Best Mental Health Counseling Programs

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Updated December 22, 2022

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A mental health counselor is a licensed clinical healthcare professional who promotes mental health by counseling individual clients, couples, and family members and facilitating group therapy.

Professional counselors work with people with depression, anxiety, addictions, marital or family problems, anger or grief issues, behavioral problems (e.g., in adolescents or children), low self-esteem, or other emotional or mental health issues.

If you are searching for the best mental health counseling programs, this guide can help. Learn what to look for, find out about practical experience requirements, and access a list of the best mental health counseling programs.

What to Look For in a Mental Health Counseling Program

Applying to graduate school may initially seem daunting, You may wonder what to look for in a mental health counseling program. It helps to break down the process into a series of actionable steps beginning with exploring specific program requirements and features.

There are several things to look for in a counseling program, including the admission requirements, the student-to-teacher ratio, required practical experience, accreditation status, and tuition and fees.

Practical Experience Requirements

Practicums and internships provide students with the opportunity to put their classroom skills into practice. Hands-on experience is required to meet the licensed professional counselor (LPC) licensing mandates.

Practical experience includes pre-set hours in which students get real-life experience either by watching licensed professional counsel clients (i.e., practicums) or working more independently and counseling real clients while a licensed professional oversees your work (i.e., supervised internships).

Note internships allow students to gain the clinical experience required to take the LPC examination.

Career Relevance

Becoming a mental health counselor lets you pursue various careers in the mental health field. Examples of possible jobs for mental health counselors include:

Some states refer to LPCs as licensed clinical professional counselors or licensed mental health counselors. These licensed professionals provide mental health and substance abuse counseling services. Becoming a licensed professional counselor involves:

Learn more about licensing requirements in your state of residence from the American Counseling Association.

The 2021 annual median pay for substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors is $48,520, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). The BLS projects that these jobs will grow by 22% from 2021-2031, which is much faster than average.

Featured Online Counseling Programs

Best Mental Health Counseling Programs

#1 Best Mental Health Counseling Programs

Johns Hopkins University

  • Baltimore, MD
  • 4 years
  • Online + Campus

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.

Average Tuition
In-state
$55,350
Out-of-state
$55,350
Retention Rate
97%
Admission Rate
11%
Students Enrolled
27,079
Institution Type
Private
Percent Online Enrollment
46% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.
Accreditation
Yes Middle States Commission on Higher Education

#2 Best Mental Health Counseling Programs

University of Houston-Clear Lake

  • Houston, TX
  • 4 years
  • Online + Campus

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.

Average Tuition
In-state
$5,740
Out-of-state
$19,176
Retention Rate
80%
Admission Rate
74%
Students Enrolled
9,082
Institution Type
Public
Percent Online Enrollment
42% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.
Accreditation
Yes Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges

#3 Best Mental Health Counseling Programs

State University of New York at New Paltz

  • New Paltz, NY
  • 4 years
  • Campus

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.

Average Tuition
In-state
$7,070
Out-of-state
$16,980
Retention Rate
85%
Admission Rate
45%
Students Enrolled
7,757
Institution Type
Public
Percent Online Enrollment
15% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.
Accreditation
Yes Middle States Commission on Higher Education

#4 Best Mental Health Counseling Programs

CUNY City College

  • New York, NY
  • 4 years
  • Campus

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.

Average Tuition
In-state
$6,930
Out-of-state
$14,880
Retention Rate
84%
Admission Rate
46%
Students Enrolled
15,816
Institution Type
Public
Percent Online Enrollment
1% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.
Accreditation
Yes Middle States Commission on Higher Education

#5 Best Mental Health Counseling Programs

CUNY Brooklyn College

  • Brooklyn, NY
  • 4 years
  • Online + Campus

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.

Average Tuition
In-state
$6,930
Out-of-state
$14,880
Retention Rate
80%
Admission Rate
45%
Students Enrolled
17,811
Institution Type
Public
Percent Online Enrollment
7% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.
Accreditation
Yes Middle States Commission on Higher Education

#6 Best Mental Health Counseling Programs

George Washington University

  • Washington, DC
  • 4 years
  • Online + Campus

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.

Average Tuition
In-state
$54,453
Out-of-state
$54,453
Retention Rate
92%
Admission Rate
41%
Students Enrolled
27,814
Institution Type
Private
Percent Online Enrollment
22% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.
Accreditation
Yes Middle States Commission on Higher Education

#7 Best Mental Health Counseling Programs

Moody Bible Institute

  • Chicago, IL
  • 4 years
  • Online + Campus

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.

Average Tuition
In-state
$11,200
Out-of-state
$11,200
Retention Rate
81%
Admission Rate
94%
Students Enrolled
3,009
Institution Type
Private
Percent Online Enrollment
42% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.
Accreditation
Yes Higher Learning Commission

#8 Best Mental Health Counseling Programs

Syracuse University

  • Syracuse, NY
  • 4 years
  • Online + Campus

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.

Average Tuition
In-state
$50,616
Out-of-state
$50,616
Retention Rate
92%
Admission Rate
44%
Students Enrolled
22,850
Institution Type
Private
Percent Online Enrollment
15% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.
Accreditation
Yes Middle States Commission on Higher Education

#9 Best Mental Health Counseling Programs

Indiana University-Bloomington

  • Bloomington, IN
  • 4 years
  • Online + Campus

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.

Average Tuition
In-state
$9,575
Out-of-state
$35,140
Retention Rate
90%
Admission Rate
78%
Students Enrolled
43,260
Institution Type
Public
Percent Online Enrollment
19% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.
Accreditation
Yes Higher Learning Commission

#10 Best Mental Health Counseling Programs

Touro College

  • New York, NY
  • 4 years
  • Online + Campus

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.

Average Tuition
In-state
$18,038
Out-of-state
$18,038
Retention Rate
84%
Admission Rate
69%
Students Enrolled
11,631
Institution Type
Private
Percent Online Enrollment
17% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.
Accreditation
Yes Middle States Commission on Higher Education

Frequently Asked Questions

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

No, you don’t need a master’s degree to become a counselor. Those with a bachelor’s degree can perform entry-level counseling duties under the supervision of a licensed mental health professional. However, you need a master’s degree to sit for the licensed professional counselor (LPC) exam in most states.

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

A master of arts in mental health counseling can be worth it depending on your interests and career goals.. THe Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that mental health counselor jobs will increase by 22% from 2021 to 2031, nearly three times faster than the average growth rate for all jobs.

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

The master’s degree you select to become a mental health counselor depends on your personal goals. If you plan to see clients in groups, as a family unit, or 1:1, in a clinical environment, a master’s in clinical mental health counseling may be the best choice. However, if your goal is to work in research or you plan to teach psychology, you can consider a master’s in psychology.


Page last reviewed on November 14, 2022

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