Careers for Mental Health Counselors

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published February 22, 2021

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Possible careers for mental health counselors offer a range of ways to help patients in a variety of situations, from children in a group home to professionals in need of career guidance. Becoming a counselor can often involve multiple degrees and licensing requirements, depending on the type of counselor and your intended career path. The benefit, however, is a career that can help people who are struggling with difficulties, which many people find rewarding.

In this article, we explain what a mental health counselor is, why you might choose a career as a counselor, how to start a job as a counselor and provide some examples of mental health counselor jobs.

What is a mental health counselor?

A mental health counselor is a type of mental health professional that offers counseling services to their clients. You might guide your clients through a specific type of treatment or multiple types of treatment together. Each mental health counselor will specialize in the types of therapy that serves your clients best, and you may find that as you grow your career that you add other therapeutic methods.

You work in a variety of professional contexts, including at mental health facilities, private practice, hospitals, substance abuse centers and schools. The type of work a mental health counselor does requires a great deal of empathy, as well as problem-solving skills, knowledge of therapeutic methods and the ability to practice active listening.

Related: What Is a Mental Health Professional? Career Definition and Types

Mental health counselor vs psychotherapist

A mental health counselor differs slightly from a psychotherapist in that the counselor often treats acute, short-term problems and a psychotherapist might treat the same patient for years. The education requirements for each type of mental health professional are similar, as psychotherapists often have a bachelor's degree in a mental health major and a master's degree in psychotherapy. The primary difference is the types of issues you treat and the methods used for treatment, including different styles of therapy.

Related: How Much Does a Psychotherapist Make?

Why choose a career as a mental health counselor?

Many mental health counselors choose this career because of a desire to help people. Mental health counselors can often positively affect your clients' lives through therapy and other forms of treatment. Mental health counselors may also be interested in how the human brain and human behavior works and want to learn more through working with patients.

It's also common for mental health counselors to see counselors for your own mental health, either to treat a specific mental health issue or to manage the stress of your work, and so you often appreciate the process as a patient as well. Mental health counselors usually believe in the positive potential of mental health treatment for yourselves and others. You may even decide to become a mental health counselor because of the positive impact your own mental health professionals have had on your life.

How can you start a job as a mental health counselor?

To work as a mental health counselor, you are usually required to have both a Bachelor's Degree and a Master's Degree in Counseling. Depending on where you live, this might be a requirement of your location, such as city or state, or it might be a requirement of your employer. Your major for your bachelor's degree can vary, but most often mental health counselors study subjects like psychology, behavioral science or counseling.

Once you have completed your education, you will probably have other licensing requirements, such as working for a certain amount of hours under the supervision of a licensed counselor and a licensing exam. These requirements can vary depending on the type of work you want to do, your employer's expectations and the place you live.

Related: Guide for How To Become a Mental Health Counselor

Mental health counselor jobs

Here are some common careers for mental health counselors:

1. Residential counselor

National average salary: $30,326 per year

Primary duties: A residential counselor is a mental health professional that works at a facility where patients live. These patients might be mentally ill, physically disabled, elderly or dealing with any other issue that makes it difficult for them to live alone. The residential counselor might assist the patients with their activities of daily living, such as getting dressed and eating, or they might help the patients learn skills to live on their own.

2. Youth counselor

National average salary: $30,368 per year

Primary duties: A youth counselor is a type of mental health counselor that works specifically with children and teens that need mental health care. They assist their patients with mental health counseling, but they also work with them to navigate the facilities and any tasks they're expected to fulfill. They might work at a school or a group home that houses youths.

3. Career counselor

National average salary: $42,398 per year

Primary duties: A career counselor works with clients who are trying to determine what to do with their career and what goals would be the best fit for their education, experience and skills. They might work at a school or university, or they might have a private practice.

4. Crisis intervention specialist

National average salary: $43,570 per year

Primary duties: A crisis intervention specialist is a mental health professional that works with patients who are in crisis because of harmful behaviors or suicidal thoughts. They might have a private practice or work at a healthcare facility, and often they see patients only for a brief period to help them manage the crisis before they work with other mental health professionals.

5. Substance abuse counselor

National average salary: $59,007 per year

Primary duties: A substance abuse counselor works with patients who are struggling with addiction issues. This might involve alcohol, drugs or other dependencies such as eating disorders. They may work at a private clinic, an inpatient recovery facility, a hospital or a correctional facility.

6. Clinical director

National average salary: $86,253 per year

Primary duties: A clinical director is a healthcare professional that manages and oversees a healthcare facility such as a hospital or clinic. Their responsibilities might include the facility's budget, managing personnel, keeping the facility in line with regulations and rules and creating patient programs. A counselor might be interested in this role because of their interpersonal skills, especially at a mental health facility.

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