Are you considering becoming a licensed mental health counselor? Entering the field of mental health gives you the opportunity to pursue a fulfilling career where you can make a real difference in the lives of patients, all while earning a competitive salary and enjoying significant job stability.
But the career of all mental health counselors does not follow the exact same trajectory. In fact, they can be substantially different depending on which (if any) specialty you choose to focus on.
Below, we explore some of the most common job titles held by those who choose to go into the field and discuss four common career paths that you may consider before earning your degree.
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Counseling Psychology Career Outlook
Counseling psychology professionals can hold many different job titles depending on the type of work they pursue and the location in which they are employed. Two of the most common job titles are licensed mental health counselors and counseling psychologists.
Licensed Mental Health Counselor (LMHC)
A licensed mental health counselor (LMHC) is a mental health professional that helps their patients achieve mental wellness. They do this by leveraging a variety of therapeutic frameworks and techniques, depending on the unique needs of their patients. Generally speaking, becoming an LMHC requires a relevant graduate degree, such as a Master of Science in Counseling Psychology. According to PayScale, licensed mental health counselors earn an average of $51,083 per year or roughly $26.36 per hour. This figure can increase significantly, however, depending on where you choose to practice, your specialty, your educational background, and your level of experience.
Depending on your location, this position may also be called a Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC).
A counseling psychologist is similar in many ways to a mental health counselor in that they work to increase the mental and emotional wellbeing of their patients. They are different, however, in a number of ways. Counseling psychologists often rely on different methodologies to diagnose and treat their patients, and as such typically will have earned a doctorate such as a PhD in Counseling Psychology. According to PayScale, counseling psychologists earn an average salary of $57,888 per year or approximately $40 per hour. This can reach a high of around $91,000 per year depending on experience, specialty, and location.
Career Paths in Counseling Psychology
Whether you choose to become a mental health counselor or a counseling psychologist, there are many different career paths you can pursue. Often, these career paths will be related to your chosen specialty. Below are four common paths that you may want to consider.
1. Child and Adolescent Psychology
Children and adolescent psychology is unique from adult psychology due to the specific biological, developmental, environmental, and social differences that affect young people. As such, mental health counselors and counseling psychologists who work with children and adolescents will typically specialize in the field in order to fully understand these issues.
Child and adolescent psychologists and counselors are often employed in schools, universities, rehabilitation centers, and juvenile detention facilities. They may also work in private practice, hospitals, or other mental health facilities.
2. Health Psychology
Health psychology is a specific branch of psychology interested in the ways in which human health is influenced not only by biological factors but also by psychological and social factors. Mental health counselors and psychologists who specialize in this area use psychological science and frameworks in order to promote the general health and wellbeing of their patients.
Health psychologists are often employed in hospitals, health care clinics, rehabilitation centers, and by private corporations, or work in private practice.
3. Forensic Psychology
Forensic psychology refers to the application of clinical psychology in the world of law. Forensic psychologists and counselors, then, leverage their clinical skills (such as assessment, evaluation, and treatment) in the legal system—for example, by interviewing witnesses in order to understand their reliability, or by working with children to uncover abuse.
Forensic psychologists and counselors are often employed by criminal and family courts, police stations, prisons, law firms, and juvenile detention centers. They can also work as consultants or expert witnesses.
4. Cultural, Gender, and Political Psychology
Cultural psychology, gender psychology, and political psychology are three subsets of the field of psychology. While they are often discussed together, they are in fact different specialties. For example:
- Cultural psychology is the study of the various ways in which culture impacts (and is impacted) by the psychology of individuals. Psychologists and counselors who specialize in this field often work in research settings, hospitals, health clinics, community centers, and other places where patients might have diverse cultural backgrounds.
- Gender psychology is the study of how gender may impact the psychology of the individual. Counselors and psychologists who specialize in gender studies often work in research settings or directly with patients experiencing gender-related issues.
- Political psychology refers to the application of psychological frameworks, techniques, and principles to political activities—for example, voting and public perception of elected officials. Psychologists and counselors who specialize in this field often work for media outlets, governments (at the local, state, and federal levels), think tanks, and other private institutions.
Taking the First Step Toward Your Future
If you are interested in a career as a mental health counselor or a counseling psychologist, you can rest assured knowing that the career can be both fulfilling and lucrative. The key to finding the greatest fulfillment lies in selecting the career path that best aligns with your unique goals, interests, and passions, whatever they may be.
Becoming a mental health counselor or psychologist will require you to pursue graduate-level education, such as a Master of Science in Counseling Psychology. Though it isn’t always required to specialize in a specific area of psychology in order to break into that career, it can be helpful in jumpstarting your career. If you know that you would like to pursue specialized work, it can be worthwhile to complete a concentration as a part of your studies.
For example, students completing their MS in Counseling Psychology at Northeastern have the opportunity to select from one of four concentrations: Child and Adolescent Psychology; Cultural, Gender, and Political Psychology; Early Intervention; or Research. These concentrations require specific coursework, and that one of the degree’s two required clinical experiences fall within the designated area. Students with particular interests in and who complete one of these concentrations may find their knowledge and skills as well as employment enhanced.