Master of Mental Health Counseling Degree | Salary and Programs 2023

Written by Thomas Short
Published on February 26, 2023 · Updated on April 1, 2023

Master of Mental Health Counseling Degree | Salary and Programs 2023

Written by Thomas Short
Published on February 26, 2023 · Updated on April 1, 2023

Quality of life is affected by a range of factors that encompass both physical and mental health. While aspects of physical health are observed in real-time, mental health and wellness require ongoing observation and human interaction to assess. A master’s degree in mental health counseling prepares you to assess mental health. 

A master’s in mental health counseling teaches skills to promote wellness for individuals with ranging emotional and mental distress. Mental health counseling professionals provide long-term support to improve the mental health and productivity of employees. This investment in human capital has had a direct effect on the demand for educated professionals with secondary degrees in the field of mental health. 

What Is Mental Health Counseling?

As a mental health professional, it is your job to observe, listen to, and communicate with clients to understand their issues and offer personalized strategies to improve their daily lives. Depending on the industry or client, mental health counselors may work one-on-one, with families, or with groups to address the issues that are impacting their psychological health. 

What Can I Do With A Master’s Degree In Mental Health Counseling?

Today there are many viable career options for professionals with a master’s degree in mental health counseling. In higher education, school counselors offer services to students and faculty that seek help with personal issues in school and at home. In the corporate world, many companies establish wellness programs so employees can access counseling to improve stress management, work-life balance, and general emotional health. 

At home, many individuals seek couples and family therapy as a means to resolve personal problems and seek common ground. No matter the industry, mental health counselors provide an essential service that only increases in demand. 

Master of Mental Health Counseling Salaries and Career Outlook

Graduates with a master’s degree in mental health counseling often pursue careers as:

  • Rehabilitation Counselors
  • Psychologists
  • School and Career Counselors
  • Substance Abuse, Behavioral Disorder, Mental Health Counselors

Job growth projections in this field may vary depending on the position, and graduates should note that these statistics are reflections of the current job market that can fluctuate over time. 

Mental Health Counseling Master’s Degree Career Paths 

  • Median Salary: $37,530 
  • Career Outlook: +10% (2020-2030)

Rehabilitation counselors help individuals overcome emotional, developmental, and physical obstacles to promote growth and independence.

  • Median Salary: $82,180 
  • Career Outlook: +8% (2020-2030)

Psychologists observe clients and conduct research on social, behavioral, and cognitive functions.

  • Median Salary: $58,120 
  • Career Outlook: +11% (2020-2030)

A school and career counselor works with students and professionals to navigate their career paths and secure employment.

  • Median Salary: $47,660 
  • Career Outlook: +23% (2020-2030)

These professionals work with individuals to promote mental and social wellbeing to foster healthier lifestyles and avoid relapse.

Source: BLS

Earning A Master’s Degree In Mental Health Counseling:

Getting a master’s degree in mental health counseling can be a daunting task given the financial and time commitment. A bachelor’s degree in education or psychology provided students with an excellent introduction to the field of mental health counseling, although some master’s programs require applicants to complete general psychology or sociology electives to qualify for the program. 

Depending on what school or program is of interest, it’s always helpful to review the application requirements and/or prerequisites. Future applicants should consider admissions requirements, cost, and areas of specialization to be sure that the program they choose fits their criteria. 

Pros And Cons Of Master’s Degree In Mental Health Counseling 

Like many post-graduate degrees, there are positives and negatives associated with a graduate degree in mental health counseling. Time, cost, and post-graduation job placement are all key factors that should be assessed prior to applying. 

Compared to a master’s degree in mental health counseling, a master’s of psychology typically requires students to pursue a specific field of treatment, such as PTSD or depression, with a focus on patient assessment and treatment. If you have a master’s degree in mental health counseling, you may need a doctorate to provide similar services as professionals with a master’s of psychology

Each degree can also lead to very different salaries. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), master of psychology graduates typically earn double what master of mental health counseling graduates earn, so this can be an important factor for prospective applicants. 

Coursework In Mental Health Counseling Master’s Programs

While course loads and content vary slightly by program, many of the courses offered in mental health counseling programs are aligned to meet industry standards. Classes such as Behavioral Evaluation, Human Growth and Development, and Family Therapy teach important counseling theories and can be expected as part of the core course-load, while specialized courses like Substance Abuse and Disability Counseling comprise just a couple of the typical elective options. 

This class looks at how social and environmental factors influence behavior and personality over time.
In this course, students analyze the cognitive, linguistic, and physical development of humans from birth.   
Family therapy helps students understand family dynamics and functionality to address issues like divorce through intervention and counseling.
This course typically serves as an  introductory course that master’s students take to understand the legal, ethical, and professional aspects of counseling.

Skills Learned In A Master Of Mental Health Counseling Program

With a master’s degree in mental health counseling, graduates are expected to develop counseling skills to better understand their patients’ needs. Programs build skills such as:

  • Communication
  • Observation
  • Listening
  • Critical-thinking

How Long Does It Take To Get A Master’s Degree In Mental Health Counseling?

Some graduate programs take one year to complete, while others take up to two years with compulsory post-graduation internships or clinical experience. Most programs require applicants to complete the GRE and submit scores as part of their application package, but it is always best to check each schools’ admission requirements to be sure. 

Factors that impact the length of a degree program include:

  • Previous education
  • Online vs. in-person learning
  • Accelerated course availability
  • Synchronous vs asynchronous learning
  • Part-time vs. full-time course loads

Choosing The Best Master’s Degree In Mental Health Counseling

There are many viable paths to earning a master of mental health counseling. It is important to note that there are both online and in-person degree options, as well as additional certifications and licenses depending on a student’s specialization or field of interest. This section explored the different options available for future mental health counseling students. 

Mental Health Counseling Degree Specializations

When exploring specializations for mental health counseling, first get familiar with the options. Depending on the demographic that you’re interested in working with, you might select a common specialization such as:

  • Early Childhood Development
  • Marital/Familial 
  • Educational
  • Clinical Rehabilitation
  • Addiction

Mental Health Counseling Vs Psychology Master’s Degrees

There are distinct differences between psychology and mental health counseling degrees that have lasting financial, time, and employment implications. According to BLS, a graduate with a master of mental health counseling can expect post-graduation salaries starting at $47,660, while individuals with a master of psychology might expect a salary of $82,180, depending on location and field of expertise. 

From a professional standpoint, it’s important to point out that to provide similar levels of service to psychology professionals, those with a master’s degree in mental health counseling typically need to earn a doctorate. 

Online vs In-Person Graduate Degrees

As with many other degree programs, prospective mental health counseling students have multiple options of study depending on their schedules and goals in the program. 

Future applicants should note that while there are many online options to choose from, human interaction, observation, and lab-time are crucial skills needed for mental health counseling careers. While online learning can offer added flexibility and no commute, on-campus learning provides added social and networking opportunities that can benefit post-graduate job placement. 

If students choose to study online, they can anticipate completing some courses and all required clinical experience in person. 

How Long Does It Take To Complete An Online Course? 

Depending on the format of an online course, student experience may vary. If courses are taught synchronously, then students must attend online lectures and labs at set times. If a course is taught asynchronously, students can watch lectures and study on their own time, ideal for busy schedules. 

Hybrid courses offer a combination of online lectures and in-person lab time, which can be especially helpful for students looking to acquire the skills needed to work with clients post-graduation. Some certificate programs offer accelerated online courses that condense the subject matter into 3-6 week increments. 


Accreditation is an important aspect of post-graduation job placement, and choosing a school that aligns with a student’s career goals is a key part of the application process. CACREP, or the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs is the verifying body that assesses graduate counseling institutions to verify that curriculum and content meet industry standards.

Applicants should also understand the employment implications of choosing an accredited program. Students that receive master’s degrees from an accredited institution usually have an easier time getting licensed and securing a job post-graduation, and some employers avoid applicants with degrees from unaccredited programs. 

Admissions Requirements 

The first step to applying to any program is to check the admissions requirements to confirm that you have the prerequisite experience needed to qualify. Most mental health counseling programs require:

  • Proof of completion of a 4-year bachelor’s degree from a regionally accredited institution
  • Minimum GPA requirements – These vary depending on the program but start at 3.0+
  • Official Transcript
  • GRE test score 
  • Application fee
  • Letter of Intent
  • Two letters of recommendation 

To improve your chances of admission, submit applications to schools with varying rates of acceptance. An effective strategy is to diversify your application list and include both schools with high and low rates of admission.  

Paying For A Master’s Program In Mental Health Counseling 

The overall cost of a master’s degree in mental health counseling can vary. In-state tuition will be much less than out-of-state, so be sure to apply to programs locally if cost is a determining factor. 

Many institutions offer a variety of scholarships that can be merit and/or need-based, which can help minimize the financial burden of pursuing a secondary degree. Some online programs can be more cost-effective and accessible than in-person programs,  providing applicants with options depending on their professional or familial obligations. 


There are a variety of scholarship options for future and current students in the field of counseling depending on the needs and demographics of each applicant. Here are a few to get you started:

Mental Health Counseling Career Resources

American Counseling Association (ACA) 

ACA is an organization for mental health counseling students and professionals that funds need-based and merit-based scholarships, networking opportunities and awards. ACA provides continuing education, career, and publications that celebrate their members achievements and offer information for future counselors. 

American Mental Health Counselors Association 

This group provides networking and continuing education opportunities for future students and current counselors in the United States. In addition to networking galas and conferences, they also conduct policy research and offer credentialing services. 

American College Counseling Association 

This organization is composed of psychologists, counselors, and social workers that work in higher education. Members include professionals in the college counseling field that hold master’s and doctoral degrees. Members have access to a variety of job boards, networking events, and grants for those interested in pursuing academic research in the field. 

Mental Health Counseling Degree FAQ

  • Is a master’s in mental health counseling worth it?
    • If you are interested in helping others overcome mental health obstacles through counseling to foster emotional growth and healing, then a mental health counseling degree is worth it.
  • What can you do with a master’s in mental health counseling?
    • Professionals with a master’s degree in mental health counseling can be school counselors, addiction and substance abuse counselors, marriage/family counselors, or career counselors.
  • How long does it take to get a master’s in mental health counseling?
    • Typically master’s programs take 1-2 years to complete.
  • Can you be a mental health counselor with a master’s in psychology?
    • Regardless of degree, mental health counselors must be licensed in the state they wish to practice, and have a relevant specialization specific to their patient demographic. While there is significant subject-matter overlap, professionals cannot use these degrees interchangeably to qualify for a specific professional role.