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Master’s in Mental Health Counseling Degree Guide

A degree in mental health counseling is a necessary step towards starting a career in the field of professional counseling and therapy. All 50 states and Washington DC require that mental health counselors become licensed, and to become fully licensed, prospective professional counselors must earn a master’s degree. Below, we provide further information about master’s degrees in mental health counseling as well as career opportunities, professional certifications, and more.

Quick Facts

  • There are 217 colleges and universities with mental health counseling programs.1
  • 10 schools offer a certificate in mental health counseling.1
  • 12 schools offer an associate’s degree in mental health counseling.1
  • 5 schools offer a bachelor’s degree in mental health counseling.1
  • 197 schools offer a master’s or advanced degree in mental health counseling.1

*For not-for-profit schools with mental health counseling degree programs.

Table of Contents
Why Earn a Master’s Degree in Mental Health Counseling?
Best Value Schools with On-Campus Mental Health Counseling Degree Programs
Best Value Schools with Online Mental Health Counseling Degree Programs
Other Notable Mental Health Counseling Programs
Mental Health Counseling Degree Requirements and Coursework
Professional Certifications for Degree Holders
What Jobs Can You Get with a Master’s Degree in Mental Health Counseling?
Other Degrees in Counseling
Frequently Asked Questions

Why Earn a Master’s Degree in Mental Health Counseling?

Earning a degree in mental health counseling is a key step towards becoming licensed as a mental health counselor and working in this field at a professional level. Although there are some opportunities to work in mental health with an undergraduate degree, all states require mental health counselors to earn a master’s in mental health counseling or a closely-related field in order to become licensed. This means that earning a master’s degree from an accredited school is one of the first steps you will take as you work towards a career in mental health counseling.

A graduate degree in mental health counseling will, therefore, provide you with in-depth preparation for the professional practice of counseling. Master’s degree programs designed to lead to licensure typically comprise 60 credit hours (two to three years of study); this rigorous program model helps to ensure that you graduate with the skills and knowledge you need to make a meaningful contribution to the profession. Doctoral degree programs usually take 45 credit hours (or more) beyond the master’s level, providing additional courses in counseling theory and research that can lead to careers in academia or potentially qualify you for licensure.

Best Value Schools with On-Campus Mental Health Counseling Degree Programs

The below table outlines not-for-profit colleges and universities with the best value based on graduation rate and net tuition cost. We included schools that offer a mental health counseling (MHC) master’s degree and have an average undergraduate graduation rate of 65% or better combined with an undergraduate net tuition cost under $20,000 per academic year. A high graduation rate is indicative of student success overall, while a low net price is an important consideration for many students. Considering such factors can help you narrow down the best mental health counseling programs to support your goals.

SchoolMHC Graduate Degree(s)US News National Rank1Grad Rate*2% Tenured Faculty3Net Price**2
CUNY Bernard M Baruch CollegeMA in Mental Health CounselingNR69%30%$4,119
University of FloridaM.Ed., EdS, MAEdS in Mental Health Counseling#34 tie90%50%$11,313
Indiana University-BloomingtonMSEd in Mental Health Counseling and Counselor Education#79 tie78%42%$11,931
SUNY College at PlattsburghMS Mental Health CounselingNR68%36%$13,614
East Carolina UniversityMS in Counselor Education, Clinical Mental Health Counseling#228 tie65%42%$13,746
SUNY College at BrockportMS Mental Health CounselingNR65%33%$14,723
State University of New York at New PaltzMS Mental Health CounselingNR76%32%$14,882
University of IowaMA in Clinical Mental Health Counseling#84 tie73%47%$15,817
University at BuffaloMS in Clinical Mental Health Counseling#79 tie76%35%$15,895
University of Northern IowaMA in Clinical Mental Health CounselingNR65%50%$16,453
Western Washington UniversityMS in Clinical Mental Health CounselingNR68%40%$17,403
West Chester University of PennsylvaniaMS in Clinical Mental Health CounselingNR75%40%$19,091

Best Value Schools with Online Mental Health Counseling Degree Programs

As more schools offer graduate courses online or through hybrid programs that combine online and on-campus coursework, it is becoming easier to find accredited online master’s in mental health counseling programs that can help you meet your career goals. The following schools offer a mental health counseling (MHC) master’s degree online or in a hybrid format and have an undergraduate graduation rate of 40% or better combined with an undergraduate net tuition cost of $20,000 per academic year or lower. Taken together with other factors, these can be indicators of quality mental health counseling programs that promote student success.

SchoolOnline MHC Graduate Degree(s)US News National Rank1Grad Rate*2% Tenured Faculty3Net Price**2
University of Tennessee MartinMS in Clinical Mental Health CounselingNR48%35%$10,731
Rutgers University NewarkMS in Rehabilitation Counseling, Clinical Mental Health Counseling#132 tie64%30%$11,301
West Virginia UniversityMS in Clinical Rehabilitation and Mental Health Counseling#228 tie60%38%$12,181
University of Massachusetts-BostonMS in Mental Health Counseling#228 tie48%30%$12,412
Southern Arkansas UniversityMS in Mental Health and Clinical CounselingNR41%24%$13,203
Edinboro University of PennsylvaniaMA in CounselingNR45%55%$15,223
College of William and MaryM.Ed. Counseling – Clinical Mental Health Counseling#40 tie91%46%$15,622
Concordia University ChicagoMA in Clinical Mental Health CounselingNR49%10%$16,775
Lock Haven UniversityMS in Clinical Mental Health CounselingNR54%71%$18,491
Oregon State UniversityMCoun Clinical Mental Health Counseling#139 tie67%36%$18,625
Malone UniversityMAEd in Clinical Mental Health CounselingNR57%30%$19,128

Other Notable Mental Health Counseling Programs

Mental Health Counseling Master’s Degree Requirements and Coursework

A master’s in mental health counseling is also commonly known as a master’s in clinical mental health counseling, a master’s in counseling, or a master’s in professional counseling. Although different schools may have variations in titles and coursework for their mental health counseling programs, a master’s in counseling will typically focus on the skills and knowledge needed to become a professional, licensed mental health counselor. Programs may offer opportunities to specialize in a specific population, such as adults or the elderly, or in specific disorders.

As far as prerequisites, to be eligible for admission to a master’s in counseling program, you must have a bachelor’s degree with a strong academic record. Most schools will consider applicants from any academic major, although those who studied closely-related subjects such as psychology, social work, human services, or pre-counseling may have an edge in competitive admissions. Requiring a minimum GPA, such as 3.0 or better, is also a common requirement. You may also need to take a graduate admissions exam such as the GRE, and many schools require or prefer certain scores.

To fulfill state licensing requirements, master’s in mental health counseling programs are typically 60 credit hours in length, taking two to three years to complete. The coursework will generally include at least one formal internship or practicum in a clinical mental health setting. Other common courses for this degree include:

  • Assessments, Tests, and Measurements
  • Behavior Therapy
  • Clinical Diagnosis of Mental Disorders
  • Counseling Law and Ethics
  • Counseling Skills and Techniques
  • Group Counseling
  • Multicultural Counseling
  • Personality Theory
  • Theory and Treatment of Trauma
  • Treatment Planning

Professional Certifications for Degree Holders

Mental health counselor license and certification requirements are different from state to state. However, in all 50 states and Washington DC, the minimum requirement for a mental health counseling license is a master’s in clinical mental health counseling or a closely-related degree. Most states have adopted a 60-credit hour requirement, meaning that prospective counselors must have completed 60 graduate credit hours that include the award of a master’s degree in order to become licensed. All states also have supervised experience requirements that range from one to three years of experience gained after earning a master’s degree.

Earning a degree in mental health counseling can also qualify you for professional certifications. One of the most widely-recognized certifications is the National Certified Counselor offered by the National Board for Certified Counselors (NBCC). The NBCC also offers an advanced certificate, the Certified Clinical Mental Health Counselor (CCMHC). The National Board of Forensic Evaluators (NBFE) offers a specialty Certified Forensic Mental Health Evaluator (CFMHE) credential for forensic mental health specialists.

What Jobs Can You Get with a Master’s Degree in Mental Health Counseling?

Since licensure as a mental health counselor requires a master’s degree, the greatest number of professional opportunities for mental health counselors are found by those who have earned their master’s in counseling. Master’s-level jobs in mental health counseling also include supervisory and management roles, especially in larger health care centers and government. It may also be possible to work in research-related roles with a mental health counselor degree.

License titles for professional counselors vary by state and you should always consult your state licensing board for the most up-to-date information. With that in mind, the following license titles for mental health counselors are typical, and all require a master’s degree:

  • Certified Professional Counselor (CPC)
  • Clinical Professional Counselor (CPC)
  • Licensed Clinical Mental Health Counselor (CMHC or MHC)
  • Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor (LCPC)
  • Licensed Mental Health Counselor (LMHC or MHC)
  • Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor (LPCC)
  • Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC)
  • Licensed Professional Counselor of Mental Health (LPCMH)
  • Licensed Professional Counselor-Mental Health (LPC-MH)
  • Professional Clinical Mental Health Counselor (LPCC)

Check out our guide to mental health counselor careers for an in-depth look at career paths for those with a master’s in clinical mental health counseling or related degree.

Other Degrees in Counseling

Frequently Asked Questions

Can you earn a master’s in mental health counseling online?

Yes! There are many master’s in counseling programs that are offered online that can prepare you for licensure and a career as a professional counselor. Check our schools page to learn more about available programs.

What degree do you need to be a mental health counselor?

In order to become a mental health counselor, you typically need a master’s in clinical mental health counseling. This is because all US states require a master’s degree in order to qualify for a counseling license. However, there are jobs in support roles in mental health for those who have a bachelor’s degree or lower.

Is a master’s in mental health counseling worth it?

Only you can decide whether a master’s in mental health counseling is worth the investment. Consider whether the jobs that interest you typically require licensure and whether there are jobs in support roles that may require a lesser degree as you evaluate your options. Completing an internship or job shadowing experience can also help you decide whether this career path is right for you.

What are the different mental health counselor degrees?

Mental health counselor degrees can be found at the associate’s, bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral levels. Common titles for the degree specialty include Mental Health Counseling; Pre-Counseling; Professional Counseling; Clinical Counseling; and Christian Counseling.

Do you need a degree to be a mental health counselor?

Yes, you need a master’s degree to be a mental health counselor. This is because “counselor” is a protected title, meaning only those who are qualified by state law are able to use it. All US states require that prospective mental health counselors hold a master’s degree and be licensed in order to practice counseling. Other types of counselors, particularly substance abuse counselors, may be able to become licensed with a high school diploma, associate’s degree, or bachelor’s degree.

How long does it take to earn a mental health counseling degree?

The time it will take to earn your degree in mental health counseling will vary based on your degree level, individual program, and transfer credits (if any). As a general guideline, it takes two to four years to earn an associate’s degree; four to six years to earn a bachelor’s degree; two to three years to earn a master’s degree; and three to seven years to earn a PhD, each depending on whether you are studying part-time or full-time.

How long does it take to earn an associate’s degree in mental health counseling?

An associate’s degree usually takes about 60 credit hours to complete. With full-time study, this equates to two years (four semesters) of school; with part-time study, the timeline is usually three to four years (six to eight semesters) of school. To be admitted to an associate’s in mental health counseling, you must have a high school diploma or GED and may need to provide SAT or ACT scores.

What can I do with an associate’s degree in mental health counseling?

While you cannot be licensed in mental health counseling with an associate’s degree, you can find opportunities in support roles such as counselor’s aide or crisis specialist. See our guide to mental health counselor careers to learn more.

Can I earn a bachelor’s in mental health counseling?

While not common, there are bachelor’s degrees in mental health counseling at select schools. This degree will not qualify you for licensure as a mental health counselor, but it can qualify you for jobs in support roles in the counseling field and serve as an introduction to the field before applying to a master’s program. To be admitted to a bachelor’s program, you must have a high school diploma or GED and typically must have a minimum score on the ACT or SAT exams. A bachelor’s degree requires four years (eight semesters) of full-time study; part-time students may take additional semesters to earn their degree. Most bachelor’s programs allow summer terms and may allow you to take additional credits during the regular semester in order to complete the degree on an accelerated schedule.

What can I do with a PhD in mental health counseling?

Although the master’s in counseling is considered the highest degree required for professional practice in counseling, there are mental health counseling PhD programs that are designed for those interested in advanced professional practice and academic careers. Mental health counseling PhD programs usually take 45 credits (or more) beyond the master’s degree level. Select doctoral programs in mental health counseling may lead to counselor licensure in states where this is a recognized pathway.

Can I get licensed with a certificate in mental health counseling?

While a certificate in mental health counseling will not usually qualify you for a license in this field (although it may qualify you to practice substance abuse counseling in states that allow this), it can help prepare you for graduate study and/or a practice specialty. As more states adopt the 60-credit hour standard for a mental health counseling license, a certificate program can also “fill the gap” between a 48-credit hour master’s degree and a 60-credit hour licensing requirement, qualifying you for state licensure.

Are there undergraduate degrees in mental health counseling?

Only a few schools in the US offer an associate’s or bachelor’s degree in mental health counseling. It is more common to find undergraduate programs in related majors such as human services, social services, psychology, and addiction counseling. Associate and bachelor’s degree programs can provide an introduction to mental health counseling and are built on a foundation of liberal arts courses, such as communication, math, and introductory sciences, meant to support advanced study or entry-level careers. If you are planning to become professionally licensed as a mental health counselor, you will need to earn a bachelor’s degree as a prerequisite for the master’s program.

References:
1. US News & World Report National University Rankings: https://www.usnews.com/best-colleges/rankings/national-universities
2. National Center for Education Statistics College Navigator: https://nces.ed.gov/collegenavigator/
3. College Factual: https://www.collegefactual.com/