education will meet the expectations of their future colleagues and faculty members, and prepare them to obtain the required certifications upon graduation.

3. You’ll be prepped for certification and licensure.
Many MS in Clinical Mental Health Counseling degree programs prepare students to become certified as a National Certified Counselor (NCC) and to meet state requirements to become a Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC) or other appropriate designation as dictated by state regulation.

4. Busy? Check out part-time or online degrees.
For professionals balancing program coursework with full-time jobs or family obligations, the option to earn their MS in Clinical Mental Health Counseling through an online program is a welcome relief. Earning your master’s degree online affords immeasurable flexility, as online programs require only a small amount of face-to-face work in the form of residencies—not to mention, being able to continue working and earning an income while studying. With the growing number of degrees available online, it’s easier than ever to find part-time programs that accommodate your schedule from one semester to the next.

5. Don’t forget earning potential.
While the average salary for mental health counselors in the U.S. hovers around $43,000, a figure that pops up as high as $67,000 in some states (looking at you, Utah!). Having your masters in mental health counseling in larger metro areas could help you earn almost $80,000 in salary.

6. When it comes to where you work, you’ve got options.
From private counseling agencies to employee assistance programs, to in-patient hospital settings, mental health counselors have plenty of flexibility in terms of where they work. Some counselors work in education or academia in a high school, community college, or university—other mental health counselors work for correctional facilities, residential treatment centers, social service agencies, and domestic abuse and homeless shelters. If none of the aforementioned possibilities seem to suit you, you also have the option to set up a private practice.

7. You’ll learn hard skills.
An MS in Clinical Mental Health Counseling degree provides students with some of the most in-demand skills for work in the field. Upon graduation, graduates count treatment planning, supervisory skills, and crisis intervention among the skills under their belts. In clinical mental health counseling master’s programs, students learn the technical aspects of the clinical mental health field, such as bio-psychosocial assessment, principles of diagnosis, research methods, statistical analyses, needs assessment, program evaluation, fiscal and legal issues, and interventions and outreach, among other topics.

8. Hands-on experience is yours (even before you graduate).
It’s not all coursework, after all. You’ll complete a direct service component in an MS in Clinical Mental Health Counseling program, which will give you the opportunity to practice core counseling skills and learn how to integrate more advanced skills. You’ll also likely do an internship involving hundreds of hours of field experience and clinical practice at an approved site.

9. You’ll do a lot of good (for a lot of people).
As a counselor, you can work with young adults, family groups, people of color, LGBTQ+ patients, or any other demographic category. Your MS in Clinical Mental Health Counseling provides a good basis for seeking licensure that will allow you to begin working with the type of people you’d like to focus on. By getting your degree, you’ll take the first step to a career spent helping people confront their issues, learn to cope, and ultimately begin a path to living full and happy lives.

An MS in Clinical Mental Health Counseling is a doorway into a field experiencing extremely robust growth and enjoying new-found acclaim among Americans. Many in the U.S. now consider mental health professionals fundamentally important. We call them, “life-changing.”

(Last Updated on February 26, 2024)

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Tom Meltzer spent over 20 years writing and teaching for The Princeton Review, where he was lead author of the company's popular guide to colleges, before joining Noodle.

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