Mental health counselors have obtained a college education to be able to provide guidance and treatment to patients who come to them for help with a variety of difficulties. This can include emotional and mental issues, acrimonious relationships with others, or a desire to be create more success and goal-oriented outcomes in their lives.

Some patients may be suffering from severe disorders while others could have learning difficulties or problems getting along with others. To help their clients, mental health counselors observe, interview, and talk with them in order to design an effective treatment plan. Sometimes this can be as basic as talk therapy, but at other times could include specific strategies and techniques that patients can put into practice in their daily lives.

Mental Health Counselor

Mental Health Counselor Schools

A graduate-level degree, such as a master's program, helps students to gain theoretical knowledge and practical experience in the mental health field, but also is necessary to seeking state licensure and employment. Mental health counselor schools are available across the country, including at the following schools:

  • Portland State University: An intensive campus-based practicum training experience is part of the master's degree in mental health counseling available at this Oregon-based school. The program, which can be completed in three years, also includes an internship the final year.
  • Capella University: An online education is the benefit of this university's master's degree program in mental health counseling, but field work and residencies help to provide real-life training, and the courses are 10 weeks in length.
  • University of Nevada, Las Vegas: This university's master of science in clinical mental health counseling is 60 semester hours and helps prepare students to take the National Counselor Exam (NCE) and even to seek Clinical Professional Counselor (LCPC) in the state.
  • George Washington University: Located in the nation's capital, this university makes a master of arts in clinical mental health counseling available and has three yearly admission dates. The program incorporates both classroom and field experience, but also requires a two-semester internship of students.
  • Lewis University: This Romeoville, Ill., university features a masters of arts program in clinical mental health counseling that gives students the choice of pursuing either an adult clinical mental health or child and adolescent clinical mental health concentration. Small class sizes also are prioritized.

Mental Health Counselor Education Requirements

A master's degree in a field like counseling, social work or psychology is typically needed to enter the mental health field or to become a marriage and family therapist (MFT), according to the BLS. In degree programs, students learn about emotional and mental disorders, the challenges they may present and how they can affect families or relationships. Various strategies are taught to help therapists assist patients in coping with their challenges. A student in a mental health program at the master's level may even be able to specialize in an area such as addiction or trauma. Additionally, some mental health programs at the master's level can be found online.

Mental health counselor schools like these enable students to advance their knowledge and skills in varied areas, including:

  • Group counseling
  • Grief management
  • Diagnosis and treatment
  • Alternative therapeutic strategies
The practicum hours and internships required as part of these mental health counselor training programs help students to bring real-life context to their work and to offer targeted feedback and guidance to clients.

Mental Health Counselor Certification and Licensing

Certification is not mandatory for all mental health counselors, but it is typically recommended by the BLS. Counselors can get certified through an organization like the National Board for Certified Counselors (NBCC). There are a number of different certifications that can be earned, depending on your specialization:

  • National Certified Counselor certification (NCC)
  • Certified Clinical Mental Health Counselor (CCMHC)
  • Master Addictions Counselor (MAC)
  • National Certified School Counselor (NCSC)

To be able to hold a specialty certification, applicants also must earn their NCC first. A master's degree, specific coursework, and at least 3,000 hours of counseling work are needed to be able to seek certification.

State licensing is required for mental health counselors in most states, according to the BLS. To earn your state license, the BLS reports that the requirements typically include:

  • Master's degree
  • 2,000 to 4,000 hours of post-degree supervised clinical work
  • Pass a state-recognized exam

However, licensing requirements can vary by state and more information typically can be found through a state board of mental health or through a state's department of health and human services.


  • American Mental Health Counselors Association
  • American Counseling Association
  • Association of Marital and Family Therapy Regulatory Boards
  • Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs
  • National Board for Certified Counselors


  1. Apply for Certification, National Board for Certified Counselors, no date.
  2. Mental Health Counselors, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook. Jan. 8, 2014.
  3. Mental Health Counselors, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Employment Statistics, May 2014.
  4. National Certified Counselor, National Board for Certified Counselors, no date.
  5. Clinical Mental Health Counseling, Portland State University.
  6. Mental Health Counseling Specialization, Capella University.
  7. Master of Science Clinical Mental Health Counseling, University of Nevada, Las Vegas.
  8. Clinical Mental Health Counseling, George Washington University.
  9. Clinical Mental Health Counseling, M.A., Lewis University.

Mental Health Counselors Skills

Below are the skills needed to be mental health counselors according to their importance on the scale of 1 to 5 (1 being lowest and 5 being highest) and competency level on a scale of 1 to 7 (1 being lowest and 7 being highest).

Skill NameImportanceCompetence
Active Listening4.885
Social Perceptiveness4.755.5
Service Orientation4.124
Critical Thinking3.884.5

Mental Health Counselors Abilities

Below are the abilities needed to be mental health counselors according to their importance on the scale of 1 to 5 (1 being lowest and 5 being highest) and competency level on a scale of 1 to 7 (1 being lowest and 7 being highest).

Ability NameImportanceCompetence
Oral Comprehension4.54.88
Oral Expression4.54.88
Problem Sensitivity4.385
Inductive Reasoning4.125.12
Written Comprehension4.124.38

Mental Health Counselors Knowledge

Below are the knowledge areas needed to be mental health counselors according to their importance on the scale of 1 to 5 (1 being lowest and 5 being highest) and competency level on a scale of 1 to 7 (1 being lowest and 7 being highest).

Knowledge AreaImportanceCompetence
Therapy and Counseling4.926.63
Customer and Personal Service4.545.69
Sociology and Anthropology4.315.02
English Language4.284.92

Mental Health Counselors Work activities

Below are the work activities involved in being mental health counselors according to their importance on the scale of 1 to 5 (1 being lowest and 5 being highest) and competency level on a scale of 1 to 7 (1 being lowest and 5 being highest).

Work ActivityImportanceCompetence
Assisting and Caring for Others4.745.93
Documenting/Recording Information4.564.48
Establishing and Maintaining Interpersonal Relationships4.565.54
Performing for or Working Directly with the Public4.324.58
Updating and Using Relevant Knowledge4.325.05

Mental Health Counselors Work styles

Below are the work styles involved in being mental health counselors according to their importance on the scale of 1 to 5 (1 being lowest and 5 being highest).

Work StyleImportance
Self Control4.88
Concern for Others4.82
Stress Tolerance4.77

Metro Areas Sorted by Total Employment for
Mental Health Counselors

Listed below are the 10 largest metro areas based on the total number of people employed in Mental Health Counselors jobs , as of 2019

Metro AreaTotal EmploymentAnnual Mean Salary
DaytonN/A N/A
Cleveland-ElyriaN/A N/A
MansfieldN/A N/A
Oklahoma CityN/A N/A
LawtonN/A N/A
TulsaN/A N/A
AkronN/A N/A
Canton-MassillonN/A N/A
Winston-SalemN/A N/A
New BernN/A N/A

Total employment and salary for professions similar to mental health counselors

Source : 2019 Occupational Employment Statistics and 2018-28 Employment Projections, Bureau of Labor Statistics,; O*NET® 24.1 Database, O*NET OnLine, National Center for O*NET Development, Employment & Training Administration, U.S. Department of Labor,

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We have some additional detailed pages at the state level for Mental Health Counselors.

Numbers in parentheses are counts of relevant campus-based schools in the state; online schools may also be available.