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Mental Health Counselor

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Overall Score
(5.3 out of 10)

Number of Jobs


Median Salary


Unemployment Rate

3.1 percent

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Best Health Care Jobs #38
The 100 Best Jobs #97

Mental health counselors work with people from all walks of life, including couples struggling with marital issues, stressed-out college students and depressed working professionals. The job involves solving problems people face, and as W. Mark Hamilton, former executive director of the American Mental Health Counselors Association, explains, professionals often apply real-life experiences when giving advice and form meaningful bonds with patients. Along with diagnosing mental and emotional disorders, mental health counselors work with patients on treatment, partnering with psychiatrists and social workers to coordinate proper care. The trio also collaborate in referring patients to specific support groups and inpatient treatment facilities. It’s not uncommon for mental health counselors to establish their own private practice. Under those circumstances, they need marketing skills to grow their clientele and a degree of financial know-how to work with insurance companies for proper compensation.

With psychiatrists and psychologists charging higher rates for therapy, insurance companies are directing patients toward the affordable alternative of mental health counselors. That trend will contribute to employment growth of 28.5 percent in the field over the next decade, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. By 2022, 36,700 new positions will need to be filled.


Mental health counselors earned a median salary of $40,080 in 2012, or $19.27 per hour, according to the BLS. The best-paid earned about $66,630, while the lowest-paid earned less than $25,430. Top-paying areas of the industry include insurance carriers and state government services. If you’re looking for a position in a geographic area that compensates well, consider the metropolitan areas of Mankato, Minn., Bakersfield, Calif., and Anchorage, Alaska.

Salary Range

75th Percentile $51,750
Median $40,080
25th Percentile $31,720


Mental health counselors should prepare for many years of education and continued learning. Starting a practice requires a master’s degree, as well as 2,000 to 4,000 hours of supervised clinical supervision and passing a state license test. When those benchmarks have been met, you can still look forward to annual continuing education classes.

Reviews & Advice

With education playing such a pivotal role in entering the field, alternate routes for landing a job are virtually nonexistent. Individuals thinking about a career in mental health counseling should not only consider the academic obligations, but the emotional ones as well. Having the emotional wherewithal to problem-solve and the ability to connect with people are also vital traits for success.

Job Satisfaction

Upward Mobility good Above Average
Stress Level poor High
Flexibility poor Low
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Last updated by Kimberly Castro.

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