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Mental Health Counseling Careers and Opportunities

October 25, 2023
Counselor sitting and touch hand young asian man near window.

Mental illness is a pervasive yet often under-acknowledged issue in the United States. According to a 2023 report by Mental Health America (MHA), over 50 million American adults, or around 21% of the population, have a mental illness. However, 55% of these individuals receive no mental health treatment.

Licensed professional counselors can make a difference by providing compassionate and evidence-based care to individuals struggling with mental health issues. Many counselors specialize in certain populations or types of mental health disorders. For instance, some people working in clinical mental health counseling focus on providing care for youth, while others treat people with substance use disorders. This article explores in-demand mental health counseling careers and their responsibilities. 

Mental health counseling careers 

Mental health counselors work in a broad range of settings, including community agencies, private practices, and schools. Potential career paths include:

Private practice counseling

Many licensed professional counselors start private practices. They offer individual or group sessions and use various therapeutic approaches to assess and treat clients. This career path gives counselors the freedom to set their schedules, design treatment plans, and choose their clients.2 

However, private practice counselors must handle every aspect of running their businesses, from marketing their services to new clients to billing insurance. They must also grapple with ethical dilemmas, such as deciding whether to charge clients experiencing financial distress. Counselors pursuing this path can take business classes and find a peer supervisor to help them as they initially set up their business.2 

Group therapist

Some counselors specialize in treating groups of clients who experience similar mental health issues or challenges. Group therapists provide care for various disorders, such as anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder. They help clients develop peer support networks and learn strategies to improve their mental health.3

Group therapists work in many settings, including private practices and correctional facilities.4 These professionals use interpersonal skills like communication and empathy to engage group members and ensure all clients benefit from their sessions.3

Clinical mental health counselor in a community agency

Mental health counseling professionals can provide services in community mental health centers and government-funded agencies. These roles allow counselors to work closely with vulnerable populations, such as low-income individuals and people with severe mental health disorders.5

Community mental health counselors promote wellness by providing individual and group therapy. They may also offer crisis intervention and prevention training for law enforcement, medical professionals, and other community leaders. These programs teach professionals how to assist people experiencing mental health crises.6 

Substance abuse counselor

MHA reports that 15% of American adults have a substance use disorder, yet 94% don’t receive treatment.1 Counselors can help address this crisis by assessing and treating individuals with substance use disorders.8

Substance abuse counselors typically work in community organizations and rehabilitation centers. They develop treatment plans for clients and help them identify harmful behaviors or thought patterns contributing to addiction. They also provide recovery support services, such as assisting clients with job placement.8 

Marriage and family therapist

Marriage and family therapists offer counseling services for couples and families. They help clients enhance their communication and improve their family dynamics. They also assist clients with relationship problems, including intimacy issues and parenting disagreements. Additionally, these counselors may collaborate with other mental health professionals, such as psychologists and social workers, to support families.9  

Rehabilitation counselor 

Rehabilitation counselors provide mental health services for individuals with disabilities. They develop treatment plans and help clients access supportive services, including medical care. Additionally, these professionals offer independent living skills training and vocational rehabilitation. These services allow clients to pursue careers and increase their independence.10 

These counselors also advocate for people with disabilities by developing and promoting policies and programs that improve their quality of life.10 

Geriatric counselor

Geriatric counselors specialize in clinical mental health counseling for older adults and their families. They help clients cope with age-related issues and transitions, such as dementia and geriatric mood disorders. Additionally, they provide grief and loss counseling for older adults who have lost spouses, children, and other loved ones.11 

Crisis counselor

Crisis counselors help individuals experiencing mental, physical, or social emergencies. They assess and manage immediate mental health needs, refer clients to resources, and provide follow-up support. This job can be emotionally taxing and requires strong empathetic listening skills.12 

These professionals work in many settings, including state agencies, mental hospitals, and refugee camps. They also staff crisis hotlines and other intervention services.12 

Research and academia 

Mental health counseling professionals can pursue career opportunities in academia and research. Some work as adjunct professors or become faculty at community colleges, where they teach and supervise future counselors. Additionally, they can conduct academic research studies in mental health counseling.12 

Be a catalyst for change as a licensed professional counselor

You can improve mental health care in America with an online Master of Science in Clinical Mental Health Counseling from Marquette University. You’ll study the latest counseling practices and theories by taking challenging courses on topics like multicultural counseling, substance abuse counseling, group counseling, and psychopathology and diagnosis. You can also choose to specialize in child and adolescent counseling

Marquette's clinical mental health counseling faculty are leading experts in in-demand areas like addictions, family counseling, and human development. They provide personal mentorship and connect students with their extensive networks. Earn a master's degree in counseling from Marquette to establish the skills and knowledge you need for a rewarding career in professional counseling.

Schedule a call with an admissions outreach advisor for more information.