Mental health counselors facilitate prevention programs with people struggling with mental health conditions, including substance abuse. Pay varies by education, experience, work setting and geography. However, overall average annual pay was $43,700 as of May 2013, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
The median annual salary for mental health counselors was $40,580 per year as of May 2013 BLS data. At the low end, 25 percent of counselors earned at or below $32,170, with 10 percent at or below $25,840 per year.
Top-end pay was much greater, with 25 percent of mental health counselors making $52,310 or more per year. Ten percent had average annual salaries at or above $67,020.
Pay by Work Setting
Despite having a very low level of employment, educational support services was the top-paying sector for counselors as of May 2013 at $53,770 per year. Mental health counselors working for insurance carriers made $53,440 annually.
Among the largest employment settings, counselors working for local government agencies were the highest paid at $51,910 per year. Those who worked in health practitioner offices also made above-average pay of $48,930 per year.
Pay by Geography
Pay varies significantly across states and territories as well. The top-paying state for mental health counselors as of May 2013 BLS data was Alaska at $57,040 per year. Wyoming was next with an average annual salary of $53,570.
Oregon had the third-highest annual salary average at $51,670. Counselors in Arkansas averaged $50,200 per year. New Jersey had the fifth-highest pay among states at $49,490 per year.
Other Income Factors and Career Requirements
The minimum educational requirement to become a mental health counselor is typically a master's degree, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Someone with additional education, such as a doctoral degree, may earn more.
To get licensed to counsel in a state, a candidate needs a master's degree plus 2,000 to 4,000 hours of supervised experience. Passing a state exam and participating in annual continuing education are also requirements for mental health counselor licensing.