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What is a Mental Health Counselor?
Many colleges and universities in Maryland offer counseling degree programs. This is an ideal major area of study for those seeking the knowledge and skills necessary to help people manage and overcome various emotional and behavioral disorders. Graduates often qualify for a variety of engaging and impactful career opportunities in the state.
Counselors use psychotherapy and various psychological treatment services to help single persons, couples, families, and/or groups manage various mental health conditions. This often entails helping patients process through complicated emotions and behavioral patterns, as well as providing guidance and various therapeutic practices. Notably, these professionals are not psychologists or psychiatrists and, as a result, generally lack the ability to prescribe medications.
Still, they regularly diagnose and treat many emotional and behavioral conditions, including:
- Mood Disorders
- Personality Disorders
- Obsessive Compulsive Disorder
- Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
- Eating Disorders
- Behavioral Addictions
The majority of counselors treat patients of all ages and demographics, although some do choose to specialize their knowledge and skills. In these cases, they hone their abilities to better support certain groups such as children, adolescents, the elderly, disabled individuals, or even military personnel.
Job expectations vary, but some of the most common responsibilities include performing client evaluations, performing treatment readiness assessments, and managing treatment plans. It’s also common for these professionals to collaborate with support groups, out-patient clinics, and healthcare providers by making patient referrals.
Mental health counseling can, of course, be a challenging career. While often rewarding, the work can also be stressful and/or emotionally draining. This is particularly true for professionals with large workloads, irregular hours, or involved with on-call emergency duty rotations. You may also obtain a counselor education and focus on a specialization with various counseling degrees in school counseling, counseling psychology, rehabilitation counseling, pastoral counseling, or a related field.
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Online Mental Health Counseling Education in Maryland
Employment outcomes can differ significantly depending on the level of education achieved, however. It’s also important for prospective students to realize that not all academic institutions have programs in mental health counseling specifically. While general counseling degrees are quite common, the option to specialize in this unique subfield is only available at certain schools and academic levels.
That said, those who intend to seek employment in Maryland should give preference to colleges and universities located in the state. These institutions will offer the most geographically relevant curriculums. They will also be more familiar with Maryland’s counseling licensure standards and guidelines.
According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), employment of substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors is expected to increase by 22% from 2021 to 2031. This is significantly faster than the average for all occupations and will result in an additional 43,600 new job openings throughout the nation each year. Employment for social workers and other community and social services specialists is also expected to increase by 12%, which will result in additional entry-level jobs in the field, as well.
The educational services, healthcare, and social assistance industry is the third largest in Maryland. It accounts for $37.8 billion in revenue each year. As of May 2022, the state employed 6,570 of these professionals with an annual mean wage of $61,090. Graduates may also qualify for work in many community and social service occupations. As of May 2021, Kentucky employed 48,520 workers in this field, with an annual mean wage of $58,620. However, it’s important to realize that both of these wage estimates fall below the state’s annual mean wage for all occupations, which was $69,750 in 2022.
Students interested in a school counseling, rehabilitation, counseling psychology program, or other options that will allow you to work as a licensed clinical professional counselor will want to find a program with CACREP accreditation and the appropriate major to support your plans. There are many great colleges and Universities in the state, some of which include Johns Hopkins University, Loyola University Maryland, the University of Maryland - College Park, etc.
Many colleges and universities in Maryland offer degrees in counseling and other related subjects. Prospective students can choose from options at the associate, bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral levels. Employment options after graduation will depend on the type of degree(s) earned, with the most prestigious and well-paying jobs reserved for individuals with advanced academic experience.
It's also important to realize that Maryland only provides professional licenses to graduates with master’s and/or doctoral degrees. Other community and social service occupations may require less education, however.
Online Associate Degree in Mental Health Counseling (AS)
Associate degrees in mental health counseling are relatively rare. As a result, those interested in studying at this level will likely need to enroll in related programs of study. Applicable examples include basic counseling, mental health, human services, behavioral science, social science, and psychology.
Degrees of this kind generally consist of 60 credit hours of coursework that take full-time students approximately two years to complete. These are undergraduate programs comprised of both general liberal arts and major-specific class requirements. While curriculums vary, students can typically expect to study topics in communication, mathematics, and sciences, while also receiving a broad introduction to the field. In most cases, those enrolled gain the foundational knowledge and skills needed to pursue further learning in the future.
This type of degree does not meet the minimum requirements for licensure in Maryland. It can, however, be beneficial when seeking various entry-level jobs in community and social service. Employment opportunities will vary based on the associate degree major selected. Alternatively, graduates are often well-prepared to enroll in bachelor’s degree programs. Most colleges and universities accept up to 60 or 90 credit hours in transfer, making this a logical next step. In some cases, entering students with associate degrees have enough prior credit to enter as juniors rather than freshmen.
Online Bachelor's Degree in Mental Health Counseling (BS)
Bachelor’s degrees in mental health counseling are also relatively rare. As a result, those interested in studying at this level will likely need to enroll in related programs of study. Applicable examples include basic counseling, mental health, human services, behavioral science, social science, and psychology.
Degrees of this kind generally consist of 120 credit hours of coursework that take full-time students approximately four years to complete. These are also undergraduate programs comprised of both general liberal arts and major-specific class requirements. While curriculums vary, students can typically expect to study topics in communication, mathematics, and sciences, while also receiving instruction in various behavioral health and counseling theories. In most cases, those enrolled continue to develop the basic academic skills needed to pursue further learning in the future.
This type of degree does not meet the minimum requirements for licensure in Maryland. It can, however, be beneficial when seeking various entry-level jobs in community and social service. Employment opportunities will vary based on the associate degree major selected. Alternatively, graduates are often well-prepared to enroll in master’s degree programs. Those interested in graduate school must be prepared to meet minimum grade point average (GPA) and Graduate Record Examinations (GRE) score requirements set by their chosen institutions.Top 10 Online Mental Health Counseling Bachelor Programs
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Online Master's Degree in Mental Health Counseling (MS or MC)
Master’s degrees in mental health counseling generally range from 30 to 45 credit hours of coursework that take full-time students approximately two to three years to complete. Every institution’s curriculum is different, but students can typically expect to learn about lifespan development, attachment theory, group dynamics, interviewing techniques, counseling theories, diagnostic practices, and ethics. Those enrolled are also likely to participate in supervised counseling experiences. These practicums provide hands-on experience in the field, which is required for licensure.
This type of degree does meet the minimum requirements for licensure in Maryland. Those enrolled are generally qualified to become Licensed Graduate Professional Counselors (LGPCs) while completing their supervised clinical experiences. Afterward, graduates who meet all other state standards may apply to become Licensed Clinical Professional Counselors (LCPCs). Alternatively, graduates may be able to seek employment in other counseling or community and social service occupations. Completing graduate school often leads to more job opportunities and higher pay.Top 25 Online Mental Health Counseling Master Programs
Online PhD Degree in Mental Health Counseling (PhD)
A PhD or doctorate in mental health counseling may consist of between 60 and 120 credit hours that can take full-time students up to seven years to complete. Every program is different, although most colleges and universities seek to provide students with highly advanced instruction in specialized topics relevant to the field. Those enrolled can expect to learn about both qualitative and quantitative research methods, which are often necessary when preparing dissertations. While the first few years are typically comprised of traditional classroom work, the latter part of the degree is often spent performing independent study, research, and writing.
This type of degree does meet the minimum requirements for licensure in Maryland. Those enrolled are generally qualified to become Licensed Graduate Professional Counselors (LGPCs) while completing their supervised clinical experiences. Afterward, graduates who meet all other state standards may apply to become Licensed Clinical Professional Counselors (LCPCs). Alternatively, graduates may apply for work in other clinical settings or as secondary education professors.
Become a Mental Health Counselor in Maryland
Mental health counselors must obtain licensure before they can practice in the state of Maryland. This process is overseen by the Maryland State Board of Professional Counselors and Therapists.
As the licensing authoring of professional counselors and therapists in the state, it oversees credentialing for the following:
- Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor (LCPC)
- Licensed Graduate Professional Counselor (LGPC)
- Licensed Clinical Marriage and Family Therapist (LCMFT)
- Licensed Graduate Marriage and Family Therapist (LGMFT)
- Licensed Clinical Alcohol and Drug Counselor (LCADC)
- Licensed Graduate Alcohol and Drug Counselor (LGADC)
- Licensed Clinical Professional Art Therapist (LCPAT)
- Licensed Graduate Professional Art Therapist (LGPAT)
If you intend to become a mental health counselor in Maryland, the first step should be familiarizing yourself with the credentialing process. In general, the procedure for obtaining a license consists of completing and submitting the appropriate application, along with all required documentation and applicable fees. Once all educational requirements are satisfactorily met, candidates may then sit for a national examination. Upon receipt of passing exam scores and the required licensing fee, the Board will approve licensure.
Candidates must meet many requirements in order to qualify for licensure in Maryland. Many start by becoming Licensed Graduate Professional Counselors (LGPCs).
To qualify, an applicant must have a master’s degree from an accredited college approved by the Board with a minimum of 60 graduate semester hours and a minimum of three graduate credit hours in each of the following areas:
- Human Growth and Personality Development
- Social and Cultural Foundations of Counseling
- Counseling Theory
- Counseling Techniques
- Group Dynamics, Processing, and Counseling
- Lifestyle and Career Development
- Research and Evaluation
- Professional, Legal, and Ethical Responsibilities
- Marriage and Family Therapy
- Alcohol and Drug Counseling
- Diagnosis and Psychopathology
- Psychotherapy and Treatment of Mental and Emotional Disorders
Additionally, LGPC candidates must participate in a supervised clinical internship, externship, field experience, or practicum placement. This must consist of a minimum of 125 hours of face-to-face client counseling. Once these expectations are met, applicants must pass the Maryland Law Assessment and the National Counselors Exam (NCE). The NCE is offered by the National Board for Certified Counselors (NBCC), which is an internationally recognized leading provider of counseling credentialing exams.
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Notably, LGPCs are allowed to practice for two years under the supervision of an approved supervisor while fulfilling a two-year post graduate supervised clinical experience. Those who desire to work indefinitely need to become Licensed Clinical Professional Counselors (LCPCs).
LCPC candidates must possess either a master’s degree with a minimum of 60 graduate semester credit hours or a doctoral degree with a minimum of 90 graduate semester credit hours. They must also complete a minimum of three graduate semester credit hours of instruction in the subject areas mentioned above. Additionally, passing scores on the NCE and State Law Test are required.
Master’s level applicants are also responsible for completing a minimum of 3,000 hours of supervised clinical experience in professional counseling under an approved supervisor. One of the three years may be acquired before graduation, but the two remaining years shall be in the form of post-graduate clinical supervision. Doctoral level applicants, on the other hand, require only two years with a minimum of 2,000 hours of supervised clinical experience in professional counseling. Of this, 1,000 hours shall be acquired after graduation.
It's important to realize that not everyone who graduates with a mental health counseling degree chooses to become a licensed practitioner. There are many different professional opportunities available to those with expertise in this field. Examples include school counselor, rehabilitation counselor, and vocational counselor, to name only a few. With so many other rewarding community and social service occupations to choose from, considering all your options carefully is recommended. In most cases, it’s best to research areas of interest thoroughly before establishing your ultimate career goals. Identifying your intended occupation will help you find the most appropriate and applicable degree programs and ensure that you are familiar with the associated licensure and certification requirements. Your preferred profession is also likely to influence which elective courses, minor areas of study, concentrations, and/or internship opportunities will be most beneficial.
Potential Careers for Mental Health Counseling Graduates
- Clinical Psychologist
Clinical psychologists evaluate, diagnose, and treat many different conditions in patients experiencing psychological issues caused by mental conditions, environmental impacts, and/or personal circumstances. Common examples include depression, anxiety, and various behavioral problems. As every situation is different, these professionals consider each case and circumstance individually in order to determine the best care plan possible. According to PayScale, clinical psychologists make an average base salary of $83,574 per year.
- Direct Support Professional
Direct support professionals are hired to perform a wide variety of tasks associated with helping people with disabilities. While every situation is different, they often maintain patient records, administer medications, foster community integration, and support the development of important social skills. They may also assist with various personal care activities, transportation, and household chores. According to PayScale, direct support professionals make an average base salary of $34,884 per year.
- Forensic Psychologist
Forensic psychologists provide a wide variety of assistance during legal proceedings occurring in courts, prisons, and mental hospitals. They provide important patient assessments and recommendations, as well as evaluating the mental health and competency of criminals on trial. According to PayScale, forensic psychologists make an average base salary of $73,180 per year.
- Mental Health Counselor
Mental health counselors provide various services to individuals with psychological conditions and illnesses. They are responsible for diagnosing and treating a wide variety of mental health issues, often in a specialized area of the field. As they are generally unable to prescribe medications, their treatment plans typically consist of curative counseling during one-on-one and/or group sessions. According to PayScale, mental health counselors make an average base salary of $45,695 per year.
- Organizational Psychologist
Organizational psychologists are hired by companies and organizations to administer a wide variety of rating scales and psychological assessments to employees in order to determine the most appropriate training outcomes. They use collected data and best practices in the field to coordinate well-organized and productive work environments with managers. They may also participate in staff selection, placement, and education programs. According to PayScale, organizational psychologists make an average base salary of $88,989 per year.
Psychometrists utilize various specialized testing and scoring methods to evaluate the cognitive, behavioral, academic, neuropsychological, and/or emotional status of their patients. They then carefully record and assess the results, which can later be used by other specialists when diagnosing and treating patients. They may also perform a wide variety of clerical duties such as billing, coding, and procuring office supplies. According to PayScale, psychometrists make an average base salary of $48,358 per year.
- Sports Psychologist
Sports psychologists offer advice and support services to sports professionals such as athletes, coaches, and referees. Utilizing their familiarity with challenges commonly related to athletic training and competition, they help their patients develop the skills needed to better manage the various mental and physical demands associated with working in the field. They often assist athletes when dealing with the various consequences of being injured on and off the field. According to PayScale, sports psychologists make an average base salary of $76,927 per year.
- Substance Abuse Counselor
- Substance Abuse, Behavioral Disorder, and Mental Health Counselors. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
- May 2021 State Occupational Employment and Wage Estimates: Maryland. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
- General Licensure Information. Maryland Department of Health: Board of Professional Counselors and Therapists
- Professional Counselor Licensure Requirements (LCPC). Maryland Department of Health: Board of Professional Counselors and Therapists
- The Bureau of Labor Statistics: Mental Health Counselors