Employment Outlook & Career Guidance for Mental Health Counselors

Created by careersinpsychology

The field of Mental Health Counseling is one of the few fields in the nation that is predicted to grow at more than 4 times the rate of other forms of employment. Employment in the aggregate is projected to rise by 5%; the field of Mental Counseling by 22% between 2021 and 2031. This rise in demand for Mental Health Counselors advantageously is not because mental illness is skyrocketing at a phenomenal rate, but rather because those who suffer from mental illness are now able to receive counseling they previously could not afford. New health laws require that under a medical policy which offers mental health aspects, an insurer must provide the same amount of visits to a Mental Health Counselor as they provide for medical visits (referred to as “parity” policies). Under the Affordable Care Act, if the policy says the patient has 35 visits to a medical physician, the patient will also have 35 visits to a mental health specialist.

Converting the 22% increase into numbers: The United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that the number of Mental Health Counseling jobs in 2021 was 351,000. The Bureau predicts that the number of counselors in 2031 will be 428,500. That's an additional 77,500 jobs.

Public officials have openly praised this new change for millions of Americans and what it will do for the mental health services of the nation. The Secretary of The United States Department of Health and Human Services,  Kathleen Sebelius, commented publicly,

This final rule breaks down barriers that stand in the way of treatment and recovery services for millions of Americans. Building on these rules, the Affordable Care Act is expanding mental health and substance use disorder benefits and parity protections to 62 million Americans. This historic expansion will help make treatment more affordable and accessible.
-Kathleen Sebelius, Secretary HHS

Another outspoken national leader, Treasury Secretary Jacob J. Lew said,

Americans deserve access to coverage for mental health and substance use disorders that is on par with medical and surgical care. These rules mark an important step in ending the disparities that exist in insurance plans and will provide families nationwide with critical coverage and protections that fulfill their health needs.
-Treasury Secretary Jacob J. Lew

One more quote highlighting the importance of a career as a Mental Health Counselor;

New efforts are under way to expand coverage to the millions of Americans who have lacked access to affordable treatment for mental and substance use disorders. These rules will increase access to mental health and substance abuse treatment, prohibit discriminatory practices, and increase health plan transparency. Ultimately, they’ll provide greater opportunities for affordable, accessible, effective treatment to Americans who need it.
-Labor Secretary Thomas E. Perez

Largely responsible for many of the positive changes occurring in mental health care is former Congressman, Patrick Kennedy. On September 14th, 2013, in a fascinating interview for The Atlantic Press; reporter Wallace McKelvey received a provocative summary from Kennedy of how the mental health care reforms started and progressed. Although the changes had not yet been implemented as of the date of the interview (as they are today) a thorough read will give you an historical perspective on how and why a career as a Mental Health Counselor is such a vital and rewarding position for which to aspire. It will also further your understanding of why your new profession will be a vital tool through which the nation can gain strength and recover from hitherto untreated illnesses; illnesses that have affected American society as a whole.

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What Type of Positions Can a Mental Health Counselor Hold?

The highest levels of employment and the highest levels of concentrations of Mental Health Counselors are found in the following areas:

  • Outpatient Mental Health/Substance Abuse Centers
  • Individual and Family Services
  • Residential Intellectual and Developmental Disability
  • Inpatient Mental Health/Substance Abuse Facilities
  1. Outpatient Mental Health/Substance Abuse Centers: Outpatient Care Centers (OCC) are facilities that deal with various mental health disorders or substance abuse issues. These facilities can be located at hospitals (private or public); clinics or medical centers. They are typically staffed with a variety of licensed professionals; Psychiatrists, Clinical Psychologists, Clinical Social Workers, Psychiatric Nurses and Mental Health Counselors. The jobs of the OCC are to diagnosis and assess patients as well as provide individual therapy and counseling. The types of counseling Mental Health Counselors might provide in this setting is; group counseling, family counseling, individual counseling; as well as provide services for children, adolescents, adults and seniors.
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  1. Individual and Family Services: Individual and Family Services can range from a Mental Health Counselor opening a private practice to seeking work with an established group or clinic. These groups and clinics can specialize in areas such as: anger management, substance abuse, child abuse, domestic abuse, eating disorders along with other mental health issues. For an interesting perspective on how one city has organized their public services see: Family and Individual Mental Health Services listing for Miami-Dade.
  1. Residential Intellectual and Developmental Disability: Residential Intellectual and Developmental Disability (RIDD) facilities provide 24-hour supervision and assistance by professionals trained in both medical and mental aspects of disabilities. The common services provided by RIDD facilities is in helping clients find comfortable housing in an area of their choosing, as well as house-mates which are compatible for the client. The counselors give advice regarding meal preparation, self-care, healthcare, shopping and social activities. Transportation is provided for accomplishing these goals. The Mental Health Counselor in this field essentially helps patients to either live within a residential setting or to assist them in adjusting to community living. Some communities also fund day centers to which both the residential patient may visit as well as those living independently.
  1. Inpatient Mental Health and Substance Abuse Facilities: These facilities provide a number of medical and psychological services to their patients; from supervised detox to therapy enabling a patient to transition to the outside world. The functions of the inpatient center cover a wide spectrum and can vary greatly from facility to facility. These treatment centers can be both privately run as well as be government funded. The Mental Health Counselor in this area will assist the medical service teams in ensuring that their patients have a wide variety of adequate counseling needed to transition to the outside world.

Ways for a Mental Health Counselor to Increase Desirability as a Job Candidate: The Two-Pronged Solution

Every Human Resource Department as well as Interviewer is looking for two main things: Education and Experience.

Education: The more education the job applicant has acquired, the more desirable they will be as a potential employee. Continuing your education through; certification programs, additional licensing, seminar attendance, academic proctoring, convention involvement, trade organization involvements, mentoring programs or offering community services in alliance with degree emphasis will all polish your resume and make you a fascinating candidate in the job interview.

Experience: A job applicant who has had some form of experience in the field of Mental Health Counseling is going to be more desirable to an employer than someone who has had no experience. If you are in need of acquiring this experience, seek out volunteer positions. This will show the employer that you are dedicated in your field and seek out training for the sake of learning your trade and honing your skills; not just for a monetary reward. Be sure and list these positions on your application and be prepared to discuss them with enthusiasm and professional animation.

The Secret Weapon: One quality which will have you shining above the rest is a positive attitude. Present yourself with an air of dignity; as a person who is solution-oriented. Institutions and businesses thrive on that breath of fresh air; the person who knows how to professionally utilize their intelligence, but does so with a friendly demeanor and that all-important, sincere smile.

Ways for a Mental Health Counselor to Increase his/her Salary

According to the BLS, the following are the highest paying employer of Mental Health Counselors by annual mean salary are:

  • Religious Organizations: $86,480
  • Business, Professional, Labor, Political, and Similar Organizations: $80,680
  • Insurance-related Companies (brokerages, agencies, etc.): $77,710
  • Insurance Carriers: $76,200
  • Junior Colleges: $68,290

Overall, the BLS says mental health counselors earn a mean salary of $49,710.

Read more about an online mental health counseling degree.

If you are working for other institutions which are offering below that of $49,710; it might be advantageous to investigate the higher paying entities. Further, the concepts discussed in the previous section (How to Improve Desirability as a Job Candidate) still very much apply to one already employed in the field. Continuing education, community involvement and an optimistic attitude are all valuable assets from an employer’s perspective. Before seeking additional compensation, equip yourself with the tools which will best provide leverage: Show that you are: 1). Increasing your knowledge. 2). Participating in the Community as an extension of your professionalism. 3.) Maintaining a pleasant disposition and are a positive influence on your co-workers as well as clients.

2022 US Bureau of Labor Statistics job market trends and salary figures for mental health counselors are based on national data, not school-specific information. Conditions in your area may vary. Data accessed June 2023.

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