Mental Health Counselor Job Outlook and Salary

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A mental health counselor meets with a client in the counselor’s office.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, mental illness is common in the United States, with almost 20% of adults experiencing some form of mental illness in 2020. As a result, there is a significant demand for qualified mental health counselors and the important services they provide.

Trained mental health counselors can work with individual clients of all ages, couples, or groups. They also have the opportunity to specialize in treating clients with any of a wide spectrum of challenges ranging from anxiety to depression to relationship issues. Given the prevalence of mental illness, it’s probably no surprise that, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the mental health counselor job outlook is bright.

If you’re considering enrolling in a Master of Arts in Counseling program with an eye toward becoming a mental health counselor, it’s important to become familiar with the profession. Learning more about a career in counseling, job prospects, and trends in the field can help you determine whether working in mental health counseling aligns with your goals.

Is Counseling a Good Career?

There are a number of counseling specialties that professionals can pursue. If you’re wondering whether counseling is a good career, employment website Indeed cites a number of benefits associated with working in the profession. For example:

  • If you enjoy helping people make lasting differences in their lives, a career in counseling offers that opportunity.
  • Job openings in counseling are available across the country in a wide range of settings, such as in hospitals, schools, correctional institutions, nonprofit organizations, social service agencies, and private practices.
  • Working in counseling offers individuals the chance to work with a specific group of people, such as children, families, or veterans.
  • Working in counseling can provide opportunities to participate in research and learn about new developments in the field.

A 2021 report in Healthline also noted the following benefits:

  • Mental health counselors have the opportunity to explore and use different types of psychotherapy. Examples include cognitive behavioral therapy, which helps people identify destructive thinking and adopt more healthy behaviors, and interpersonal therapy, which concentrates on the link between psychological symptoms and personal interactions.
  • Mental health counselors have the chance to provide holistic treatment to clients by working with other medical professionals such as primary care physicians or psychiatrists.

In researching the outlook for mental health counselor jobs and the profession’s associated rewards, it’s easy to focus on aspects of the field that are directly related to treating clients. But providing treatment to clients also enables counselors to improve society. According to the Treatment Advocacy Center, providing treatment to individual patients can have positive effects on a community’s overall rates of:

  • Homelessness
  • Arrest
  • Incarceration
  • Victimization
  • Family violence

Job Outlook for Counselors

Anyone with an interest in entering mental health counseling will be pleased to know that the job outlook for counselors is promising. Substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselor jobs are expected to grow 23% from 2020 to 2030, according to the BLS. That growth rate significantly exceeds the BLS’s average 8% projected growth for jobs in all occupations during the same time.

The BLS attributes its growth projections for counselors to:

  • Continuing increases in demand for substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counseling, particularly in light of the toll that the COVID-19 pandemic has taken on mental health
  • An increase in states’ providing counseling and treatment as an alternative to incarceration for people who have mental health challenges or suffer from addiction
  • A continuing need for counseling professionals who can provide mental health and substance abuse services to veterans

The BLS also reports that the median annual salary for substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors was $47,660 as of May 2020. But a review of the job outlook for counselors should consider additional forms of compensation as well. As the demand for mental health services continues to rise, employers have begun offering a range of other hiring incentives. For example, a 2021 survey that the National Council for Mental Wellbeing conducted of its 260 member organizations revealed that other forms of compensation are common in the field:

  • Organizations offering employees signing bonuses: 46%
  • Organizations offering employees educational funds: 37%
  • Organizations offering employees assistance with student loan repayment: 29%

Current Trends in Counseling

Reviewing current trends in counseling can help provide a fuller view of the mental health counselor job outlook. In 2021, the American Psychological Association identified several trends influencing the field in its Monitor on Psychology publication. For example, it cited:

  • Growing social media influence. With social media as a tool, mental health professionals are sharing research results sooner, sharing more data, and sharing more information regarding emerging issues in mental health.
  • Expansion of mental health apps. The creation of apps to help individuals who experience mental health issues is accelerating. These apps can lead individuals to seek traditional therapies or augment traditional therapies.
  • Increased efforts to reach underserved populations. Both the COVID-19 pandemic and an increase in interest in racial justice have highlighted the need to provide mental health services to underserved communities.
  • Growth in online therapy. Telehealth has entered the mental health field, and the growth of virtual therapy will help expand access to mental health services.
  • Employers’ placing greater emphasis on mental health. More employers are acknowledging the need to recognize mental health issues and provide resources to address them.

The World Economic Forum has cited additional innovations that will shape the future of mental health counseling, such as:

  • Creation of new drug therapies. For example, new drugs for treatment-resistant depression work in ways that are completely different from those of traditional drugs used to treat depression.
  • Monitoring social media to predict mental health issues. With the proliferation of social media, mental health professionals now can look for images and patterns in language that could be red flags for emerging mental health issues.
  • Use of digital devices in research. Capturing data from research participants’ cellphones or wearable devices has opened new avenues for conducting mental health research and enabled researchers to study more representative samples.
  • Growing use of predictive analytics. Researchers are harnessing the power of predictive analytics to simulate trends in mental health issues to identify specific areas in which investments in mental health can be most effective.

Counselors Will Be in Demand as Mental Health Needs Grow

The outlook for jobs in mental health counseling is favorable. Mental health counselors will see an acceleration in job growth as more individuals seek treatment. This bodes well for anyone interested in a career in the field.

If you’ve been considering a career in mental health counseling, then explore the online Master of Arts in Counseling program at Bradley University. Merging academic theory with hands-on experience, the program can equip individuals for a rewarding career as a mental health counselor. Begin your journey to a fulfilling career in counseling today.

Recommended Readings

A Career in Counseling: A Closer Look at Areas of Specialization

How to Become a Mental Health Counselor

Is There a Difference Between a Therapist and a Counselor?



Healthline, “What Is a Mental Health Counselor? Plus Where You Can Find One”

Indeed, “26 Reasons to Become a Counselor”

Monitor on Psychology, “Annual Guide, 15 Emerging Trends for 2021”

National Council for Mental Wellbeing, “Impact of COVID-19 on Behavioral Health Workforce”

National Institute of Mental Health, Mental Illness

Treatment Advocacy Center, Consequences of Non-Treatment

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Substance Abuse, Behavioral Disorder, and Mental Health Counselors

World Economic Forum, “These Are the Top 10 Innovations in Mental Health”