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Mental Health Counseling Masters Programs

Mental health counseling can be a rewarding profession. As a licensed professional counselor, you can help clients cultivate greater well-being within their daily lives, whether they’re struggling with mental illnesses or facing distressing life events.

In addition to possessing emotional intelligence and outstanding listening skills, it’s beneficial for aspiring mental health counselors to obtain the required career development education and counseling profession licensure to practice in their state. 

Below, we’ll discuss everything you need to know about mental health counseling masters programs. We’ll also review mental health counseling requirements and employment opportunities that may await you post-graduation. 

Reasons to Earn a Master’s in Mental Health Counseling

Mental health counseling is a protected profession.1 As a result, you must obtain the proper state licensure if you’re interested in legally practicing as a mental health counselor. Your counseling profession license proves that you possess the professional counseling education, experience, and ethical awareness required to do the job well. 

Each state’s licensed mental health counselor requirements vary. However, all states generally require you to possess at least a master’s degree in mental health counseling or a closely related field from an accredited university. As a result, selecting a master’s program can be one of the most important steps you’ll take on your journey to becoming a mental health counselor. 

Once you’ve earned your counseling degree and obtained your professional counseling license, you’re typically eligible to work in a variety of family therapy settings. 

Components of a Mental Health Counseling Graduate Program

Most mental health counseling programs take around two to three years to complete, depending on the rate at which you pursue your counseling degree.

During your graduate program, you’ll likely learn about the following topics:

  • Psychology
  • Counseling theories
  • Counseling skill sets
  • Professional ethics
  • DSM-based diagnostics
  • Behavioral therapy
  • Group and multicultural counseling
  • Personality theory
  • Trauma theory
  • Treatment planning
  • Clinical diagnosis of mental health disorders

Most mental health counseling programs also give you a chance to get clinical experience through supervised internships and practicums. 

How to Get Licensed as a Mental Health Counselor

Want to learn how to become a mental health counselor? Your first step should be enrolling in a mental health counseling master’s program as just one of the many career development steps you’ll likely need to take to get your counseling license. 

Generally speaking, here’s the step-by-step process involved in obtaining a mental health counseling license: 

  • Earn your bachelor’s degree (most graduate programs will accept any major)
  • Earn your master’s degree in mental health counseling from an accredited university
  • Complete the required number of internship and practicum hours (these may vary state-to-state)
  • Complete the required number of post-graduate study supervised professional development hours to qualify for licensure
  • Pass your state’s licensure exam (most states require either the National Clinical Mental Health Counseling Exam or the National Counselor Examination for Licensure and Certification)2
  • Obtain a professional counselor license in the state you wish to practice in

Once you’re officially licensed, you’ll be able to pursue a variety of employment opportunities. Jobs for masters in mental health counseling may include:

  • Mental health care centers
  • Hospitals
  • Government programs
  • Schools and universities
  • Nonprofits
  • Research labs
  • Private practices

Important Mental Health Counseling Masters Program Considerations

If pursuing a career in mental health counseling interests you, you’ll want to select your graduate program thoughtfully. You should do this with whatever major area you choose, mental health counselor vs psychologist, doesn’t matter.

The right graduate program can help you start your path toward licensure and a fulfilling behavioral health career on the right foot.

Here are a few related educational program components to take into consideration:

  • Accreditation – If you want to get your clinical mental health counseling license, it’s smart to enroll in an accredited mental health counseling program. Accreditation helps ensure that your counseling program adequately prepares you for the licensure exam and your future career as a professional mental health counselor. 

    Mental health counseling programs that are accredited by the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP) usually meet or exceed the licensing requirements in most states.3

  • Online offerings – If you don’t have the time or availability to attend classes in person, you may want to look for counselor education programs that can be completed online. These days, there are many online mental health counseling graduate programs you can choose from. 

    As long as you attend a CACREP-accredited university, the rigor and quality of online counselor education programs are generally equivalent to their in-person counterparts. 

  • Flexibility – Graduate programs may also vary in terms of their scheduling flexibility. Maybe you can only attend classes at night or a handful of times a week. Some universities may offer more flexibility in terms of their behavioral health course scheduling options than others. 

Explore a Master’s Degree in Counseling at Alliant International University

If you want to pursue a meaningful career in mental health counseling, earning your master’s degree is a great place to start. 

The California School of Professional Psychology at Alliant International University offers an exceptional Clinical Counseling master’s program. This program provides comprehensive coursework, hands-on training, flexible scheduling, and the option to take courses online. Plus, since this program is approved by the California Board of Behavioral Science, it can help prepare you for the California mental health counseling licensure exam after graduation. 

Explore your educational opportunities at Alliant International University today. 


  1. “State Licensing of Professional Counselors.” ACA(WEBusage). 2022.…. Accessed February 16, 2022. 
  2. “Examinations.” 2022. NBCC. Accessed February 16, 2022.
  3. “Accreditation.” CACREP. October 11, 2019. Accessed February 16, 2022.

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