Careers in Mental Health Counseling

Mental Health Counselor Job Outlook

Changing social needs, shifts in public policy, and new research are fueling growth in the field of counseling. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment for substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors will grow by 23 percent between 2020 and 2030.1

Given current social, political, and research trends, mental health counselors are needed to treat a wide range of clients in distress, including:

  • Children: Counselors who take courses with an emphasis in child and adolescent mental and behavioral health care are needed to address the increasing mental health concerns for youth in the United States.2
  • Veterans: Approximately 20 million military veterans reside in the U.S.,3 and the Department of Veterans Affairs, as well as local communities, need more research and mental health services to meet their needs. Counselors may fill these gaps.
  • Adults with addiction: Individuals who struggle with substance use, particularly with opioid addiction, are in need of treatment from mental health counselors.4

Mental Health Counselor Jobs

Mental health counselors can provide services to clients within a particular population and work in settings such as substance abuse clinics, adoption services, counseling centers, family care centers, and private practice.

The online master’s degree in counseling from Northwestern prepares students to serve in a variety of both clinical and nonclinical roles. 

Mental Health Counseling Job Titles

Graduates of Northwestern’s CACREP-accredited online master’s in counseling program will have the educational background to seek licensure as professional clinical counselors.

Job titles in clinical and nonclinical mental health services settings vary by organization, but some common titles include:

  • Staff therapist: In this position, therapists will counsel individuals or groups regarding psychological, emotional, or behavioral problems. New staff therapists may work under the supervision of seasoned licensed therapists until they are fully licensed.
  • Psychotherapist: Using a range of research- and practice-based techniques, psychotherapists help and treat individuals experiencing emotional and psychological difficulties.
  • Substance use counselor: Counselors who specialize in substance use and other behavioral disorders—such as alcoholism, drug addiction, gaming disorder, and eating disorders—help clients modify destructive behaviors.
  • Career counselor: These counselors guide adults and college students who are unemployed, entering the workforce, or looking to make a change. Career counselors may need licensure depending on state requirements.
  • Clinical director: Often found in nursing homes, rehab facilities, behavioral health clinics, and health care clinics, clinical directors oversee hiring, scheduling, and supervision within an agency. A license may or may not be required to hold this job.
  • Human resources manager: Counselors in HR departments may maintain an employee handbook, improve recruitment and retention, create a certain company culture, or develop performance assessment models. A license may not be required to fulfill this role.

Mental Health Job Settings

Mental health counselors can find jobs in mental health organizations, educational settings, organizations/agencies, and corporate environments. Licensed mental health counselors can diagnose and treat mental illness as they apply their skills in a variety of career settings.

Mental Health Organizations: These settings vary and may focus on a specific area of interest.  Counselors often provide clinical services to clients within a particular population (i.e., individuals with addiction, couples and families, children and adolescents), and will work at organizations that treat these populations. Many counselors also choose to open their own private practice to treat clients. 

Educational Settings: Counselors in educational settings may direct wellness initiatives or provide mental health care to students. Aspiring school counselors, however, should pursue a school counseling degree.

Agencies/Organizations: Counseling positions within large organizations or agencies, such as nonprofits, hospitals, or treatment facilities, may be administrative in focus. Some counselors in these settings may conduct health promotion or wellness activities. Some counselors may work in the community or in homes of clients.

Corporate Environments: In corporate settings, such as banks or large businesses, counselors may provide clinical services to employees or manage employee assistance programs. 

The online master’s in counseling program from The Family Institute at Northwestern University prepares students for the counseling career that’s right for them. Learn more about Counseling@Northwestern today.

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Mental Health Counselor Salary

Mental health counselor salaries vary depending on job location, scope of practice, place of work, and client population. The median salary for substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors in the United States is $43,300 as of May 2017.5

The highest paid mental health counselors are in the government sector, followed by hospitals, and then private practice. Most counselors work full time, and some may work nights and weekends, depending on their client load and desired degree of flexibility.

Skills Needed for Clinical Mental Health Counseling Jobs

By earning a master of arts in counseling degree, aspiring mental health counselors will be prepared to make a difference in their community. 

To effectively treat and support clients, counselors need comprehensive clinical skills and an extensive understanding of research techniques, mental and emotional disorders, counseling methods, and the conscious and unconscious forces that affect individuals, couples, and families.

Mental health counselors will use these skills to:

  • Diagnose conditions that cause people to seek therapy.
  • Evaluate clients’ mental and physical health, barriers to wellness, or problematic behavior and recommend treatment plans.
  • Work with clients to identify behaviors or situations that interfere with achieving mental wellness.
  • Assist clients in developing skills and behaviors necessary to cope with difficult situations, modify their behavior, or overcome mental and emotional barriers.
  • Refer clients to other mental health professionals as needed, such as social workers or psychiatrists, to create a well-rounded plan for mental wellness.

Earn Your Master’s in Counseling Online from Northwestern

With Northwestern University’s online Master of Arts in Counseling Program, you will be prepared to become a compassionate, self-reflective mental health counselor. Request more information to learn how this CACREP-accredited program can fit your lifestyle and career goals.

1 Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Substance Abuse, Behavioral Disorder, and Mental Health Counselors, (accessed October 5, 2021)

2 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “Key Findings: Children’s Mental Health Report,”

3 U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, National Center for Veterans Analysis and Statistics, “Veteran Population Projections 2017–2037,”

4 NPR, “Shortage of Addiction Counselors Further Strained by Opioid Epidemic,”

5 Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Substance Abuse, Behavioral Disorder, and Mental Health Counselors, (accessed November 30, 2018)