Counselors often take a holistic approach to treating their clients, addressing emotional issues and helping people regain a sense of peace in their lives. The value of emotional and mental wellbeing continues to be recognized by healthcare providers, regulatory agencies, and insurance providers. Professional master's degrees in counseling online programs offer students practical skills to work in general practice, or specialize in fields such as child counseling, family and marriage counseling, addiction counseling, or trauma counseling.
Overall, the mental health counseling profession continues to grow at a rapid pace, with the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projecting a 23% increase in jobs through 2026, especially in rural or underserved communities. All states require mental health counselors to obtain a license before treating patients, and accredited master's in counseling programs often meet educational requirements for licensure through rigorous curricula, hands-on internships, and supervised work experiences. The guide below offers information on potential career opportunities and common coursework for individuals seeking this degree.
Salaries for mental health counselors range from less than $27,310 to upward of $70,840, with a mean wage of $46,050 across the United States. Several factors impact pay, such as years of experience, professional credentials, areas of specialization, chosen industry, employer, and geographical location. Online counseling master's degrees often prepare graduates for professional credentials that enhance their resumes and demonstrate expertise in a particular practice area. Jobs with government agencies report a mean wage of $55,880, while individual and family services pay a mean salary of $44,580 per year. California offers the highest earning potential for mental health counselors, $47,070, while West Virginia, for example, pays an average of $33,570.
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Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics
Counseling offers many opportunities to help others, with all areas of the profession experiencing strong job growth ranging from 16%-23% through 2026. Counselors have the option to open a practice, establishing the clients they will serve and setting their hours. They might also work through government agencies, nonprofit organizations, public or private schools, or healthcare providers. While counseling often focuses on clients' mental health needs, social work careers require individuals to collaborate across organizations to meet a variety of needs. Communication, empathy, and attention to detail serve anyone entering a counseling profession.
Annual Median Salary: $40,354
Some mental health counselors serve as generalists, treating a variety of conditions among diverse populations. Others may specialize in specific client populations, such as the elderly, families, or children, or in treating particular conditions, such as anxiety, stress, or suicidal impulses. Any counselor treating patients must obtain a state license that includes earning a master's in counseling, online or on campus, completing a year or more of supervised work, and passing licensing exams.
Annual Median Salary: $41,630
Trauma counselors work with individuals who have experienced trauma, such as childhood abuse, surviving a violent crime, or serving in combat zones. The counselors may work with clients one-on-one or with groups of people with similar experiences. These mental health professionals may work in private practice, through government agencies or schools, or with medical or mental health providers. Some jobs require specialized certification following completion of an online master's in counseling and supervised work experience.
Annual Median Salary: $39,527
Individuals overcoming substance abuse and addiction need help learning to live substance-free, and to address any underlying mental health issues that may have contributed to their drug or alcohol abuse. Addiction counselors may lead group therapy sessions, facilitate 12-step meetings, or work with clients individually. Many states rely on professional certification to ensure addiction counselors effectively treat clients and adhere to professional standards. Certification requires a combination of education, supervised work experience, and passing national credentialing exams.
Annual Median Salary: $53,157
Clinical social workers not only provide mental health diagnosis and treatment, but also help clients with other needs, such as finding safe and affordable housing, accessing medical services, or applying for government aid or entitlement programs. Social workers may help patients coordinate medical care and cope with the emotional toll of a serious illness.
Annual Median Salary: $40,629
These counselors specialize in treating children age 12 through adulthood. They may provide mentoring and coaching to make healthy choices, assist clients in adjusting to life changes, such as divorce or death in the family, or work with youth experiencing behavioral issues either in consultation with parents or as part of court-ordered treatment and rehabilitation.
Accredited online master's in counseling programs require 48-60 credits, including coursework in counseling theory, treatment methods, and psychopathology, combined with intensive internships under the supervision of a licensed counselor. Students may complete their degree in 2-3 years, depending on the time they dedicate to school. The exact courses you will take may vary depending on school and area of specialization, but the list below offers a sample of standard classes.
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