Best Mental Health Counseling Programs

| Psychology.org Staff

Best Mental Health Counseling Programs

Are you ready to discover your college program?

Demand for mental health counseling is growing rapidly. The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, ongoing opioid crisis, and rising recognition of the importance of mental healthcare all contribute to this growth.

Read on to explore top programs for mental health counseling.

What to Look For in a Mental Health Counseling Program

The best master's in clinical mental health counseling for you depends on your goals and interests. It also depends on how well the curriculum and approach to counseling match your preferences.

Other vital factors to consider include program quality and reputation, staff-to-student ratio, and the psychology grad student application and admission requirements. Format/logistics and cost and financial aid for students in psychology should also be considered.

Because only graduates of accredited psychology programs are eligible for licensing and unaccredited programs are an unnecessary risk of your time and money, this guide only includes accredited programs.

When considering cost, be aware that licensed counselors are eligible for loan forgiveness programs, such as the National Health Service Corps and state loan forgiveness programs. These programs can reduce or eliminate debt from your master's in mental health counseling.

Practical Experience Requirements

Like other healthcare degrees, mental health counseling graduate programs require practical experience as part of the curriculum through practicums and internships on psychology.

During practicums, students observe and learn from licensed professionals working in the field. In most graduate programs for mental health counseling, students register for practicums just like they do for other classes.

Internships, which take place during the last year of master's in mental health counseling programs, are more like jobs. Students must find and apply for internships on their own, though schools provide support. During internships, students work directly with patients, but always under the supervision of a licensed professional.

The internship helps you apply what you learned to professional practice. It's also pivotal to your career, as many employers try to hire their best interns or rely heavily on supervisor references when hiring.

Career Relevance

Almost all mental health counseling graduates earn their license to become counselors. Other types of counseling, depending on the state, may not require a master's degree or a license. Substance misuse counseling, in particular, may require only an associate degree.

To earn your license, you need a master's degree, a passing score on the licensing exam, and time spent working under the supervision of a licensed counselor. Requirements may vary by state, so check the regulations for the state where you want to practice.

Demand for mental health counseling is high, especially given the opioid crisis and the mental health impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects 23% job growth between 2020 and 2030 for substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors, with a median salary of $47,660.

Featured Online Counseling Programs

Best Mental Health Counseling Programs

#1 Online College in Maryland

Johns Hopkins University

School Information
Location Baltimore, Maryland
Admission Rate 11%
Graduation Rate 93%
Instituation Type Private
Accreditation Yes Middle States Commission on Higher Education
Percent Online Enrollment 46% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.

Johns Hopkins University, in Baltimore, Maryland, offers a master of science in counseling degree program featuring a 60-credit curriculum. The program is accredited by the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs. 

The program's curriculum incorporates evidence-based course content as recommended by state and national standards. Courses in the major include social and cultural diversity, group work, research evaluation, and career development. The master's in mental health counseling program encourages learning through hands-on, small group projects, and community learning opportunities. A 600-hour internship is required. 

There are two concentrations available, including:

  • Clinical Mental Health Counseling - This track prepares students to sit for the Maryland licensed clinical professional counselor certification and to work in the professional counseling field in a variety of human services, community, and clinical setting.
  • School Counseling - This track is designed for students planning to work as a school counselor in grades K-12 in urban areas. The Maryland State Department of Education (MSDE) has endorsed this program. Graduates are eligible for the required MSDE school counselor certification. Part of the certification requirement includes a 600-hour internship. 

Program completion can take up to five years, depending on whether students opt for full-time or part-time courses. It costs around $875 per credit hour for in-state and out-of-state students.

#2 Online College in Texas

University of Houston-Clear Lake

School Information
Location Houston, Texas
Admission Rate 74%
Accreditation Yes Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges
Percent Online Enrollment 42% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.

The University of Houston-Clear Lake, ‌in Houston, Texas, offers a clinical mental health counseling master's program featuring a 60-credit curriculum. The clinical mental health counseling program is Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs accredited. 

Admission requirements include a bachelor's degree from an accredited college or institution. Those with a cumulative GPA of 3.0 or higher in the last 60 hours of coursework may waive the GRE/MAT test score requirement. Otherwise, students must score 294 on the GRE and get a 3.5 writing score, or have a 390 minimum MAT score. 

This master's in mental health counseling degree emphasizes course topics, such as counseling theories, research methods, diagnostic tests, and psychotherapy. There is a face-to-face component of the program, involving documentation of 3,000 clock hours of supervised counseling experience. 

Program completion includes 61 hours of coursework. It costs around $4,899 per semester for in-state students and $9,539 per semester for out-of-state students. Successful course completion qualifies students to sit for the Texas licensed professional counselor certification.

#3 Online College in New York

State University of New York at New Paltz

School Information
Location New Paltz, New York
Admission Rate 45%
Graduation Rate 77%
Accreditation Yes Middle States Commission on Higher Education
Percent Online Enrollment 15% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.

The State University of New York at New Paltz, in New Paltz, New York, offers a master of science in clinical mental health counseling program. The 60-credit mental health counseling graduate program meets the New York State Education Department's requirements for licensed professional counselor programs in the state of New York. 

Admission requirements include a 3.0 minimum GPA from an accredited undergraduate program. Core courses include topics on mental health practice, group work, research, and more. A face-to-face component of the program is required; these supervised internships and practicum opportunities provide real-world counseling experience.

The master's in mental health counseling program is offered via a full-time, or part-time, two- or three-year curriculum. The two-year program includes summer classes. Students that need more time to complete the program can take up to a maximum of five years after admission acceptance. 

Program completion takes 2-3 years on average, and costs around $471 per credit hour for in-state tuition and $963 per credit hour for out-of-state tuition.

#4 Online College in New York

CUNY City College

School Information
Location New York, New York
Admission Rate 46%
Graduation Rate 56%
Accreditation Yes Middle States Commission on Higher Education
Percent Online Enrollment 1% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.

CUNY City College, in New York, New York, offers a master of arts in mental health counseling program featuring a 60-credit curriculum. 

Courses in the major emphasize a firm base in counseling theory and practice aimed at preventing psychological symptoms. The 60-credit hour master's in mental health counseling program, offered by the psychology department, fulfills the requirements for the New York State mental health counselor licensure. 

Admission requirements include a minimum cumulative GPA of 3.2 and a GPA of 3.5 or higher in undergraduate psychology courses. GRE/GMAT test scores are not required. The program is available as a two-year, full-time program with a course schedule of five classes per semester for the first three semesters. A 600-hour internship comprising 20 hours per week is required during the last year of the program. 

Program completion takes two years on average, and costs around $470 per credit hour for in-state students and $855 for out-of-state students.

#5 Online College in New York

CUNY Brooklyn College

School Information
Location Brooklyn, New York
Admission Rate 45%
Graduation Rate 54%
Accreditation Yes Middle States Commission on Higher Education
Percent Online Enrollment 7% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.

CUNY Brooklyn College in Brooklyn, New York, offers a master's degree in mental health counseling program featuring a 60-credit curriculum. The program emphasizes counseling for children, families, and adults.

Courses focus on assessment, treatment modalities, and modern methods of practice in a three-prong internship program, including cognitive-behavioral psychology, humanistic, and psychodynamic aspects of counseling. Real-world experience is gained at the college's counseling center where students perform therapy and employ intake assessments under the supervision of a licensed faculty member.

Internships are also required. Once students receive 3,000 hours of clinical supervision, they are qualified to sit for the state licensing exam for a licensed professional counselor.

Program completion takes two years on average, and costs around $5,545 per semester for full-time students; out-of-state tuition is $855 per credit.

#6 Online College in District of Columbia

George Washington University

School Information
Location Washington, District of Columbia
Admission Rate 41%
Graduation Rate 82%
Instituation Type Private
Accreditation Yes Middle States Commission on Higher Education
Percent Online Enrollment 22% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.

The George Washington University in Washington D.C., offers a master of arts in clinical mental health counseling program featuring a 60-credit hour curriculum. 

The master's in mental health counseling enables students to counsel people with substance use disorder and work with people in employment centers and social services. Counseling, research, and practice are the pillars of the program's curriculum. Courses in the major include career counseling, substance abuse and addictions counseling, and trauma and crisis intervention.

Course completion requires 600 hours (two semester hours) in internships, a 100-hour practicum, and completion of a portfolio (before starting the practicum). Laboratory and classroom studies are required, as well as supervised training at a field site.

Program completion takes two years on average for full-time students, and costs around $1,815 per credit hour for in-state and out-of-state students.

#7 Online College in Illinois

Moody Bible Institute

School Information
Location Chicago, Illinois
Admission Rate 94%
Graduation Rate 67%
Instituation Type Private
Accreditation Yes Higher Learning Commission
Percent Online Enrollment 42% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.

Moody Bible Institute, in Chicago, Illinois, offers a master of arts in clinical mental health counseling program featuring a 60-credit hour curriculum. The college is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission. 

The master's in mental health counseling course is religiously affiliated; theology courses are available online or on campus. A modular format involving flexible scheduling by dividing classes into 10- to 20-minute modules is also available. 

The counseling center affords students an opportunity for real-world supervised counseling experience. Courses in the major include diversity and multicultural issues, integration of counseling and spiritual disciplines, and marriage and family dynamics. 

The program meets the standards for a licensed professional counselor in the state of Illinois. Program completion takes three years on average (including summer courses), and costs around $475 per credit hour for in-state and out-of-state students.

#8 Online College in New York

Syracuse University

School Information
Location Syracuse, New York
Admission Rate 44%
Graduation Rate 83%
Instituation Type Private
Accreditation Yes Middle States Commission on Higher Education
Percent Online Enrollment 15% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.

Syracuse University, in Syracuse, New York, offers a master of science in clinical mental health counseling degree. The university is accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education. 

The 60-credit hour program is Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs accredited and meets the New York State licensing requirements for clinical mental health counseling. The program also qualifies graduates for a nationally certified counselor credential. 

The program is steeped in teaching leadership skills, social justice, and cultural advocacy. The curriculum emphasizes clinical intervention and assessment of comprehensive needs, while focusing on wellness for adults, families, adolescents, and children. Students must take over 700 supervised clinical hours, including practicums and internships. There are also study abroad opportunities. 

On average, full-time students can complete the program in two years, including summer courses. A part-time schedule can also be accommodated, but students must complete the course in no longer than seven years after admission acceptance. Tuition is $1,734 per credit hour.

#9 Online College in Indiana

Indiana University-Bloomington

School Information
Location Bloomington, Indiana
Admission Rate 78%
Graduation Rate 79%
Accreditation Yes Higher Learning Commission
Percent Online Enrollment 19% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.

Indiana University Bloomington is a public institution in Bloomington, Illinois. The university offers a master of science in education in mental health counseling and counselor education. The master's in mental health counseling program is accredited by the masters in psychology and counseling accreditation council.

Admission requirements include a bachelor's degree from an accredited institution with a GPA of 2.75 or higher. The 60-credit hour program qualifies students to sit for the licenced professional counselor examination. GRE test scores are not required for students with an undergraduate GPA of 3.0 or a cumulative GPA of 3.3 or higher from an institution accredited in the United States. 

Courses in the major include multicultural counseling, advanced practicum in counseling psychology, and psychopathology and advanced diagnosis. Program completion takes two years on average, and costs around $450 per credit hour for in-state students and $1,515 for nonresidents.

#10 Online College in New York

Touro College

School Information
Location New York, New York
Admission Rate 69%
Graduation Rate 61%
Instituation Type Private
Accreditation Yes Middle States Commission on Higher Education
Percent Online Enrollment 17% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.

Touro College is a private institution in New York, New York. The college offers a 60-hour master's in clinical mental health counseling program. 

The master's in mental health counseling program qualifies students for licensure as a licensed professional counselor. The program meets the New York State Education Department requirements. The Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs accredited curriculum prepares students to pass the licensure examination and meets the certification requirements for certified alcoholism and substance abuse counselor trainee.

The clinical requirements include 700 hours of total fieldwork, comprising a 100-hour practicum and 600 hours of internship in a community-based placement. Weekly 1.5 hour supervision sessions by licensed faculty members are required. Touro College assigns a dedicated fieldwork placement worker to help students set up and manage their clinical placements. 

Program completion takes 2-3 years on average, and costs around $840 per credit hour for in-state and out-of-state students.

Frequently Asked Questions

Do I need a master's in mental health counseling to be a counselor?

Different types of counseling have different licensing requirements, but you must have a master's degree from an accredited program to receive state licensing as a professional counselor.

Is a master of arts in mental health counseling worth it?

The value of a master's in mental health counseling depends on your goals. Other healthcare master's program graduates, such as nurses, earn higher wages. However, mental health counselors work predictable schedules in office settings, with less physical stress.

Should I get a master's in clinical mental health counseling or in psychology?

Counselors can earn a license with a master's degree, while psychologists need a doctorate. Demand for both is high, though psychologists earn more.

What's the difference between a licensed mental health counselor and a licensed professional counselor? The difference is mostly terminology that varies by state. The American Counseling Association endorses the term licensed professional counselor. Either title requires graduating from a master's program for mental health counseling.

Feature Image: Kobus Louw / E+ / Getty Images

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