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Are you interested in human services and mental health counseling but unsure what comes next? Pursuing a career in the mental health field is exciting and dynamic. Each new day can be an opportunity to help someone overcome barriers to wellness. Careers in psychology and mental health provide insight into human behavior, thoughts, and feelings. This is a great career for someone who is empathic, a good listener, and likes working with people to effect positive change in the lives of others.

Growth of Mental Health Jobs

Are you thinking of becoming a mental health counselor? This is a good choice for those who enjoy helping others, and it comes with great opportunities.  According to U.S. News & World Report, the role of mental health counselor lands at number two on their list of Best Social Service Jobs for several reasons:

  • It provides the opportunity to promote wellness.
  • Entry-level positions in professional counseling require masters level degrees.
  • Expected job growth through 2031 is 22%
  • Roughly 43,600 jobs are expected to open in this field annually through 2031.

Several of these figures hail from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, which groups this occupation into the category with Substance Abuse, Behavioral Disorder, and Mental Health Counselors. But any way you look at it, mental health counseling could be a good career choice for students who have a passion for others. But has it always been this way?

The “Mental Health Tsunami”

There is a growing need for professionals who are trained in the field of mental health care. In fact, the American Psychological Association refers to this growing crisis as a “mental health tsunami” brought on, at least in part, by the 2020 pandemic. In their 2021 COVID-19 Practitioner Survey, the APA polled doctoral-level licensed and practicing psychologists to find out exactly where the help is most needed, and the results were interesting. Doctors reported upticks in instances of the following mental health disorders:

  • Depressive disorders
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Trauma-related disorders
  • Feeding and eating disorders
  • Sleep-wake disorders
  • Substance abuse disorders
  • Obsessive-compulsive and related disorders

There is currently so much   for trained mental health providers that even doctors are feeling the strain. Referrals are up, and waitlists are growing longer and longer. The obvious solution is to hire more people trained in mental health counseling.

Skills Needed to Work in Mental Health

Do you think you have what it takes to be successful as a mental health provider? If you are a good listener, easily form good relationships, can work with diverse populations, and find satisfaction in helping others, then the next step is the proper training and education. When you enroll in a mental health counseling degree program, you are embarking on an educational journey to obtain the foundational skills necessary. The scope of your work depends on your career interests.

Educational Requirements for Mental Health Careers

The educational requirements for working as a mental health counselor vary according to the state in which you decide to practice. For example, to become a licensed professional counselor in Connecticut, you will need:

  • At least a master’s degree in counseling or a closely related counseling degree from a regionally accredited institution.
  • To have acquired three thousand (3000) hours of postgraduate supervised experience in a counseling setting, including one hundred (100) hours of direct supervision by a licensed practitioner.
  • Successful completion of the National Counselor Examination for Licensure and Certification (NCE) or the National Clinical Mental Health Counseling Examination (NCMHCE).

However, every state is different. To learn more about the requirements in your state, visit your state’s Board licensing boards related to Professional Counselors, Psychologists, Marriage and Family Therapists, Social Workers, Addictions Counselors.

Associate of Arts (AA) in Psychology: The Associate of Arts degree is a two-year program that allows students to develop a basic knowledge of psychology and how the mind works. Typically, around 60 credit hours are required to earn an AA degree.

Bachelor of Arts (BA) in Psychology: It typically takes four years of study to earn a bachelor’s degree or two additional years of study beyond an AA. Most BA degrees require the completion of 120 credit hours.

Master of Science (MS) in Clinical Mental Health Counseling: If you decide to pursue a master’s degree, it will give you the opportunity to explore your career interests in this area. This is often when students can explore various approaches to counseling and working with people.  Students who are interested in becoming mental health counselors may want to earn a master’s degree in counseling or a closely related field. A master’s degree usually requires the completion of 60 credit hours above a bachelor’s degree.

Graduate Certificate in Professional Counseling: A graduate certificate is helpful for those who may hold a counseling-related degree but are missing certain coursework necessary for obtaining a license in their state. A professional counseling certificate may serve as an introduction to counseling or provide valuable knowledge related to assessing, interpreting, and working with people.

Doctor of Philosophy or Doctor of Psychology Degree: A PhD or PsyD are terminal degree options in the mental health areas. Psychology, Social Work, Marriage and Family, and Counselor Education each offer opportunities to pursue doctoral-level degrees.  These degrees may lead to teaching positions, practitioner, research and writing and /or consultant opportunities.


To practice in many states, graduate certifications may be needed, which require you to earn certain education, training, and passing score on a certification exam, such as the Addictions Counselor Exam (ACE).  Before sitting for an exam, candidates should consider eligibility. States and test administrators all have certain criteria that may be required before the exam can be taken.

Licensing Requirements

In some states, depending on the area of practice, a license is required.  For example, professional counselors are required to be licensed in most states. Licensure requires the submission of documentation, application, and associated application fees to the state’s licensing board for professional counselors, marriage and family therapists, psychologists, and social workers and similar helping professions.

Work Experience

When applying for your license to practice counseling, you must also meet the minimum requirements for work experience, referred to as postgraduate experience. The post graduate experience often consists of pre-licensed professionals involved in the provision of mental health services under the supervision of an approved clinical supervisor. For example, for those applying for a license as a professional counselor a minimum of three years and 3,000 hours of supervised clinical experience may be required.  These hours commence after the person earns their graduate degree. Once a person has met all the criteria, passed any required exams, and been granted a certificate or license, they may begin working independently as a certified or licensed mental health provider.

Types of Mental Health Careers


While there are entry-level careers in mental health that require a bachelor’s degree or less, most require a master’s level degree. Often, students will take a position such as this to earn a living as they continue schooling. Examples of entry-level opportunities may include,

  • Substance abuse counselor
  • Social worker assistant
  • Residential counselor
  • Correctional counselor
  • Mental health assistant
  • Biopsychosocial rehabilitation counselor

Typically, these jobs require specialized on-the-job training but no state licensure or certifications. In these roles, you could find yourself working in the legal system, a medical facility, a rehabilitation center, or a laboratory.

Advanced Professional

As you further your education and move on to earn your master’s degree, you could gain more specific skills that will assist you in counseling others regarding their mental health. As an advanced professional, you must go through the steps to become licensed and/or certified before you begin working with clients on a clinical basis. Jobs such as these usually require a master’s degree:

  • Marriage and family therapist
  • Psychotherapist
  • Behavioral therapist
  • School counselor
  • Community health educator
  • Researcher

Regardless of which mental health degree you decide to pursue, if you obtain a position working in a mental health career, you will most likely spend your days helping others. Whether helping someone heal from addiction or a child cope with the death or divorce of a parent, this can be a rewarding role. And regardless of whether you work for yourself in private practice or on the front lines of a busy urban hospital, you will likely have the opportunity to apply the skills and knowledge you have learned to real-world scenarios.

If you are interested in learning more about the exciting fields of human service and mental health counseling, we invite you to explore Post University’s John P. Burke School of Public Service and the degrees and certificate options we offer. Here, you will find a bachelor of arts in psychology, online master’s in clinical mental health counseling, online master’s in counseling and human services, online graduate certificate in professional counseling, and online graduate certificate in alcohol and drug counseling. At Post University, we have various options for you to study in the field of mental health. Speak with an admissions advisor today!

Thank you for reading! The views and information provided in this post do not reflect Post University programs and/or outcomes directly. If you are interested in learning more about our programs, you can find a complete list of our programs on our website, or you may reach out directly!

Please note jobs and/or career outcomes highlighted in this blog do not reflect jobs or career outcomes expected from any Post program. To learn more about Post’s programs and their outcomes, please fill out a form to speak with an admissions advisor.