The subject of mental health continues to increase in importance year after year. As a result, mental health counselors alone are expected to grow as a profession by roughly 23% in the next 10 years, according to the BLS. These mental health professionals help to observe, diagnose, and treat individuals who suffer from various mental health concerns. Such concerns and issues might include anxiety, bipolar disorder, depression, eating disorders, PTSD, schizophrenia, and more. A master’s degree in mental health, also referred to as mental health counseling, is essential for most mid-level and higher career paths. You could work in a wide array of work environments, such as a hospital, clinic, school, corporate office, private practice, or community center. Additionally, now that insurance companies are finally providing coverage for mental health services, this industry could be experiencing some much-needed financial injections in both the public and private sectors.
Psychology Counseling Degrees & Career Paths
Because the mental health profession is growing rapidly and is a highly sensitive and serious subject, a master’s degree in mental health is essential for any career advancement and pay increases. This degree will vastly expand your employment options. With a master’s degree in mental health, you can work for far more employer types, including medical facilities, private practice psychologist or psychiatrist offices, treatment centers, government-run agencies, schools, non-profits, community outreach programs, and corporations. The top colleges and universities that offer a master’s degree in mental health will have an accredited program by the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP) so that all program graduates are able to become licensed mental health counselors upon graduation. This is a critical step to your career success.
It is important to note that while many employers require a master’s degree for even relatively low-paying jobs compared to other industries, you must consider your return on investment before you select a degree program. If you select one of the most reputable degree programs that cost $30,000 or more, you must ensure the salary you can obtain upon completion of your degree will allow you to pay back any money you must borrow to complete your degree. Make sure good-paying jobs in mental health exist in the job market in which you wish to work. It is also important to note that a master’s degree will add at least a few years to your educational experience. If you are unable to attend a program full-time, it could take longer. This could delay your pay increases and take away from any social or family life you might have for the duration of your program. If you simply wish to be an aide, technician, or an assistant, a master’s degree may not be the right fit for you at this time.
Overview of a Master's in Mental Health
What Mental Health Master’s Degrees are Available?
Degrees in counseling or psychology used to be the only options for people in mental health. Today, people can now select specialized degree programs specifically designed for mental health careers and the mental health needs of today, such as clinical rehabilitation and mental health counseling and others.
- Master of Arts (MA) in Mental Health:
An MA in mental health focuses on clinical work and will prepare program participants for licensure and to continue on to a doctoral degree. This is often the most common type of mental health master’s degree as it centers around health services, communication skills, and other social sciences and liberal arts courses.
- Master of Science (MS) in Mental Health:
An MS in mental health often prepares program participants for more clinical work and research. Much like the MA, graduates will also be ready to pursue licensure and a doctorate degree. An MS degree will focus on analysis and critical thinking in addition to mental health methodologies.
- Master of Education (EdM) in Mental Health:
Some colleges and universities offer mental health degrees through their education departments with an EdM in mental health. These degrees focus their curriculum around individuals who wish to work in school settings as a mental health counselor.
- Dual Degrees in Mental Health:
Dual degrees are becoming increasingly commonplace to ensure people are as qualified as possible in every field. You can pursue a dual degree in many areas, including medical sciences and mental health, doctor of osteopathic medicine and an MS in mental health counseling, MS in crime and justice studies and MS in mental health counseling, or an MS in counseling and an EdS (Education Specialist).
If you wish to participate in an accredited program that will lead to licensure or a doctoral degree, you will require a bachelor’s degree from a regionally accredited college or university with at least a 3.0 GPA. You do not have to complete a bachelor’s degree in mental health; however, you will be required to have completed several related courses, such as in psychology, sociology, and statistics. You will also require letters of recommendation, personal statements regarding your professional mental health career goals and ambitions, extracurricular activities, community involvement, and possibly more. Keep in mind that if your application is approved, you may have to travel to the college or university for an interview for official acceptance into the program and be sure to check with the school to determine the application requirements for their dual degree programs, as many will expect you to apply for both degrees separately and at the same time.
How long does it take to earn a Mental Health Master’s?
The majority of master’s degrees in mental health counseling are two-year programs. It is important to note that many programs require up to 1,000 clinical hours of hands-on counseling or related work experience prior to graduation. You will complete the majority of these hours in year two of your degree program. If you are unable to participate in a program as a full-time student, you may require a year or two extra to complete your degree. If you complete a dual degree, it will take several more years. Keep in mind that programs do not include counseling state licensure. You will have to complete this on your own time after graduation. Licensure is a requirement for most employers. To take this exam, be sure to choose a college or university that has a CACREP-accredited mental health program.
Potential Careers in Mental Health with a Master’s
- Behavioral Health Director
As a behavioral health director you will be responsible for the coordinated efforts to manage all behavioral health services related to inpatient and outpatient care. You will be required to delegate responsibilities, establish relationships, and regularly update your skills.
Average Income: $83,100
- Licensed Professional Counselor
A licensed professional counselor works with patients to establish goals and to improve their mental health. You will be in charge of administration work alongside counseling sessions, consultations, case management, and more depending upon your employer type.
Average Income: $46,500
- Social or Community Service Manager
A social or community service manager oversees the day-to-day operations of a social services department. You might work for a private medical facility or the government. Goals of these positions include improving the quality of life for clients and assisting with their healing process.
Average Income: $48,700
- Mental Health Program Manager
A mental health program manager will create and relay eligibility requirements for programs in the best interest of the organization and the patients. You will gather patient information, monitor progress, and adapt programs as necessary. It will also be your responsibility to work with other mental health professionals, maximize patient satisfaction, and meet with the families of patients.
Average Income: $54,800
- Executive Director
An executive director in the profession of mental health is one of the top managerial positions of a business or organization. You will develop and execute strategic directives that are designed to improve client care in a cost-effective and timely manner. You will also be required to perform various analyses to improve operational performance.
Average Income: $77,600
Options to Advance
As a mental health professional, you can expect to be underpaid for your experience and your education by most employers. The money and funding are significantly lacking, as the importance of mental health is still astonishingly underestimated and undervalued by most lawmakers and citizens today. If you wish to continue to advance your career and earn more money, it is essential that you continue your education. This could be in the form of specialized certificates or doctoral degrees. Certificates in mental health can help you achieve higher paying jobs with more responsibility. With a doctoral degree, you might become a professor, psychologist, or a psychiatrist. You could also perform invaluable research that could help millions who struggle with mental health issues. These jobs also have higher salaries.
Best Master of Science in Mental Health Programs
Becker College offers a unique mental health master’s degree in that, many of the clinical hours are completed at the campus-based Community Counseling Clinic. You will also have the option to train at offsite mental health practices and research facilities to complete your clinical hours in full for a more broad and well-rounded experience.
- MA in Mental Health Counseling
North Andover, Maryland
Merrimack College provides a more intimate master’s degree in clinical mental health counseling with smaller class sizes, customized curriculum, faculty who are active practitioners in mental health, and a focus on social justice. You will also be eligible for their exclusive fellowship program.
- MS in Clinical Mental Health Counseling
New York University (NYU)
New York City, New York
NYU offers a mental health and wellness master’s degree that prepares program participants to work in a variety of areas within mental health, including private practices, addiction treatment centers, community employers, and mental health centers. You will be able to apply for licensure upon graduation.
- MA in Mental Health and Wellness
Belmont University has an MA in mental health counseling degree that offers a theology and Christian ministry approach to the degree program. This program is ideal for those who wish to counsel patients and clients with a Christian approach through marriage, couple and family counseling, clinical mental health counseling, and clinical pastoral therapy.
- MA in Mental Health Counseling
Boston University (BU)
The MA in mental health counseling and behavioral medicine degree at BU focuses on health psychology, neuroscience and behavioral medicine. Graduates are having a direct influence on the way in which mental health behavior change is approached in the US alongside the overall treatment of medical illnesses.
- Master of Arts in Mental Health Counseling & Behavioral Medicine
Traditional Schools Offering an MS in Mental Health
University of Louisiana at Monroe
The University of Louisiana at Monroe offers an MS in counseling with a pathway to clinical mental health counseling. This program prepares participants for clinical mental health counseling licensure upon completion of the degree. This program focuses on emotional disorders and prepares participants to work in couples, family, group, and individual counseling.
- MS in Clinical Mental Health Counseling
Northwestern University has an MA in counseling that is CACREP accredited. The program balances both coursework and clinical experience. It focuses on learning through doing rather than simply a theoretical approach. It’s also designed for individuals who wish to change professions or to advance their existing mental health career path.
- MA in Counseling
Virginia Beach, Virginia
Regent University offers an MA in clinical mental health counseling. Graduates will be prepared to take the licensure exam, as it is a CACREP-accredited program. The degree centers around building relationships, hands-on experience, and a balance of faith and science.
- MA in Clinical Mental Health Counseling
The mental health counseling master’s degree at Bradley University is CACREP accredited. This program will prepare you for state licensure upon graduation and ensure you complete at least 750 hours of hands-on experience through internships and practicums. The program also offers you the option to choose courses based on the mental health specialization you prefer.
- MA in Clinical Mental Health Counseling
Wake Forest University
Winston-Salem, North Carolina
The master’s degree in counseling clinical mental health at Wake Forest University provides several unique aspects, including tutoring services, technical support, internships with industry partners, CACREP accreditation, and a 95% pass rate for graduates on the National Counselor exam. The program focuses on specialized clinical skills and therapeutic relationship building.
- MA in Counseling in Clinical Mental Health