What Mental Health Counselors Do

Mental health counselors advise people who suffer from alcoholism, drug addiction, eating disorders, mental health issues. They counsel with a focus on prevention and promote mental and emotional health. Go to the full job description.

Mental Health Counselor Salary

A mental health counselor salary is $49,950 on average as of May 2019. The lowest paid mental health counselors make less than $29,520 and the highest salaries are more than $76.080. Get more salary info.

How To Become a Mental Health Counselor

You need to have a combination of education and skills, but you also have to have patience, communicate well and not be afraid of the unpredictable nature of the job. This is a social job that appeals to the INFJ personality types who are a natural fit for this career. How to become one.

Mental Health Counselor Job Description


Mental health counselors provide treatment and support to help clients recover from addiction or modify problem behaviors. They help people with issues such as:

  • addictions and substance abuse
  • family
  • parenting
  • marital problems
  • stress management
  • self-esteem
  • aging

Other Job Titles

  • Behavior Analyst
  • Behavior Support Specialist
  • Case Manager
  • Clinician
  • Correctional Counselor
  • Counselor
  • Mental Health Counselor
  • Mental Health Specialist
  • Mental Health Therapist
  • Therapist

Mental Health Counselor Job Duties

  • Maintain confidentiality of records relating to clients’ treatment.
  • Encourage clients to express their feelings and discuss what is happening in their lives, helping them to develop insight into themselves or their relationships.
  • Collect information about clients through interviews, observation, or tests.
  • Assess patients for risk of suicide attempts.
  • Fill out and maintain client-related paperwork, including federal- and state-mandated forms, client diagnostic records, and progress notes.
  • Prepare and maintain all required treatment records and reports.
  • Counsel clients or patients, individually or in group sessions, to assist in overcoming dependencies, adjusting to life, or making changes.
  • Guide clients in the development of skills or strategies for dealing with their problems.
  • Perform crisis interventions with clients.
  • Develop and implement treatment plans based on clinical experience and knowledge.
  • Evaluate clients’ physical or mental condition, based on review of client information.
  • Act as client advocates to coordinate required services or to resolve emergency problems in crisis situations.
  • Modify treatment activities or approaches as needed to comply with changes in clients’ status.
  • Evaluate the effectiveness of counseling programs on clients’ progress in resolving identified problems and moving towards defined objectives.
  • Meet with families, probation officers, police, or other interested parties to exchange necessary information during the treatment process.
  • Discuss with individual patients their plans for life after leaving therapy.
  • Collaborate with other staff members to perform clinical assessments or develop treatment plans.
  • Counsel family members to assist them in understanding, dealing with, or supporting clients or patients.
  • Monitor clients’ use of medications.
  • Plan, organize, or lead structured programs of counseling, work, study, recreation, or social activities for clients.
  • Learn about new developments in counseling by reading professional literature, attending courses and seminars, or establishing and maintaining contact with other social service agencies.
  • Refer patients, clients, or family members to community resources or to specialists as necessary.
  • Gather information about community mental health needs or resources that could be used in conjunction with therapy.
  • Supervise other counselors, social service staff, assistants, or graduate students.
  • Plan or conduct programs to prevent substance abuse or improve community health or counseling services.
  • Coordinate or direct employee workshops, courses, or training about mental health issues.

Resume Keywords and Phrases for Mental Health Counselor Jobs

  • Counsel clients
  • Collect information
  • Interview clients
  • Complete documentation required by regulations
  • Substance abuse issues
  • Maintain client records
  • Teach life skills
  • Write reports
  • Crisis intervention
  • Develop treatment plans
  • Evaluate needs
  • Treatment plans
  • Accommodate client needs.
  • Evaluate the effectiveness of programs
  • Monitor clients
  • Evaluate treatment progress.
  • Collaborate
  • Confer
  • Counsel family members
  • Provide basic health care services.
  • Develop working relationships
  • Maintain professional social services knowledge
  • Plan programs
  • Supervise workers
  • Lead classes
  • Train staff members

Knowledge Requirements

  • Psychology — Knowledge of human behavior and performance; individual differences in ability, personality, and interests; learning and motivation; psychological research methods; and the assessment and treatment of behavioral and affective disorders.
  • Therapy and Counseling — Knowledge of principles, methods, and procedures for diagnosis, treatment, and rehabilitation of physical and mental dysfunctions, and for career counseling and guidance.
  • Customer and Personal Service — Knowledge of principles and processes for providing customer and personal services. This includes customer needs assessment, meeting quality standards for services, and evaluation of customer satisfaction.
  • Sociology and Anthropology — Knowledge of group behavior and dynamics, societal trends and influences, human migrations, ethnicity, cultures and their history and origins.
  • English Language — Knowledge of the structure and content of the English language including the meaning and spelling of words, rules of composition, and grammar.
  • Education and Training — Knowledge of principles and methods for curriculum and training design, teaching and instruction for individuals and groups, and the measurement of training effects.
  • Clerical — Knowledge of administrative and clerical procedures and systems such as word processing, managing files and records, stenography and transcription, designing forms, and other office procedures and terminology.
  • Philosophy and Theology — Knowledge of different philosophical systems and religions. This includes their basic principles, values, ethics, ways of thinking, customs, practices, and their impact on human culture.
  • Law and Government — Knowledge of laws, legal codes, court procedures, precedents, government regulations, executive orders, agency rules, and the democratic political process.
  • Administration and Management — Knowledge of business and management principles involved in strategic planning, resource allocation, human resources modeling, leadership technique, production methods, and coordination of people and resources.

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Mental health counselors earn around $50,000 a year

Mental Health Counselor Salary, Average, Median

The average annual salary for mental health counselors was $49,950, or $24.01 an hour as of May 2019.

The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. Here are the wages for mental health counselors as of May 2019.

Percentile 10% 25% 50%
75% 90% 
Hourly Wage $14.19$17.29$22.23$28.68$36.58
Annual Wage$29,520$35,960$46,240$59,650$76,080

Top Mental Health Counselor Salary — State

State Hourly AverageAnnual Average
Utah $32.41$67,410
Nevada $30.73$63,910
Oregon $29.31$60,960
Alaska $29.25$60,830
New Jersey $28.90$60,120

Top Mental Health Counselor Salary — Cities

Metro AreaHourly
Lewiston, WA $39.23$81,600
Salt Lake City $36.88$76,710
Mankato, MN $34.25$71,230
Hanford-Corcoran, CA $33.37$69,420
Kennewick-Richland, WA $32.87$68,360
St. George, UT $32.46$67,510
San Luis Obispo-
Paso Robles-
Arroyo Grande, CA 
Bloomington, IN $31.79$66,120
Bridgeport-Stamford-Norwalk, CT $31.77$66,070

Mental Health Counselor Salary Average for Big Cities

  • Chicago — $48,280
  • Dallas — $50,260
  • Houston — $52,610
  • Los Angeles — $55,660
  • New York — $58,750
  • Philadelphia — $50,730
  • Phoenix — $45,750
  • San Antonio — $49,570
  • San Diego — $50,300
  • San Jose — $62,320

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How to Become a Mental Health Counselor

Education to Become a Mental Health Counselor

Although educational requirements can vary from a high school diploma and certification to a master’s degree for substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors, a master’s degree and an internship is typically required to become a mental health counselor.

Most substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselor positions require at least a bachelor’s degree.

Recommended Masters Degrees

Workers with psychology, clinical social work, mental health counseling, and similar master’s degrees can provide more services to their clients, such as private one-on-one counseling sessions, and they require less supervision than those with less education.

5 Best Online Masters in Mental Health Counseling Programs

These programs are accredited online masters programs in mental health counseling. All states require a masters degree to be licensed. Licensure is required if pursuing private practice.

School DegreeDetails Time Cost
New York
 M.A. in counseling
for mental health 
60 Credits
100-hr practicum
600-hr internship
As few as
21 months
$17,898 per
9 credit term

Wake Forest
M.A. Clinical Mental
Health Counseling or
School Counseling 
60 Credits$87,900
North Carolina
State University
M.Ed. Clinical Mental
Health Counseling
weekend courses
final year
3 years

$27,720 for NC
$78,660 out of
 MA in Counseling
with youth
24 Credits
Practicum + Internship
= 800 hours
University of
M.Ed. School
49 credits
100 hr practicum
600 hr internship
2-3 years$1,928/credit

Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations

Substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors in private practice must be licensed. Licensing requirements vary by state, but all states require these counselors to have a master’s degree and 2,000 to 4,000 hours of supervised clinical experience.

In addition, counselors must pass a state-issued exam and complete continuing education every year. Contact information for your state’s regulating board can be found through the National Board for Certified Counselors.

The licensure criteria for substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors outside of private practice vary from state to state. For example, not all states require applicants to have a specific degree, but many require them to pass an exam.

Contact information for individual states’ licensing boards can be found through the Addiction Technology Transfer Center Network.

All states require mental health counselors to be licensed, after completing a period of postdegree supervised clinical work under the supervision of a licensed counselor. 

Other Experience

There is a long tradition of people who have overcome their own addictions to be involved in counseling others to overcome their addictions. Counselors with personal experience overcoming alcohol or drug addictions are sometimes viewed as especially helpful and insightful to those seeking treatment.

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Is a Mental Health Counselor a Therapist?

As far as we can tell, the terms counseling and therapy are like saying to-MAY-to or to-MAH-to. There’s no definitive reason that the words are any different. Is there a difference between a counselor and a psychologist? Yes, you can read about that in this other post.

Types of Counselors

Substance abuse counselors and behavioral disorder counselors, also called addiction counselors, work with clients individually and in group sessions.

Many incorporate the principles of 12-step programs, such as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), to guide their practice. They teach clients how to cope with stress and life’s problems in ways that help them recover.

Mental health counselors provide treatment to individuals, families, couples, and groups. Some work with specific populations, such as the elderly, college students, or children.

Mental health counselors treat clients with a variety of conditions, including anxiety, depression, grief, low self-esteem, stress, and suicidal impulses.

They also help with mental and emotional health issues and relationship problems. Some counselors work with clients who have been ordered by a judge to receive treatment for addiction.

Others work with specific populations, such as teenagers, veterans, or people with disabilities. Some specialize in crisis intervention; these counselors step in when someone is endangering his or her own life or the lives of others.

Other counselors specialize in noncrisis interventions, which encourage a person with addictions or other issues, such as difficulty managing anger, to get help. Noncrisis interventions often are performed at the request of friends and family.

Is Being a Mental Health Counselor Stressful?

Yes. Although rewarding, the work of substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors is often stressful.

Many counselors have to deal with large workloads.

They do not always have enough resources to meet the demand for their services.

Also, they may have to intervene in crisis situations or work with agitated clients, which can be difficult.

More Information

Addiction Technology Transfer Center Network

NAADAC, The Association for Addiction Professionals

For more information about counseling and counseling specialties, visit

American Counseling Association

For contact information for state regulating boards, visit

National Board for Certified Counselors

Job description is from the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Occupational Outlook Handbook.