A Guide to Online Master’s in Mental Health Counseling Programs

A master’s in mental health counseling can help provide you with the tools and skills necessary to become a licensed mental health counselor in the U.S. These professionals can offer therapy and counseling to individuals, couples and families, helping them to cope with mental health issues. Mental health counselors also can be qualified to diagnose mental health disorders and recommend treatment options.

Jumpstart Your Career, Explore No GRE Online Mental Health Counseling Programs:

Earn Northwestern’s CACREP-Approved Degree

Earn a CACREP-accredited master’s in counseling online from top-9 ranked1 Northwestern University.

1U.S. News & World Report: 2022 Best National University Rankings 

  • CACREP Accredited
  • Earn your MA in Counseling from Northwestern in as few as 18 months
  • Accelerated full-time, traditional, or part-time tracks available


MPCAC-Accredited Online MA at NYU. GRE Not Req.

Aspiring mental health counselors are prepared to pursue licensure with NYU Steinhardt’s MPCAC-accredited online counseling master’s. Students can earn their degree in as few as 21 mos. GRE not req. 

  • Prepare to become a mental health counselor
  • Accredited by the MPCAC
  • As few as 21 months to complete
  • GRE not required 


A mental health counselor’s duties fall on a spectrum. On one end of the spectrum, counselors help people with normal cognitive processes cope with difficult life events, such as the death of a loved one or the loss of a job. On the other end of the spectrum, counselors help people with less than normal cognitive processes manage mental illnesses, such as bipolar disorder or clinical depression. A master’s in clinical mental health counseling is a prerequisite for obtaining clinical-related counseling licensure in all states.

When considering pursuing a master’s in mental health counseling online, you may wonder how virtual learning can provide the hands-on experience necessary to properly and effectively interact with patients. Many accredited online master’s in mental health counseling programs require a minimum amount of in-person clinical experience and ensure that their curriculum resembles that of an on-campus mental health counseling program.

The Online Master’s in Mental Health Counseling Experience

Online master’s in mental health counseling programs offer students unique virtual experiences that often encompass online student support. These support services can give you access to campus faculty and staff while you are logged on. When deciding on a program, it’s also important to consider factors like class size, accreditation, course format and more.

The asynchronous learning format allows students to access and learn course materials at their own pace, without having to attend live classes. Synchronous coursework, on the other hand, requires students to attend live classes at specific times.

The level of licensure you wish to attain may likely impact your decision when choosing a school and program. Keep in mind that to become a licensed mental health counselor (LMHC), you must meet state licensure requirements. They typically include completing a minimum number of clinical experience hours. Being an online student can make clinical placement difficult. While some programs do not provide much assistance with this process, others offer individualized support to help online students find internship placement sites that are convenient for them.

Online Master’s in Mental Health Counseling Accreditations

Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP): CACREP-accredited online master’s in mental health counseling programs must meet a set of general standards determined by the council. CACREP is the more common accreditation for mental health counseling programs. Standards include coursework in human growth and development, group work and the history and development of mental health counseling techniques, models and theories. If an online master’s in mental health counseling program is accredited by CACREP, the program is expected to focus on quality, excellence and equity.

CACREP-accredited programs are required to address the needs of society at large, encourage leadership and protect the public. CACREP-accredited programs must also provide students with a broad range of theoretical and strategic perspectives and demonstrate that they are committed to continuous improvement.

Masters in Psychology and Counseling Accreditation Council (MPCAC): MPCAC-accredited programs emphasize professional competencies in the science-based practice of counseling and psychological services. These programs must meet curriculum criteria to become MPCAC-accredited. MPCAC standards for curriculum (PDF, 162 KB) include these competencies:

  • Professional identity and ethical and professional standards
  • Evidence-based theories and practice of counseling and psychotherapy
  • Multiculturalism and diversity
  • Tests, measurements and other assessments of behavior
  • Career development and/or the role of work in peoples’ lives
  • Biological basis of behavior
  • Developmental basis of behavior
  • Social/organizational/community basis of behavior
  • Understanding and use of supervision during applied experiences

Online Master’s in Mental Health Counseling Programs

Each online master’s in mental health counseling program has its own unique structure and application process. In most circumstances, materials required for application include:

  1. Application: Once you have found the accredited online master’s in mental health counseling program you prefer, you can fill out an online (or paper) application and submit it with the application fee.
  2. Test scores: Many schools require GRE general test scores or Test of English as a Foreign Language/International English Language Testing System (TOEFL/IELTS) scores for international students. Some schools may not require test scores at all. 
  3. Transcripts: All accredited mental health counseling master’s programs require a copy of transcripts from any postsecondary school you have attended. It can be beneficial to request bachelor’s degree transcripts in advance and upload  official copies online. 
  4. Professional work history: Upload a copy of your most recent résumé or curriculum vitae as part of your application.
  5. Essays and personal statements: A personal statement (written in essay form) is typically required. Multiple essays can sometimes be required to fully express the intent of your application. Some common topics included in a personal statement are:
    • Academic and personal interests
    • Experiences in school or work that have helped to prepare you
    • Why you are choosing to apply to  the specific degree program and university 
    • What you will do after you earn your degree
  6. Application Fees: Application fees vary depending on the program

Mental Health Counseling Career Outlook

Pursuing an online master’s in mental health counseling can increase your earning potential and expand your career options. Accredited online programs can allow you to gain the skills and clinical experience you need to work in a variety of settings, including family services, outpatient care, government, hospitals, schools and private practices. You can also specialize in working with specific populations, such as the elderly, the incarcerated, teenagers and families.

Salaries vary across industries for substance abuse, behavioral disorder and mental health counselors, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). In May 2022, the BLS reported median annual wages for those professionals working in:

  • Hospitals (state, local and private): $54,740
  • Offices of other health practitioners: $50,260
  • Individual and family services: $49,210
  • Outpatient mental health and substance abuse centers: $48,640
  • Residential mental health and substance abuse facilities: $44,150

Mental health counseling roles in these industries range from rehabilitation and substance abuse counselor to marriage and family counselor. Some professions may require additional certifications. Check with specific school counseling programs and your state board for information on certification requirements.

Finding the Best Online Master’s in Mental Health Counseling For You

In searching for the best mental health counseling master’s online program, it’s important to consider the instruction method, the program length and the credit requirements.

Online Master’s in Mental Health Counseling Programs

A list of master’s in mental health counseling online programs in the United States, with information on required credits and enrollment type, is available below.

Last updated September 2023.