Mental Health Counselor

Job Duties

Mental health counselors treat mental and emotional disorders. They assist individuals, groups, and families in seeking optimal mental health. They use many different types of therapeutic techniques and help people with all sorts of issues and disorders, including depression, addiction and substance abuse, suicidal impulses, stress management, problems with self-esteem, issues associated with aging, job and career concerns, educational decisions, issues related to mental and emotional health, and family, parenting, and marital or other relationship problems. They usually work alongside other specialists in the mental health field, including psychiatrists, psychologists, clinical social workers, psychiatric nurses, and school counselors.

Job Skills

Those interested in becoming mental health counselors should have a number of desirable traits. They should be interested in counseling and helping people who are experiencing challenging situations. They need to be able to inspire trust and respect in their clients. They should have the ability to work independently without supervision. They also need to be able to adhere to the code of ethics for their counseling certifications and licenses.


In 2002, mental health counselors earned a median annual salary of $29,940. Earnings ranged from the lowest 10%, who earned less than $19,760, to the highest 10%, who earned more than $50,170.

Training and Education

A master’s degree is the most common minimum requirement for mental health counselors. This is usually a requirement to be licensed or certified. In some States, counselors who are employed by public agencies are required to have a master’s degree, while some States only require a bachelor’s degree. College courses include study in college student affairs, education, gerontological counseling, marriage and family counseling, substance abuse counseling, rehabilitation counseling, agency or community counseling, clinical mental health counseling, counseling psychology, and career counseling. There are about 176 institutions in the U.S. that have counseling programs accredited by the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP).

Many counselors become voluntarily certified by the National Board for Certified Counselors, Inc., earning the credential of “National Certified Counselor.” Voluntary certification is also offered by the Commission on Rehabilitation Counselor Certification. Counselors can advance to become supervisors or administrators, or they may move into research, consulting, or college teaching. You can explore more about training for mental health counselor careers by clicking on this link for schools offering human services degrees.


In 2002, mental health counselors held about 122,00 jobs. A growing number are self-employed.

Job Outlook

Between 2002 and 2012, employment of mental health counselors is expected to increase faster than the average. There are usually fewer graduates of counseling programs each year than there are job openings, resulting in very favorable opportunities. Demand for mental health counselors will grow mainly because of a growing societal acceptance of people who seek professional help with their personal and family problems. More employers are offering programs in which employees can receive help with mental health and alcohol and drug abuse problems. More and more people will turn to mental health counselors for help with these problems, as well as for assistance with improving their everyday well-being and stress management.