The National Alliance on Mental Illness reports that 43.8 million adults in the United States—approximately 18.5 percent of the population—experiences mental illness in a given year. Of those, nearly 10 million experience a serious mental illness that interferes with or limits one or more major life activities. Mental health counselors provide crucial services and support to anyone suffering from mental, behavioral and emotional problems and disorders.
A master’s degree in mental health counseling can help you make a positive impact on the lives of children, adults and families experiencing a range of problems from development issues to major mental illness. A master’s degree is also the minimum education requirement for licensure as a professional counselor in some states, and is the stepping stone to a doctoral degree in states that require a more advanced degree for licensure.
Enrolling in a graduate-level counseling degree program is the first step toward becoming a competent mental health counselor. And thanks to online distance learning programs, you can earn a Master in Mental Health Counseling without putting your life on hold.
Online programs provide a flexible way for aspiring mental health professionals to earn a master’s degree on their own terms. And because an online Master in Mental Health Counseling grants the same opportunities as a traditionally-earned master’s degree, you can take the next step in your career without having to worry about the logistics of going back to school. The virtual classroom is accessible anytime and anywhere, meaning you can work towards your degree whenever and wherever it is most convenient for you.
Here are some of the different components of an online Master in Mental Health Counseling degree program and what you can expect.
Coursework and exams
Online degree programs are presented in different formats, and it’s important to enroll in a format that fits your schedule and learning preference. These formats include:
- Synchronous – In these programs, students are expected to “attend” live weekly classes and discussions via streaming audio and video. Students also interact with professors and each other in these virtual classrooms using forums, instant messenger, streaming A/V and email.
- Asynchronous – These programs are considered to be more “self-paced” and often do not have a live component. Students may work through the coursework as slowly or quickly as they are comfortable with (as long as they complete all assignments and exams within the allotted timeframe).
Some online master’s degree programs are hybrid programs, which means they combine synchronous and asynchronous elements. In any case, make sure you know the format before enrolling so you can be sure that the program will be compatible with your schedule and provide you with the learning experience you want and/or need to succeed.
Because online degrees are not set in a brick-and-mortar classroom, students may be required to demonstrate some level of participation. This may include posting a certain number of time each day or week on class discussion boards or by collaborating with other students on group projects. Make sure you know about any participation requirements prior to enrolling so you know what’s expected of you to graduate with a Master in Mental Health Counseling.
Most online Master in Mental Health Counseling degree programs culminate with practical fieldwork, either a clinical practicum or internship. Some programs, especially those that are accredited by the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP) consist of at minimum a 100-hour practicum and a 600-hour internship.
Because the clinical experience portion of an online Master of Counseling program is time and effort intensive, prospective students should plan accordingly before enrolling. Some questions to ask regarding the clinical component include:
- What are the practicum and/or internship requirements?
- What is the weekly expected time commitment for fieldwork?
- Does the program help you identify suitable clinical sites?
- Are there any required on-campus residencies or intensives?
You may be able to tailor your degree and focus your education to the clients you plan on serving after graduation. Online Master in Health Counseling specializations and focus areas may include:
- Addiction Counseling
- Career Counseling
- Forensic Counseling
- Trauma and Crisis Counseling
- Couple and Family Counseling
Course titles and descriptions vary by program. When comparing Master of Counseling degrees, be sure to look at the required and elective coursework and consider how the curriculum will prepare you to become an effective mental health practitioner. Does the curriculum integrate theory, philosophy and technical skills that are consistent with the competencies of professional counselors?
To give you an idea of the topics you may explore as you pursue a master’s degree in mental health counseling, here’s a look at the sample curriculum from our partner NYU Steinhardt’s Counseling@NYU. This online master of arts in Counseling for Mental Health and Wellness program requires a total of 60 credit hours and can be completed in 21 to 30 months, depending on when you start. Below is a seven-term sample schedule for students who start the program in the fall.
|1||Foundations of Counseling for Mental Health and Wellness|
|1||Individual Counseling: Theory and Process|
|1||Individual Counseling: practice I|
|2||Human Growth and Development|
|2||Professional Orientation and Ethical Issues in Counseling for Mental Health and Wellness|
|3||Research and Evaluation in Behavioral Sciences|
|4||Group Dynamics: Theory and Process|
|4||Dynamics of Vocational Development|
|4||Practicum in Counseling for Mental Health and Wellness|
|5||Internship in Counseling for Mental Health and Wellness I|
|5||Program Development and Evaluation|
|6||Internship in Counseling for Mental Health and Wellness II|
|6||Interpretation and Use of Testing in Counseling Audits|
|7||Internship in Counseling for Mental Health and Wellness III|
Note: This is a sample schedule from our partner NYU Steinhardt. The sample schedule contains general guidelines; students’ actual schedules in their NYU Steinhardt’s Counseling@NYU program may vary.
What About a Master of Psychology?
You may also be interested in an online psychology master’s degree program.