Mental health counselors help people manage and overcome mental and emotional disorders. They deal with a variety of issues, including anxiety, depression, grief, low self-esteem, stress, and suicidal impulses. They also help with mental and emotional health issues and relationship problems. They use a variety of techniques, including cognitive behavioral therapy, a goal-oriented approach that helps clients understand harmful thoughts, feelings, and beliefs and replace them with positive, life-enhancing ones. They provide treatment to individuals, families, couples, and groups; some work with specific populations, such as the elderly, college students, or children.
Mental health counselors typically need a master’s degree in psychology, social work, counseling, marriage and family therapy, or a related mental health field. A bachelor’s degree in most fields is acceptable to enter a master’s-level program. Counseling programs prepare students to recognize symptoms of mental and emotional disorders and to use effective counseling strategies. In most cases, mental health counselors must be licensed. Licensure requires a master’s degree and 2,000 to 4,000 hours of post-degree supervised clinical experience. In addition, counselors must pass a state-recognized exam and complete annual continuing education classes.
Pay ranges considerably depending on the type of counseling provided. The median annual wage for mental health counselors was $42,840 in May 2016. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $26,950, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $70,100.
Employment of mental health counselors and marriage and family therapists is projected to grow 19 percent from 2014 to 2024, much faster than the average for all occupations. Federal legislation mandating individual health coverage may increase the number of health insurance customers. In addition, the law requires insurance plans to cover treatment for mental health issues in the same way as other chronic diseases. These two factors will open up prevention and treatment services to more people who were previously uninsured, did not have these services covered, or found treatment to be cost-prohibitive. Mental health centers and other treatment and counseling facilities will need to hire more mental health counselors and marriage and family therapists, to meet this increased demand.