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Overview of an Associates in Mental Health

An associate degree in mental health, or a degree in psychology, provides students with the foundation to begin working in the mental health field. Those who graduate with this applied science, AS, or AA associate degree or a related one, are not eligible to practice as licensed counselors in mental health. However, they may be able to find work as a mental health technician, caseworker, or a shelter manager at an agency that provides mental health services. This degree will also prepare you to further your education and complete other degree programs, such as a bachelor's degree and master's degree, in psychology or the mental health field.

The associate’s degree in mental health courses may include courses and content that cover general education, psychology, substance abuse counseling, family services, social and human services, and some of the following academic subjects.

  • Human Development: In this course, students will study the physical, social, cognitive, and emotional development of a human’s lifespan for a general understanding of how people develop throughout various stages of life. This can also give students insight into the psychology of children and how substance abuse might affect teens differently than adults.
  • Introduction to Development and Mental Disabilities: This course will introduce students to a variety of psychological and cognitive disabilities where symptoms, causes, and treatments are discussed. This is helpful for those who wish to become psychiatric technicians as well as mental health counselors.
  • Introduction to Psychology: This entry-level class will introduce students to psychology while providing them with a foundation needed to understand how the human mind works covering human emotions, dreams, disorders, history of psychology, and abnormal psychology as well. This will prepare students intending to continue their educational journey into psychology with a variety of learning outcomes for graduates.

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  • Spend less for the tuition of general education courses that can be transferred to a bachelor’s degree in psychology or mental health counseling programs at community colleges or a university
  • Provides access to a high growth field as social and human services assistant as well as substance abuse counseling
  • A meaningful career in helping others
  • Students are prepared for work in a variety of settings
  • Plenty of room for advancement with experience and further studies in psychology programs


  • Advanced academics/education programs or a master's degree in psychology is required to be a fully licensed counseling specialist
  • There are state licensing requirements
  • Jobs you can get with this degree have low pay, such as those in social and human services
  • High barriers to entry-level positions

Certificate vs. Associates in Mental Health Counseling

There are up sides and down sides to both certification programs and associate degree programs. You can complete a certification program much faster than an associate degree program, since you will not have general classes to take because certification programs only prepare you for a specific career.

In addition, although every employer may have their own preferences, earning a certification could still land you the same jobs as earning an associate degree would. However, if you choose to take the certification route to an entry-level position, you will not be able to continue your education, as you do not earn credits that can be transferred to an online bachelor’s degree in mental health counseling the way you do with an associate.

What Mental Health Associate Degrees are Available Online?

There are only a few degrees specific to mental health at the associate level; the Associate of Science in Mental Health, teaches students about issues like drug and alcohol treatment, case management skills, therapeutic activities, mental and developmental disabilities, human development, psychosocial rehabilitation, community mental health, and child mental healthcare. After graduating, you may be eligible for the following employment opportunities:

  • Nursing Home Administration Assistant
  • Group Facilitator
  • Shelter Manager
  • Family Support Services Caseworker
  • Mental Health Rehabilitation Assistant

An Associate of Applied Science in Behavioral Health Sciences is another option for students interested in an entry-level position in behavioral health. This degree emphasizes on psychology and sociology and prepares students to take on administrative and assistant roles in mental health services

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Admission Requirements for Counseling Programs

Associate degree programs in mental health counseling may be offered by technical schools and community colleges. Although the requirements to enter this degree vary between states and schools, the basic requirements are as follows.

To enter into an associate degree program, candidates must have a high school diploma or a GED equivalent, provide a personal statement of intent, and all high school transcripts including SAT/ACT scores. In addition, students may also be required to provide immunization shot records if applying to enroll in classes on campus.

How long does it take to earn a Mental Health Associates Online?

An associate degree in mental health or psychology is a two-year degree program that can be pursued at a college or university and is a good start for someone interested in the field. Although an exact number of credit requirements can vary slightly between institutions, most associate degrees in counseling programs require 60 to 65 credits to graduate, which would mean a full-time student can earn this degree in two years.

Also, many colleges and universities allow you to transfer credits from an online associate degree program to a bachelor’s degree program, which can cut the time it takes to earn your higher level degree in half. If you are a part-time student, the time frame may be extended to three or four years unless you decide to also attend the night, weekend, and/or summer classes, which is much faster.

Potential Careers in Mental Health with an Associates

There are not a lot of occupations to pursue in mental health counseling with an associate degree, as most jobs require at least a bachelor’s degree. However, you can enter the field by taking on occupations in a setting that provides mental health services while continuing your education to earn your bachelor’s degree in mental health counseling or something similar. Some of the career choices you will have are:

  • Mental Health Technician
    Mental health technicians typically work in clinical mental health counseling facilities to provide patients with direct assistance and are vital to mental healthcare and human services. Some of the tasks these professionals may perform are assisting patients with feeding, administering medication, grooming, bathing, organizational activities, and therapy sessions. Mental health technicians may also gain insight into treatment plans by observing patients in a calm setting. Other duties may include janitorial work or administration tasks, such as keeping records and answering phones.
    Average Annual Salary: $32,300
  • Shelter Manager
    Shelter and residence managers are responsible for human services and seeing to the safety and needs of residents while also ensuring that things run smoothly at the shelter they work for. They maintain a safe and secure environment for residents by watching surveillance monitors and keeping an eye on the grounds. These managers also often assist and guide residence in moving in and out of the facility, help solve any issues they may have, and see that donations and other items are properly distributed.
    Average Annual Salary: $38,000
  • Psychiatric Technician
    Psychiatric technicians usually work at nursing homes or hospitals assisting the nurses or psychiatrists at the facility with the care and safety of patients with mental illnesses or emotional problems. These technicians may also monitor patients through CCTV or in person, administer treatments through individual or group therapy, and also help to raise their self-confidence by encouraging them to participate in activities. Other duties may include periodically recording patient’s vital signs, weight and height, ensure they eat right and take medication as prescribed, and also watch for and report any changes in their behavior.
    Average Annual Salary: $39,800
  • Behavioral Health Technician
    Behavioral health technicians basically assist a nurse or licensed therapist with patient modification of actions and behavioral development by aiding in designing treatments and behavioral health programs catered to patient’s needs as well as providing feedback to try and correct negative behavior.

    Depending on their employer, a behavioral health technician can work with individuals who have brain injuries or others while following guidelines to consistently administer therapy.
    Average Annual Salary: $32,400

  • Human and Social Services Assistant
    A social services assistant usually works under the direction of a social worker at a government or private facility where they help patients achieve emotional and mental goals and provide similar human services. At governmental organizations, a social services assistant may screen clients to determine if they are eligible for certain services and then later follow up with them to ensure they still meet eligibility requirements and are continuing to follow their program.
    Average Annual Salary: $35,000

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Future Mental Health Counseling Education for Advancement

An online associate degree program in mental health counseling will give students a broad understanding of mental health challenges along with strategies that can be used to address them. Upon graduating with this degree, individuals are prepared for entry-level positions in many areas of social services and can further their education to pursue a bachelor’s, master’s, or doctorate degree. As you reach higher degree levels, there will be many more career opportunities available to you.

The median annual wage for those holding a bachelor’s in mental health is around $47,000. After graduating you can become a case manager and more. The median annual wage for those holding a master’s in mental health is roughly $58,600. The following are just some of the many career choices you will have:

  • Marriage & Family Therapist
  • Sports Psychologist
  • Mental Health Counselor
  • Geriatric Clinical Psychologist
  • Licensed Counselor
  • School Counselor

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Frequently Asked Questions

Will I be able to find a job with an associate degree in mental health?

A degree in any subject can help you to not only find a job but to earn more than you will with only a high school education. However, if you’re hoping to find a job in the counseling or mental health industry, that will be more difficult. You might be able to find a position as a psychiatric aide or technician, or you might work as a secretary in a private practice or mental health facility, but that’s probably as close to the field as you are going to get without more education. An associate degree is best for helping you decide if you want to continue into this field with a bachelor’s degree as you are likely to need a bachelor’s or master’s in order to find a well-paid position in the field.

Is a mental health degree difficult?

These degrees are difficult in some senses. You aren’t likely to have to take high-level STEM math, but you will need to complete statistics and research courses. And you’ll take classes where you will have to memorize parts of the brain, nervous system, mental disorders, and more. You’ll also be expected to think logically and write quite a few papers throughout your academic career. Your skills and strengths, as well as how much time you are willing or able to spend on your schoolwork, will decide how difficult this is for you in many ways.

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