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Mental health counselors work with patients to improve their mental and emotional well-being. These professionals might specialize in marriage counseling, substance abuse, or family counseling. They also work with patients' support networks, such as friends and family, to coordinate recovery treatments. Mental health workers can pursue several specialized career paths, some of which require further schooling.

  • National Average Salary

  • Top Paying States

    • $56,300 Alaska
    • $52,660 Wyoming
    • $50,590 Arkansas
  • Number Employed

  • States with Highest Employment

    • 13,750 Pennsylvania
    • 9.950 California
    • 7,450 Massachusetts

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Getting Started

Working in Mental Health Counseling


Generally, mental health counselors must earn a master’s degree before they can work with patients. Aspiring counselors can major in a wide range of mental health fields, including social work or family therapy. Many master’s programs offer students the opportunity to earn clinical experience hours.

Work Experience

Before mental health counselors can become licensed, they typically need to earn 3,000 clinical hours working directly with clients. Most graduate programs provide upcoming counselors with these opportunities, however you can gain further experience by taking on internships or fellowships. A licensed counselor will be your mentor through these clinical experiences.


Mental health counselors must pass state board exams to become a licensed counselor and practice therapy. Students can visit the National Board of Certified Counselors to check the requirements for their respective states. Keep in mind that state requirements vary, and you will need to renew your license periodically.


Health and Wellness Manager

These organizational leaders often take a more holistic approach to wellness and work to find long-term and sustainable solutions to mental and physical health problems. They develop programs that include fitness and nutrition improvements, which can affect the mental stability and physical well-being of a community.

Main Responsibilities

  • Oversee teams of researchers, marketers, and counselors who address health and wellness concerns
  • Spearhead new counselling initiatives that are tailored to at-risk populations in the area
  • Works as liaison between other organization departments and build connections with outside public health groups
  • Serve as an advocate for policies that bolster emotional support and mental health resources available for families

Additional Requirements

This specialization has no additional requirements.

Health Program Coordinator

These leaders ensure that social workers and counselors provide treatment that benefits their target populations. Coordinators typically serve as points of contact with outside organizations, pulling resources to ensure mental health programs are deployed effectively.

Main Responsibilities

  • Monitor effectiveness of behavioral health programs and collaborating with in-house researchers to make improvements
  • Work in conjunction with other behavioral health organizations for maximum program success
  • Serve as an advocate for public policies that benefit populations receiving treatment

Additional Requirements

This program has no additional requirements.

Behavioral Research Scientist

This multidisciplinary job blends mental health studies with social science to examine and evaluate the way individuals communicate, draw conclusions and make decisions. Behavior scientists work in a diverse range of environments, from law enforcement offices to human resources departments.

Main Responsibilities

  • Develop mental health programs based on current data
  • Collaborate with other mental health organizations in the collection of research data
  • Work to improve the public health conditions of specific at-risk populations

Additional Requirements

This program has no additional requirements.


  • SAMHSA Internships

    Students can get full-time internships with this federal office, dedicating their time to addressing community issues such as substance abuse, mental health policies, and treatment.

    Eligibility: Undergraduate and graduate students with a GPA of 3.0 or higher

    Terms of Service: Students work full-time for 10 weeks during the summer assisting SAMHSA employees with mental health research and program development.

    Deadline: TBD for 2015

  • Kensington Wheaton Youth Services Internship

    Students will help this Maryland-based counseling center provide schools with therapeutic support services and activities after school hours.

    Eligibility: Undergraduate students with an interest in social work and counseling

    Terms of Service: Students must commit 10-15 hours each week to collaborating with local schools and developing therapeutic programming.

    Deadline: Open, rolling application

  • YMCA Family Services and Mental Health Internships

    Students gain clinical or management experience with this division of the YMCA.

    Eligibility: Students earning degrees in counseling or social work

    Terms of Service: Interns must be willing to commit to their internship for several quarters.

    Deadline: Contact the internship coordinator for more information

  • Mental Health America Internships

    Current students can explore a variety of internship opportunities to gain social media, public policy, public education, marketing, and special events experience pertaining to mental health advocacy.

    Eligibility: Undergraduate and graduate students interested in public policy and mental health.

    Terms of Service: Students must dedicate 10-15 hours per week to their internship duties.

    Deadline: Open, rolling application period