What to Expect in an Online Master's in Mental Health Counseling Program

Online master’s in mental health counseling degrees are as unique as the students who pursue them. As a result, it’s important to remember that every program offers a slightly different outcome. The following sections provide a general sense of what to expect, but visit individual department websites to better understand each plan of study.

Sample Courses for an Online Master's in Mental Health Counseling

Online master’s in mental health counseling degrees prepare graduates to take meaningful roles in a variety of professional counseling settings. Some programs emphasize general courses of study, while others offer specializations in areas of addiction counseling, marriage and family therapy, or forensics. Students on the fence about completing an advanced degree should remember that a master’s in mental health counseling online provides nuanced knowledge that is different from an associate or bachelor’s program. A higher degree can also open the door to higher wages and leadership opportunities.

Counseling Techniques

This foundational course introduces learners to common professional counseling techniques, with emphasis on techniques surrounding listening and interviewing, building professional client and counselor relationships, and creating safe spaces.

Diagnosing Mental Health

Students in this class use the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders to understand the process for assessing, diagnosing, and treating mental health issues such as substance abuse, personality disorders, depression, and anxiety. Students also consider various approaches to treatment.

Marriage Counseling Methodologies

This specialty course exists for learners who want to work in marriage and family counseling. Students learn about intervention models, one-to-one and group therapy principles, and navigating significant life changes within couples and families through therapeutic frameworks.

Addiction Counseling

Designed for students who want to work with patients dealing with substance abuse, this course introduces them to common theories and approaches. Students cover alcohol and drug abuse, common theories surrounding addictive disorders, and treatment models that address individual, group, and family therapy modalities.

Mental Health Counseling Practicum

Typically taken in the final year of studies, this hands-on course allows learners to gain real-world experience seeing patients under the supervision of a licensed mental health counselor. Students also further develop their counseling skills, receive mentorship, and learn to interact with different cultures.

Online Master's in Mental Health Counseling Completion Time

When considering a master’s in mental health counseling online degree, prospective students should consider the length of time it takes to complete their program. A full-time schedule will allow students to complete coursework more quickly. A part-time schedule, conversely, adds more time to a degree, but allows learners more time for juggling responsibilities at work and at home.

Some schools offer accelerated programs that allow learners to move through coursework more quickly, and others mandate a cohort style of learning. With the latter, students travel through coursework with colleagues who began the program at the same time, thereby fostering a community of learners who are familiar with one another.

In general, an online master’s in mental health counseling requires approximately 36 credits and two years of full-time study.

In general, an online master’s in mental health counseling requires approximately 36 credits and two years of full-time study. Those opting for a part-time schedule usually need three years to complete the program from start to finish.

Skills Gained in an Online Master's in Mental Health Counseling Program

Given that mental health counselors work with a diverse array of clients throughout their careers, online master’s degree programs in mental health counseling must prepare them for many different scenarios. In addition to offering extensive classwork on mental health topics, students also engage in supervised practica that allow them to build real-world skills prior to graduating. Learners can also opt to write a thesis that develops excellent research skills that are directly applicable to future roles.

  • Clinical Assessments

    Mental health counselors interview patients and observe their behaviors to assess their mental health needs and provide a diagnosis.

  • Developing Treatment Plans

    Based on initial assessments, mental health counselors use information to design informed treatment plans that help clients move forward and improve their mental health.

  • Listening

    To be effective in their jobs, mental health counselors must engage in effective listening. Students build various listening and question-asking skills while in school that help them draw out relevant information.

Online vs. On-Campus Programs: What's the Difference?

Students have numerous on-campus or online master’s in mental health counseling programs from which to choose. As a result of rapid technological advances over the last decade; however, few real differences exist between online and campus-based programs. Online programs typically follow the same curriculum as campus-based programs, and many classes are taught by the same professors leading discussions in brick-and-mortar classrooms. When completing practica or internships, the department works with students to find a suitable and approved location near their place of residence rather than making them travel.

Career and Salary Outlook for Online Master's in Mental Health Counseling Graduates

Graduates of master’s in mental health counseling online accredited programs can work in several different professional settings. Some may decide to work in health facilities, while others may open their own practices. Many schools require counseling professionals, as do some prisons or long-term care facilities. Regardless of the location, these professionals typically interact with a variety of different personalities, and help individuals find answers to mental health concerns. Most positions are standard eight-hour work days, although some clinical positions may require rotating shifts similar to nurses.

Substance Abuse, Behavioral Disorder, and Mental Health Counselor

These individuals help patients facing issues related to addictions, eating disorders, behavioral issues, or other mental health concerns. They evaluate their mental health, create treatment goals, and work with patients to move towards recovery through counseling techniques.

Median Annual Salary: $44,630

School Counselor

Also known as guidance counselors, these licensed professionals advise and provide counseling to students seeking help with topics such as academics, family life, career planning, or bullying. They identify issues surrounding school performance, provide individual and group counseling, and speak with parents about how to support their children.

Median Annual Salary: $56,310

Social Worker

Social workers fulfill many of the same duties as mental health counselors. They work with people and communities needing help, assess their clients’ needs, provide counseling and support, and make referrals to community resources that can help with their specific requests.

Median Annual Salary: $49,470

Marriage and Family Therapist

Marriage and family therapists work with individuals, couples, and families to identify issues within relationships. They help clients adjust to change, walk alongside them as they make decisions about the future, and build healthy communication and decision-making skills for dealing with difficult situations.

Median Annual Salary: $50,090

Behavioral Health Program Director

These professionals typically oversee the work of other mental health counselors. They ensure counselors meet legal and ethical requirements, oversee other administrative staff, and develop ongoing continuing education and training programs for counselors.

Median Annual Salary: $63,229

Education and Training Beyond a Master's in Mental Health Counseling

Students considering a doctorate in mental health counseling should evaluate whether it is a necessary prerequisite for their desired career, as most careers in the field only require a master's degree in mental health counseling, However, many research and academic positions do require a doctorate in the field.

Students should note that all states require mental health counselors in private practice to hold a master’s degree at minimum, complete 2,000 to 4,000 hours of supervised clinical practice, and gain licensure. To receive a license, applicants must meet all of these requirements and pass a state-level examination. To maintain their licensure, mental health counselors must participate in annual continuing education programs. Individuals seeking more information about specific licensure requirements in their state can review information provided by the National Board for Certified Counselors.

If you’re interested in learning more about doctoral options in counseling, check out Learn Psychology’s guide to online Ph.D. programs in counseling.