An online mental health counseling master’s degree is a post-graduate degree that provides students with a focused education in a specific area of mental health counseling. The field of mental health counseling is a broad one in terms of the available degree concentrations, and offers students the opportunity to focus their studies on an area of mental health care that suits them the best or work as a generalist.
What is an Online Mental Health Counseling Master’s Degree?
Students who have an undergraduate degree in mental health studies do need to earn their master’s degree to get their license regardless of the state they reside in. However, there are benefits to earning a mental health master’s degree beyond gaining licensure. Earning a post-graduate degree is a good idea for students who are interested in working with a specific population and type of therapy. For example, a student can work with children and adolescents to help them understand what’s going on with their development, work with trauma survivors, or help couples and families work through their issues.
A master’s in mental health counseling online program is the same as if you were to attend the program in person. That is, there’s no difference between an on-campus program and the online format. An online master’s of health counseling degree is as valid as the on-campus version, and employers won’t know that you attended school online unless they ask.
Last, but not least, make sure the school you wish to attend has proper accreditation Accreditation for online mental health counseling master’s degrees guarantees that the program you’re interested in taking is reputable and provides you with an education that’s accepted by governments, employers, and the public at large. It also allows you to take out student loans to pay for your education. Always make sure that the online mental health counseling masters program you’re considering is accredited by a recognized accrediting body to ensure you’re receiving a quality education.
Is an Online Mental Health Counseling Master’s Degree Worth It?
Yes, a master’s in mental health counseling is worth it, especially in light of the overall change in attitude for the better towards mental health and self-care. Even so, you may be asking the question, “Is mental health counseling a good career?” The short answer to this question is also yes, and for good reason. The COVID-19 pandemic saw a lot of people make the decision to set aside the stigma of getting therapy. As a result, demand shot up for qualified mental health counselors, and exposed the understaffing issues the mental health counseling field is facing.
Even though the change in attitude happened relatively quickly, it’s one that’s showing signs of sticking around in terms of a cultural shift. Many people discovered the benefits of undergoing therapy during a time of crisis, and are continuing to do so. The demand for mental health counselors is expected to grow, and students who return to get their master’s in mental health counseling will quickly find employment and career satisfaction upon graduation.
Why Should I Get My Mental Health Counseling Master’s Online?
You should get your mental health counseling master’s online if you’re a working professional who wants to add another counseling concentration to their body of knowledge, you’ve graduated with your bachelor’s degree and want to start your career, or you’re an undergraduate who wants to earn a master’s degree from a school of choice.
Mental health counselors who are already working in the profession face the challenge of attending school while working a full-time job and maintaining the needs of daily life. Attending an online program makes it easier to earn a master’s degree in a specific mental health counseling concentration. You learn at a pace that’s suitable for your needs, and schools frequently accommodate the working professional’s schedule. Another reason why a working professional should get their mental health counseling master’s online is the fact that they find it easier to complete the coursework due to their existing knowledge and experience.
An online master’s in mental health counseling program is also a good option for graduate students who need to work and earn their master’s for licensing. It also makes it easier to attend a school of choice from a distance instead of relocating and dealing with the increased costs of staying on campus. Undergraduate students who start their career before they get their license also benefit from attending an online master’s in clinical mental health counseling. Attending school online and working with their client population of choice at the same time makes it easier for a student to apply theories and learn advanced knowledge.
Types of Degrees and Specializations in Online Mental Health Counseling Master’s
An online mental health counseling masters program comes in a Master’s of Arts, Master’s of Science, Master’s of Education, and Master’s in Counseling Psychology. The specializations available in an online clinical mental health counseling masters program include:
- Mental health
- Children and adolescents
- Student affairs
- Marriage, couples, and family
- Religious and spirituality counselor
Some online master’s in mental health counseling programs offer a general degree program that qualifies a graduate to work in most specializations, while others provide a more focused approach to one area of mental health counseling.
What Will I Learn in a Mental Health Counseling Master’s Program?
An online master’s of mental health counseling builds upon your undergraduate studies in mental health counseling. If your undergraduate studies were of a general nature, you’ll find that an online mental health counseling masters program helps you narrow your knowledge into a specific concentration of mental health counseling. Alternatively, if you prefer to work as a generalist, you can further build on your education with one of the available online mental health counseling master’s programs offered by a college or university of your choice.
During an online master’s of health counseling program, you’ll learn how to work with a specific population of individuals in need of mental health care. Each type of mental health issue requires its own approach in order to provide effective treatment. You’ll learn how to enhance the skills and knowledge you learned during your undergraduate studies with a specialized approach. For example, if you’re taking a master’s degree program to counsel people who have substance abuse issues, you’ll learn about what the client is experiencing and how you can help them with their addictions.
An online clinical mental health counseling master’s degree program includes education in areas that include:
- Clinical skills including interviewing, assessment, diagnosis, and case studies.
- Counseling theories such as crisis and trauma intervention, career counseling, age-appropriate counseling, and group counseling.
- Human behavior, growth, and development influences such as environmental, moral, and multicultural communities.
- Treatments in the form of facilitating the correct treatment for a client, monitoring the effectiveness of meds, and substance abuse counseling.
Most online mental health counseling master’s programs are similar to each other, but they also offer something that makes them stand out. It’s a good idea to compare the best master’s in mental health counseling online programs to find one that meets your personal goals for getting a quality education and career satisfaction.
Careers and Salary in Mental Health Counseling
Upon graduating with a mental health counselor master’s degree, you can begin a career working in private practice, substance abuse clinics, counseling centers, care centers, schools, and any setting where a mental health counselor’s services are needed. Careers for a mental health counselor can also be found in non-clinical settings, such as human resources, career counseling, student relations, school counselor, and helpline specialist.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the mental health counselor job outlook is excellent. The field is expected to grow by 22%, or add 77,500 jobs between 2021 and 2031. This rate of growth is much faster than the average job growth rate of 6% for all areas of employment. In 2021, the median pay for counselors was $48,520 annually, and the average salary increases with continuing education and experience.
|Counseling Careers||Annual Median Salary|
|Child and Family Counselor||$51,340|
|School and Career Counselor or Advisor||$58,120|
|Substance Abuse, Behavioral Disorder, and Mental Health Counselor||$47,660|
|In-home Family Therapist||$47,590|
|Community Health Worker||$42,000|
|Residential Mental Health Counselor||$40,560|
Do I Need a Master’s Degree in Mental Health Counseling?
Yes, you need a master’s degree in order to work as a licensed mental health counselor (LMHC) in all states. You can find employment in positions that are related to mental health counseling after you earn your bachelor’s degree, but you won’t be able to get your license until you’ve completed your master’s. This is where an online master’s of mental health counseling degree program can help you get your license to practice. An online master’s in mental health counseling program offers the same concentrations as in-person classes, lets you study at your convenience, and features accelerated programs so you can graduate sooner.
What Can I Do with a Master’s Degree in Mental Health Counseling?
After you’ve earned your master’s degree in mental health counseling for a specific focus, you can look for employment in a number of mental health counseling jobs. There are five major areas where you can look for a mental health counseling job, which include:
- Incarcerated populations
- Children and adolescents
- Couples and families
- Current or recovering substance abusers and addicts
- Individuals with serious mental illnesses
As you look at a mental health counselor job description and salary requirements, make sure that the requirements and pay are in alignment with your education and expectations. You’ll be able to answer the question of “how much do mental health counselors make an hour?” in the job description as well.
As previously mentioned, the mental health counselor job outlook is excellent. Prior to the pandemic, the demand for mental health counselors was strong, and has only gotten stronger in the post-pandemic environment. Finding a mental health counseling job has been relatively easy to date, and it’s only going to improve, along with pay rates, as more people discover the benefits of improving their mental health with the help of a mental health counselor.
Choosing the Best Program for Me
It’s important to select the best online mental health counseling master’s that is right for your career goals. You also need to select a program that leads to licensure in the state you intend to practice in. State licensing bodies have different requirements for licensure, and not all online clinical mental health counseling master’s programs meet state requirements. Make sure that the programs you’re interested in are ones that meet your educational and licensing needs.
The fact that there are so many schools offering online mental health counseling master’s programs means a student has many schools to choose from for attendance. That also means a student needs to narrow down their choices before applying to attend, and the admissions process can help a student pick and choose. Entry into the best mental health counseling master’s programs is often in alignment with a student’s educational performance and ability to understand the material.
Every school has a different admissions policy for its online mental health counseling master’s degree program. Some schools are relaxed in their admissions process, while others have strict requirements in terms of grades and test scores. Still others accept work experience in lieu of other admission requirements. Take the time to go over the admission requirements prior to filling out the forms to find out what the school is looking for in terms of student information and background.
The admission process also takes character into consideration alongside the other requirements. You may be required to obtain letters of reference, supply previously written essays or create one for the admission application, or be able to show an ethical character in one form or another. Schools have found that grades and scores alone do not tell the whole story about the person who is applying, and are seeking to know more about said applicant.
Accreditation for an online mental health counseling master’s degree program ensures that the program you’re attending is one that is held to accepted standards of mental health counseling. That is, the degree program you take is one that provides you with a baseline education that is accepted by state and federal governments, employers who hire mental health professionals, and assures the public that their counselor is using standard practices for treatment.
When you look into an online mental health counseling master’s degree, make sure that the program is accredited by the Council for the Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP). You may also see accreditation from Masters in Psychology and Counseling Accreditation Council (MPCAC) for masters in mental health counseling online programs, but this is a newer accreditation and doesn’t have the same broad acceptance that CACREP does. In fact, many state licensing agencies are moving towards requiring licensees to graduate from a CACREP-accredited program for licensure.
Financial Aid and Scholarships
Financial aid is available for graduate students at the federal and private levels. You can borrow up to $20,500 in Direct Unsubsidized Loans from the federal government, and use a Direct PLUS Loan for the remaining college costs. Pell grants are typically not available to graduate students, but applying for and being awarded a scholarship can help bridge financial gaps. Some of the scholarships available for mental health counseling graduate students include:
- Davis-Putter Scholarship Fund
- NBCFF Minority Fellowship Program
- David H. and Beverly A. Barlow Grant
- Scott and Paul Pearsal Grant
- Pride Foundation Scholarship
- AAC’s Behavioral Health Academic Scholarship Program
- Hispanic Scholarship Fund
- ACA Tomorrow’s Counselors Awards
Certifications and Licensure for Mental Health Counseling
Earning certifications is voluntary for mental health professionals, and isn’t typically required by state licensing bodies. However, all states require a mental health professional to obtain a license to practice in the state. Earning a license from the state grants you a title to use professionally. The titles differ in all states, but you can expect to earn one of these titles with licensure:
- Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC)
- Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor (LPCC)
- Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor (LCPC)
- Licensed Mental Health Counselor (LMHC)
National certifications help boost a mental health counselor’s credentials by demonstrating their strengths and abilities to deliver quality mental health treatment to clients. Mental health counselor graduates don’t necessarily need to get certifications, but it does give them more credibility overall. Some of the best certifications for mental health counselors include:
- National Certified Counselor (NCC)
- Substance Abuse Professional (SAP)
- Master Addictions Counselor (MAC)
- Certified Alcohol and Drug Counselor (ADC)
- Certified Rehabilitation Counselor (CRC)
- Certified Clinical Mental Health Counselor (CCMHC)
- Certified Case Manager (CCM)
These certifications and others like them are offered by various mental health professional organizations. Always check to make sure that the organization offering the certification is one that has a solid reputation and acceptance in the mental health industry.
Online Master’s Programs in Mental Health Counseling
The following list of accredited online mental health counseling master’s programs meets College Consensus’ standards of quality and value. The programs are presented in alphabetical order.
1. Antioch University
Antioch University offers an online MA in Clinical Mental Health Counseling that features eight different concentrations. Students have the choice to focus in areas including professional counseling orientation, ethical practice, and human growth, among others. The program takes anywhere from three to five years to complete, depending on full- or part-time attendance. Online students are required to attend the campus in Keen, NH, for two-week-long intensive residencies as part of the curriculum.
2. Divine Mercy University
Divine Mercy University offers an MS in Counseling – Clinical Mental Health degree program delivers a curriculum that’s based on the Catholic-Christian vision of an individual and a core education that uses industry standards. Students learn how to deliver compassionate care to the communities they advocate for, become effective community leaders, and social justice advocates. The program requires 66 semester credit hours, 100 practicum hours, and an internship of 600 hours, as well as spending three extended weekends on campus during the duration of the program.
3. Gwynedd Mercy University
Gwynedd Mercy University offers a MS in Clinical Mental Health Counseling that enables students to earn their license to practice in the state of Pennsylvania. The program uses a scholar practitioner model that balances classwork with practical experience. Students need a total of 60 credit hours to graduate, a total of 100 hours of practicum experience, and 600 total hours of supervised internships. Some of the classes include DSM/psychopathology, counseling agencies, group counseling and facilitation skills, and marriage and family counseling.
4. Marquette University
Marquette University offers an online MS in Clinical Mental Health Counseling with two tracks that include general and child and adolescent counseling. Its mental health counseling master’s program is based in the Jesuit tradition of service to the community and intellectual inquiry. The program requires 60 credit hours of classes, and has practicum requirements built into the curriculum. It takes three years to complete the mental health counselor degree program online. Graduates of the program are qualified to earn licensure in the state of Wisconsin and other states.
5. North Carolina State University
North Carolina State University offers an MEd in Clinical Mental Health Counseling for students who want to work in clinical mental health settings. Students are also prepared to work as professionals in different behavioral health fields. The program delivers a foundation in clinical counseling theory and practice, developmental theory, and the associated design and implementation of preventative interventions with clients. The online option for the program takes three years to complete with full-time, year-round attendance. Some campus attendance is required during the final year.
6. Regent University
Regent University offers an MA in Clinical Mental Health Counseling prepares students to deliver compassionate mental health care to clients in different professional settings. The program is accredited by CACREP and combines current models and techniques of counseling with biblical principles for a balanced approach to mental health care delivery. The classes are small in size, enabling students and educators to connect more closely with each other. Internships give students the opportunity to apply what they learn in practical settings and earn their required hours for licensing.
7. University of Louisiana at Monroe
The University of Louisiana at Monroe features a fully-online MS in Counseling – Clinical Mental Health program. There is no residency requirement, and the degree requires 60 credit hours for completion. The program has 30 elective courses that help students tailor their degree in favor of their clinical interests. A combined degree track is also available for students who wish to combine two of the three available tracks. Upon graduation, students will be able to earn their license and become effective licensed mental health professionals.
8. University of the Cumberlands
University of the Cumberlands offers an online Master’s in Clinical Mental Health Counseling program that features a curriculum that provides students with an educational foundation to help them become effective mental health counselors. The program requires 48 hours of core coursework with classes that include human growth and development, grief and crisis counseling, psychological assessment in clinical practice and more. The remaining 12 credit hours consist of specialized classes for clinical mental health counseling. The curriculum includes 100 hours of practicum, and two 300-hour counseling internships.
9. Wake Forest University
Wake Forest University offers an online degree program for an MS in Counseling – Clinical Mental Health. Students who enter into the program learn how to provide compassionate care and seek social justice for their clients, expand their clinical and counseling skills, and become eligible to take the National Counselor Examination for Licensure and Certification (NCE) and go on to gain certification as a National Certified Counselor (NCC). Some of the classes in the curriculum include career development and counseling, family counseling, clinical mental health counseling, addiction counseling, and more.
10. Walden University
Walden University offers a Clinical Mental Health Counseling, MS program, as well as a dual degree program that includes school counseling. The program is CACREP accredited, and is one of the largest of its kind in the US. It also uses Skillsetter, a counseling simulator that provides students with an immersive learning experience as they learn how to develop their counseling skills. Students get to work with a diverse group of students, can select from one of five degree concentrations, and receive faculty support when needed. The specializations include addiction, forensic, trauama and crisis, military families and culture, and marriage, couple, and family counseling.
Professional Organizations in Mental Health Counseling
Joining a professional organization for counseling professionals helps you keep on top of the latest changes in the industry, find institutions that provide continuing education credits, connect with other counselors, and find employment opportunities. Counseling organizations feature everything from a broad general focus to a single type of counseling focus.
When you join a mental health counseling organization, you’re gaining access to knowledge, insights, connections, and the wisdom of those who have entered the profession before you. Joining an organization helps your career and boosts your knowledge base in ways that you may never have considered. Here’s a look at a few of the major counseling organizations.
The American Counseling Association (ACA)
The American Counseling Association serves both members and the public by connecting them together through mental health advocacy, influencing government legislation, providing continuing education for members, and helping members find employment. It was founded in 1952 and is the world’s largest association that represents professional counselors in all areas of the field and in different practice settings.
National Board for Certified Counselors and Affiliates (NBCC)
The National Board for Certified Counselors and Affiliates is a credentialing body and advocacy group for mental health counselors. It helps shape government regulations regarding mental health, supports grassroots campaigns, administers state licensing exams, and offers various informational and educational resources. NBCC’s certification program ensures that counselors who have earned the certification are performing at the best of their abilities and are at the top of the profession.
American Mental Health Counselors Association (AMHCA)
The American Mental Health Counselors Association supports mental health counselors in their goal to provide quality mental health services to clients. The AMHCA publishes the latest news related to the mental health field, advocates for the profession, aids research efforts, and makes sure that members engage in ethical practices as well as providing professional development and ongoing education. It also publishes magazines, briefs, white papers, and maintains a blog with the latest news, insights, and changes to the field of counseling.
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