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Bachelor’s degree in mental health counseling guide

Introduction to mental health counseling

Although scholars have studied the brain for centuries to understand how it functions—including the formation of emotions— general discussions on mental health and mental illness were taboo subjects. Common disorders like depression or anxiety were explained away as demon possession or magic. For many, it’s hard to explain what can’t be seen and even harder to define what you feel. Fortunately, the modern age has shone a new light on mental illness and made significant progress in understanding overall mental health.

Many higher education degrees encompass the study of mental illness, gbut people interested in a career as a licensed therapist or school counselor should consider a Bachelor of Science Degree in Mental Health Counseling (BSMHC). This degree program will introduce students to foundational psychology, sociology, and the history of mental health. It will teach students skills like critical thinking, active listening, problem solving, and crisis management. Students will learn the basics of counseling in the social services field, and will find out all about the different specialty areas where they can work. They will also learn about the required licenses and certifications needed for their chosen job.

Employment in the field of social services will see an estimated growth of 12% by 2029. This will add about 350,000 jobs nationwide for budding mental counselors, so it’s the ideal time to begin your journey into higher education with a bachelor’s in mental health counseling.

About the degree

Many bachelor’s degrees are transfer-friendly and flexible. Programs generally require between  60 to 120 total credit hours done at their university. A bachelor’s degree in mental health counseling is typically attained in 4 years, though some programs can be extended. Some institutions also offer an accelerated learning course that will link your bachelor’s degree immediately into a master’s degree program upon graduation.

Traditional college entry requirements

  • 2.0 GPA or higher
  • High school diploma or GED
  • SATs and/or ACTs
  • Letters of recommendation, academic sources
  • Test of English as a Foreign Language, if applicable

Degree flexibility

  • Online, offline, full-time and part-time opportunities available
  • Asynchronous online courses available, depending on the institution

Cost of degree

The cost of a 4-year degree will vary based on multiple factors such as college location,  if it is public or private, if you are an in-state or out-of-state student, online or offline accessibility, and if you will live on campus.

The average cost of a bachelor’s degree in mental health counseling ranges between $7,000 and $32,000. Public institutions are the least expensive for in-state students, while private institutions will be more expensive regardless where you live.

Prices will vary, but student aid remains an important consideration for all students worried about their budget, no matter what college you select.

Financial support

Although 86% of college students enjoy federal aid and scholarships each year, $2 billion in assistance goes untouched because people just don’t know what’s available. It’s important to claim benefits available to you through programs like the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) and private scholarships. Some examples of scholarships provided for this degree include:

  • The Ab Irvine Scholarship Program
  • The Alexander Foundation Scholarship
  • The Institute for Humane Studies Hayek Fund for Scholars

For more aid opportunities, check with your institution to see what scholarships are available.


The difference between a BSMHC and other social services degrees is the program’s perspective on client aid. A BSMHC focuses on a health-and-wellness model of the mind and body. This degree leans heavier on psychology than sociology, but students can add more sociology classes to their degree to expand their education if desired.

General psychology

Introductory and advanced psychology courses are an essential requirement for this degree. An introductory class will go over the basics of the brain and how it functions. Advanced courses will delve deeper into the brain. Students will write research papers and learn about different studies used to understand the brain and behavior.

General sociology

Sociology is the study of people and is vital for students wanting to learn more about mental health. It discusses the differences between nature, which is how your body and brain grow in an environment, and nurture, which is how your environment shapes you.

History of therapy

This class will bring students through the major impactful fields of therapy and its founders, from Sigmund Freud to Carl Rogers. Students will learn how the past has shaped treatment and mental health today, and will be introduced to the various fields of therapy to help them decide what they want to specialize in.

Human development

This course explores how a brain grows. It covers the crucial cognitive development milestones and how life factors can aid or stunt growth. This class gives a better understanding of the origins of mental health. It teaches when disorders are most likely to appear and how to spot them at early stages.

Statistics in psychology

Most bachelor’s degrees include a statistics class in the core requirements. This degree requires a specialized course focused on reading and calculating statistics in psychology. It helps students better understand research papers and how to calculate psychological data.

General requirements

This degree will be easier to earn for people with solid writing, communication, and critical-thinking skills. The courses focus on grasping core concepts and applying them to real-life situations.

People who can work well with diverse populations and keep calm under pressure will flourish in this program. This degree can be completed in 4 years for full-time students. Most students will also need to complete a minimum of a 1-semester internship to graduate.


Although there are no specialized paths available for the bachelor’s level of this degree, students can begin customizing their education with classes tailored to their desired specialization. They can choose courses that deal with counseling for marriages and families or focus on courses that deal with youth and adolescents. There are options for drug addiction counseling, PTSD and trauma counseling, and even counseling for criminal populations.

A master’s degree in mental health counseling or an adjacent psychology master’s degree will turn these extra classes into a field specialization.

Accreditation and transferring

A bachelor’s degree in mental health counseling can fall under psychology and educational teaching accrediting bodies. The 2 most popular sources for certifying programs will be the American Psychology Association (APA) and the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP).

Note that you cannot transfer into a CACREP program from a non-accredited college or program. Institutions will need you to retake courses in their accredited program to meet the minimum learning requirements under certified programs.

Career paths

Clinical positions in private practices, hospitals, and clinics will require a license to practice. The National Board of Certified Counselors (NBCC) is in charge of licensure. You can earn your license after completing a master’s degree in the social service field.

A license requires you to complete a minimum of 2,000 supervised hours in the field before taking the exam. Specific regulations, hours, and requirements for a license will vary from state to state.

Entry-level positions in the field are still available with a bachelor’s degree, but direct counseling can only be done with higher education.

  • Bachelor’s degree friendly, master’s degree required for higher positions
  • No license required
  • $89,000 per year

An HR director is in charge of the technical and physical wellbeing of an office’s employees. They are in charge of promoting a healthy workplace environment. They manage complaints, set staff goals, and oversee all necessary employee training. HR directors are in charge of hiring, team building, salary benefits, and employee wellness. They must have technical skills, organizational skills, be detail-oriented, and strong leaders and communicators.

  • Bachelor’s degree friendly, master’s degree encouraged for higher positions
  • No license required
  • $40,000 per year

Addiction counselors work full-time with patients who have substance abuse issues. They work either at a school or a medical facility and lead both individual and group counseling sessions. Addiction counselors will manage their clients’ wellbeing. They act as a guiding link between the client and other wellness professionals. Counselors will connect clients to appropriate doctors, psychotherapists, and any outside treatment programs. In addition to empathy and patience, addiction counselors need strong skills in people management, conflict resolution, goal planning, and goal realization.

A BSMHC is a great starting point for budding counselors. Those interested in becoming clinical mental health workers will need higher education and licenses before working in the field.

Continuing education

For social work and counseling, a master’s degree is the standard for most positions. For clinical situations, especially counseling at a school or in a private practice, a license is also required. Students will need to pass the NBCC’s national counselor examination or the national clinical mental health counseling examination depending on the state and job requirements.

Continuing education is vital in this field. It prepares students for licensure exams while offering more intense fieldwork and internship opportunities. A bachelor’s in mental health counseling can connect to a master’s in mental health counseling, psychology, therapy, and more. Higher education requirements will depend on your career path and the state regulations where you work.

Should I get this degree?

A bachelor’s degree in mental health counseling is the first step to a successful career in the field. But, most jobs in this field need a master’s degree for you to see patients.

A BSMHC will prepare you for the advanced work in your career and gives you a foundation to begin forming relationships, professional connections, and potential internship and career opportunities. Students who want a position in counseling, therapy, or mental health education, should consider this degree a starting point for your educational career.

 National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI)

NAMI is an organization dedicated to educating the population about mental health. They host everything from introductions to common mental illnesses to hotlines where those in need can contact any time for aid. They provide advocacy, support, education, and public awareness of mental illness to professionals and civilians alike. They are a nonprofit organization dedicated to change and mental wellbeing and a great starting resource to educate yourself and others about mood disorders and more.

National Board for Certified Counselors (NBCC)

The NBCC offers more than certifications to the counseling community. They provide a long list of resources, including sponsor scholarships, counseling FAQs, continued educational help, and more. They are a great work resource and provide information for state exam requirements, government affairs, and the ability to connect new counselors with liability insurance.

American Counseling Association (ACA)

The ACA is a nonprofit education and professional foundation dedicated to the counseling profession’s growth. They offer information to overview the basics of counseling, what to expect in the job, and resource kits to help with seminars and conferences. They are a leading resource in the counseling field, promoting advocacy and ethical conduct, and professional growth.

Good Therapy

Good Therapy is a resource hub for mental health professionals across the nation. Here, professionals can connect with others for ideas, client recommendations, publications, webinars, and more.