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What Does a Mental Health Counselor Do?

Mental health counselors provide ongoing psychological care to patients who are dealing with mental and psychological issues such as depression, mental illness and substance abuse. Because mental health issues tend to be complicated and multi-faceted, mental health counselors are trained to treat patients holistically in order to get to the root of each patient's unique problems.

Job Opportunities for Mental Health Counselors

Depending on his or her specific career path, a mental health counselor may work at organizations such as:

  • Community agencies
  • Corporations
  • Employee assistance programs
  • Health care organizations
  • Independent practices
  • Rehabilitation centers
  • Substance abuse centers
  • Youth homes

In addition to working with patients, most mental health counselors also collaborate with other professionals including school counselors, psychiatrists, social workers and colleagues in the counseling field.

Duties of a Mental Health Counselor

A mental health counselor's duties can vary depending on his or her specific career path, but in general, they include helping patients work through issues such as depression, anger management, suicidal thoughts, parenting, aging, relationship problems, stress, addiction and self-image. Mental health counselors may also provide crisis management services, substance abuse treatment, psychotherapy, assessment and diagnosis of mental health disorders.

Mental Health Counselor Salary and Career Outlook

In May 2014, the mean wage for mental health counselors was $43,990 annually or $21.15 hourly. The top 10 percent of mental health counselors earned an average of $66,930 annually or $32.18 hourly, while the lowest 10 percent earned $26,030 annually or $12.52 hourly.1

Industries that hired the most mental health counselors in 2014 included:2

  • Individual and family services: 26,500 employed, $41,820 annual mean wage
  • Outpatient care centers: 23,900 employed, $43,920 annual mean wage
  • Residential intellectual and developmental disability, mental health and substance abuse facilities: 16,050 employed, $37,030 annual mean wage
  • Local government: 8,990 employed, $51,850 annual mean wage
  • Offices of other health practitioners: 8,330 employed, $50,330 annual mean wage

The top paying industries for mental health counselors in 2014 were:3

  • Management, scientific and technical consulting services: $70,540 annual mean wage
  • Junior colleges: $57,060 annual mean wage
  • Religious organizations: $56,600
  • Educational support services: $55,580 annual mean wage
  • Insurance carriers: $55,190 annual mean wage

States with the highest employment levels for mental health counselors in 2014 included:4

  • Pennsylvania: 11,160 employed, $43,150 annual mean wage
  • California: 11,100 employed, $46,290 annual mean wage
  • Virginia: 8,060 employed, $46,000 annual mean wage
  • Massachusetts: 7,900 employed, $40,620 annual mean wage
  • New York: 5,690 employed, $41,700 annual mean wage

The top paying states for mental health counselors in 2014 were:5

  • Alaska: $58,800 annual mean wage
  • Oregon: $53,330 annual mean wage
  • Wyoming: $52,840 annual mean wage
  • Hawaii: $50,630 annual mean wage
  • New Jersey: $49,670 annual mean wage

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, more than one-quarter of all adults suffer from a mental illness each year. As awareness of mental health issues continues to spread, the demand for mental health counselors will grow accordingly.6 To learn more about becoming a mental health counselor, review the resources listed below.

Source References [+]
  1. "Occupational Employment and Wages, May 2014: Mental Health Counselors." BLS.gov. http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes211014.htm
  2. "Occupational Employment and Wages, May 2014: Mental Health Counselors." BLS.gov. http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes211014.htm
  3. "Occupational Employment and Wages, May 2014: Mental Health Counselors." BLS.gov. http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes211014.htm
  4. "Occupational Employment and Wages, May 2014: Mental Health Counselors." BLS.gov. http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes211014.htm
  5. "Occupational Employment and Wages, May 2014: Mental Health Counselors." BLS.gov. http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes211014.htm
  6. "Mental Health Counselor Careers." CareersInPsychology.org. http://careersinpsychology.org/starting-a-career-as-a-health-counselor/
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