While earning an online mental health counseling degree, undergraduate students gain foundational knowledge and training in the discipline. Obtaining a bachelor's degree is the first major step toward becoming a mental health counselor. Undergraduate programs in the field prepare learners to pursue further education, such as a specialized master's degree. Many graduates of online counseling degree programs enter careers as counselors, health educators, probation officers, and social workers.
Specific requirements for an online counseling degree vary depending on the school and program. Prospective students should note each program's course requirements during their research; however, most counseling programs require some or all of the courses below.
Curricula for online mental health counseling degrees at the undergraduate level typically provide a comprehensive overview of the discipline. Students can explore potential specializations while gaining basic skills and knowledge related to mental health counseling. Most programs include a capstone requirement, which may comprise an internship or a practicum. This experiential component provides students with valuable field experience, during which they apply classroom knowledge in a clinical setting.
Most students earn their online mental health counseling degree in four years or less, depending on their individual pace and circumstances. However, several factors and program characteristics, including enrollment status and learning format, can affect degree completion time.
Many schools allow learners to enroll full or part time. Part-time students typically take longer to graduate. Some schools offer an accelerated enrollment option, which can expedite completion time but may increase program costs. Additionally, online programs may follow an individually paced or cohort format. Students in individually paced programs can complete coursework at their own speed, while learners in cohort programs take courses at a prescribed pace, alongside a group of peers.
In addition to a solid knowledge base, learners acquire core skills necessary for success in mental health counseling. Students develop skills such as active listening, social perceptiveness, and critical thinking. Learners often practice these skills during internships and field placements. Graduates can apply these valuable, transferable skills to positions in mental health counseling and in other industries.
Active listening involves paying close attention to what another person says and patiently working to fully understand their mindset. Active listening also involves asking direct, clarifying questions when appropriate and avoiding interrupting the speaker.
Especially in culturally diverse settings, mental health professionals must be aware of a patient's reactions and be able to detect factors impacting those reactions. Professionals in the field need a full understanding of how external social factors affect an individual.
Students learn to use logic and reasoning to identify potential problems and develop effective solutions. Mental health professionals must detect patterns in behavior and draw connections between seemingly disparate ideas.
Online mental health counseling degrees typically require the same coursework as their on-campus counterparts. Online classes generally involve the same level of instruction and are generally taught by the same faculty as in-person classes.
Learners pursuing an online counseling degree complete the same internship, practicum, and field placement requirements as on-campus students. However, distance learners typically complete these components at an approved facility in their area.
While a bachelor's degree in mental health counseling offers the initial training necessary for employment in the field, most mental health counseling positions require a master's degree. Some employers hire candidates with an undergraduate degree and professional certification, but most roles require a graduate degree. Obtaining a bachelor's degree in mental health counseling prepares students for graduate studies. After earning a master's, some learners pursue a doctoral degree in the field to qualify for more advanced positions.
A master's degree in mental health counseling typically requires 2-3 years, depending on the program and the student's pace. Additionally, graduates must obtain state licensure or certification before they can practice. The Certified Clinical Mental Health Counselor credential from the National Board for Certified Counselors is the industry-standard certification. Candidates for the credential must meet education and work experience requirements and must pass an exam.
After earning an online mental health counseling degree, graduates can pursue positions in a variety of healthcare settings. In positions across industries, graduates apply the core skills and work habits acquired during their mental health counseling program. Competitive job candidates for the roles below possess social and investigative interests and advanced skills in written and oral expression, inductive reasoning, problem sensitivity, active listening, and critical thinking.
Social and community service managers supervise, coordinate, and implement social service programs for community organizations. They also oversee groups of workers and employees who provide social services to the public. Typically, these managers need only a bachelor's degree, but some positions require additional education.
Median Annual Salary: $65,320
Medical and health services managers plan, direct, and coordinate medical, mental health, and other healthcare services. These professionals may manage an entire medical facility or work in a specific department or practice. Medical managers generally need a bachelor's degree in a relevant discipline and professional experience. Some positions require certification.
Median Annual Salary: $99,730
Health educators and community health workers must hold a bachelor's degree, and some employers require professional certifications. These professionals promote general wellness and teach individuals and communities about healthy behaviors. They develop and implement strategies for wellness and establish links between communities and healthcare professionals.
Median Annual Salary: $46,080
These professionals provide social services that assist in the rehabilitation of law offenders in parole, in custody, or on probation. They evaluate behavior, assess individual needs, and develop plans for clients. Probation officers and correctional treatment specialists report directly to court personnel, parole officers, and other criminal justice professionals. They need a relevant bachelor's degree and must submit to background checks and drug testing.
Median Annual Salary: $53,020
Psychiatric technicians and aides provide care for individuals with mental illnesses and developmental disabilities. They often provide therapeutic care, monitor patients' conditions, and create reports. These professionals often work in mental health facilities, psychiatric hospitals, and other healthcare settings. They must hold postsecondary professional certifications in the field.
Median Annual Salary: $30,860