Is a Masters in Mental Health Counseling Worth It? [2020 Guide]

Is a masters in mental health counseling worth it? If you have an interest in mental health and a passion for helping others, the answer is likely yes.

Masters in Mental Health Counseling

According to the American Counseling Association, it is necessary to hold a graduate-level degree to work as a professional counselor. Earning the master’s degree demonstrates that you’re qualified to work with individuals and groups, helping them to overcome emotional, mental, and behavioral problems.

With a masters in mental health counseling, you’ll position yourself for a rewarding career that allows you to contribute to the wellbeing of individuals and families.

Is a Masters in Mental Health Counseling Worth It?

School Counselor having a conversation with a student

Yes, a masters in mental health counseling is likely worth it. With a median salary of $47,210 and 16% average job growth (Bureau of Labor Statistics), a degree in mental health counseling can help you launch a career in this human services field.

In most cases, a master’s degree is required for jobs in mental health counseling. Although the median wage reported by the BLS is $47,210, wage estimates extended up into the $70,100 range. Your salary will vary depending on your chosen industry, location, experience, and educational background.

Helping others through a career in counseling can give you the satisfaction of knowing that you’re making a positive difference in the world. Earning your master’s degree can open professional doors for you to develop a rewarding career.

Although a career in mental health counseling does not promise great wealth, there are four jobs in the field that rank among the 100 Best Jobs, according to a U.S. News & World Report survey. These are: school counselor (#81), mental health counselor (#71), marriage and family therapist (#51), and substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselor (#35).

Some counselors work with specific populations such as children, teenagers, prisoners, or the elderly. Others work in crisis intervention with clients in emergency situations. Counselors may work with students in K-12 schools and colleges where academic and career counseling are offered.

Mental health counseling can be a secure, professional career. Many counselors work fulltime in jobs where they earn benefits such as health insurance, paid vacations, and contributions to a retirement plan.

How to Decide Whether a Masters in Mental Health Counseling is Right for You

Mental Health Counselor in her office

It can be difficult choosing which degree is the best fit for you when choosing from the variety of online master’s degree programs in counseling. No matter which master’s degree you choose, whether it is an online masters in marriage and family therapy degree program or an online master’s in mental health counseling degree program, you will invest considerable time, effort, and money in your degree program. It’s a decision that you’ll make after careful consideration.

Here are three reasons why you might make that decision.

1. You want a career as a professional counselor.

In most cases, you will need a master’s degree to work as a counselor. Unlike many careers where you can get started with a bachelor’s degree, counseling jobs often require master’s degrees for entry-level positions.

You see yourself as a counselor who provides vital mental health services for others. Perhaps you admired a special counselor in high school or someone who helped you through a difficult period in your life. Because of your interests and strengths, you see yourself as a professional in this field.

2. You’re interested in the field of psychology.

Psychologists sharing their ideas during a meeting

Are you fascinated by how the human brain works? Do you enjoy listening to people who tell you about their lives and relationships? Does the field of psychology interest you?

If you answered “yes” to these questions, then you might want to be a mental health counselor. As you work toward your master’s degree, you’ll learn more fascinating information about psychology. The great thing is that you’ll be able to put your newfound knowledge to work helping others.

3. You want your career to have a positive impact on others.

If you have a passion for helping others, you probably would not be satisfied pursuing a career that is only focused on making money. Because of your personality and your values, you want to pursue a career that provides value to the people you serve.

Through mental health counseling, you can have a positive impact on the lives of your clients. You’ll have the satisfaction of knowing that you make a positive contribution to the wellbeing of others.

Top 5 Things You Can Do with a Master’s in Mental Health Counseling Degree

Mental health counselor giving advice to her patient

A master’s in mental health counseling is a versatile degree. The top five careers for professionals with this degree are: (1) substance abuse, behavioral disorder, mental health counselor, (2) marriage and family therapist, (3) mental health and substance abuse clinical social worker, (4) school and career counselor, and (5) rehabilitation counselor.

1. Substance Abuse, Behavioral Disorder, Mental Health Counselor

Counselors who work in this field provide treatment for individuals suffering from addiction, alcoholism, and other mental and behavioral problems. They work in public or private mental health centers, community health centers, and prisons.

After evaluating their clients’ needs and behaviors, these counselors develop treatment plans to help clients develop skills for overcoming addiction or behavioral disorders. Counselors also educate their clients’ family members to help them cope with the problems.

2. Marriage and Family Therapist

Family Therapist having a conversation with a family

Marriage and family therapists focus on family relationships in their work to help individuals, couples, and families. These counselors help clients explore their feelings and experiences, and they use a variety of psychological approaches.

Working primarily in private practice, marriage and family therapists help their clients change behaviors and make decisions for the future. Additionally, they may refer clients to treatment facilities or specialized resources for addiction or substance abuse.

3. Mental Health and Substance Abuse Clinical Social Worker

Mental Health Counselor talking to her patient

Licensed clinical social workers help clients with addiction disorders or mental health problems. They may encounter a variety of mental and emotional problems among their clients, and they work to improve their clients’ mental wellbeing.

After assessing their clients’ needs and resources, clinical social workers develop treatment plans to help them overcome mental challenges. These social workers may provide psychotherapy services or refer clients to necessary treatment resources.

4. School and Career Counselors.

School and Career Counselor talking to a student in her office

Counselors in K-12 public and private schools as well as colleges and universities help students to develop academic and social skills. Elementary school counselors help children to develop self-esteem, decision-making, and study skills.

On the high school level, counselors help students with college applications and training programs. Counselors at the university level assist students with academic and mental health challenges. They also address job searches, resumé writing, and interviewing.

5. Rehabilitation Counselors

Rehabilitation Counselor with her patient having a conversation

Mental health counselors who work as rehabilitation counselors provide services for clients with mental and emotional disabilities. They help these clients to live independently.

After evaluating their clients’ interests, skills, and needs, rehabilitation counselors develop treatment plans that move clients toward independent living. They may work with a team of doctors and therapists to locate resources and services that advance their clients’ independence.

Mental Health Counseling Degree Alternatives

HR Manager checking the job applicant's documents

As you think about earning a master’s degree in mental health, you may want to explore other degree programs.

  1. Master’s in Social Work. With a strong preference for helping others, you may be drawn to social work. In this field, you will target individuals and families who are most at risk, and you can help them to achieve goals for mental health.
  2. Master’s in Marriage and Family Therapy. An MFT qualifies you to help couples and families through difficult situations. As a counselor, you’ll guide clients to discuss their emotions and experiences and to make positive decisions for their futures.
  3. Master’s in Psychology. Perhaps you’re fascinated by human behavior, but you don’t want to be a counselor. With a master’s in psychology, you can work in other fields such as research or human resources.

Depending on your interests and strengths, an alternative degree might be right for you.

Mental Health Counseling Careers & Salaries

Mental Health Counseling Careers & Salaries

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, a masters in mental health counseling prepares you for a variety of careers in both public and private sectors.

Most mental health counseling jobs require a degree at the master’s level.

Careers Average Annual Salary
Clinical Director in a Mental Health Care Facility $100,980
Counseling Psychologist
(master’s degree sufficient for some positions, doctoral degree required for most positions)
$80,370
School Counselor (K-12 private or public schools) $57,040
Career Counselor in College, Career Center, or Private Practice $57,040
Marriage and Family Therapist $49,610
Mental Health and Substance Abuse Clinical Social Workers $46,650
Addiction or Substance Abuse Counselor $46,240
Behavioral Disorder Counselor $46,240
Mental Health Counselor $46,240
Rehabilitation Counselor $35,950

The occupational outlook for careers in mental health counseling is well above average.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics forecasts that jobs for substance abuse, behavioral disorders, and mental health counselors will grow by a rate of 25% in the decade 2019-2029. Jobs for marriage and family therapists are projected to grow by 22% during that time.

Rehabilitation counseling jobs will increase by 10%, and school/career counseling jobs will see 8% growth. These projections exceed the average growth rate for careers in the U.S. during the current decade.

Is Counseling a Good Career?

Mental Health Counselor happily talking to her patient

Making a judgement about whether counseling is a good career is subjective. It’s up to you. Maybe you’ve always been intrigued by how the human brain works and how people behave, form relationships, and make decisions. On top of that, you’re interested in using your knowledge and skills to help others.

If your idea of a good career is to acquire money, power, and fame, then counseling is not for you. On the other hand, if you measure success by how much positive impact you can have on the lives of others, then you have a heart for counseling.

How Much Does a Mental Health Counselor Make With a Masters Degree?

Most professional counseling jobs require at least a master’s degree, so it’s the degree that you’ll need to start your career. That being said, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that counselors with bachelor’s degrees earn a median annual salary of $37,000 while those with master’s degrees earn a median salary of $50,000.

Therefore, the median salary for mental health counselors with master’s degrees is $13,000 higher than for counselors with bachelor’s degrees. This means that counselors who earn master’s degree will see a median salary increase of 35%.

What Can I Do With a Master’s Degree in Mental Health Counseling?

Mental Health Counselor comforting her patient

With a master’s degree in mental health counseling, you can work in any of the jobs discussed here. But perhaps you’d like to continue your education. Your masters could be the precursor to a doctoral degree, allowing you to increase your earnings as a counseling psychologist.

Management in a mental health care facility is another advanced career route. With a master’s in mental health counseling, work experience, and education in health administration, you could become a clinical director.

These are ways that you can use your master’s degree in mental health counseling as a stepping-stone to further education and higher-paying jobs.

Getting Your Masters in Mental Health Counseling Degree Online

Masters in Mental Health Counseling Degree student studying online

After careful research and consideration, you may decide to get your master’s in mental health counseling. At that point, you’ll want to explore your program options. Before finalizing your school choice, check to ensure that both the university and the degree program are accredited.

Pursuing a degree online will allow you the flexibility to juggle other aspects of your life such as your current job and family obligations. Investigate the many online master’s degree programs for mental health counseling and get started on your exciting educational journey!

Carol Benton
WRITTEN BY
Carol Benton
Carol is a retired college professor in the field of music education. She holds a Doctor of Musical Arts from Shenandoah University, a Master of Music in piano performance and a Bachelor of Music Education from Virginia Commonwealth University. Carol has many years of experience as a teacher and academic advisor for undergraduates.