Mental health counselors make up the third-largest segment of the workforce that provides behavioral health treatment, with a workforce currently estimated at 267,730 providers that is projected to grow 22% by 2028. The American Mental Health Counselors Association (AMHCA) defines clinical mental health counselors as providers who diagnose and treat mental illness, address life distress, and facilitate wellness in individuals, families, couples, and groups. Few characteristics beyond standardized education and training requirements are currently known about the national mental health counselor workforce. Creation of a minimum data set (MDS) to track standardized workforce information would inform supply and demand modeling and estimates. This quantitative study aimed to create a comprehensive profile of the mental health counselor workforce. 

The Behavioral Health Workforce Research Center fielded an online survey for mental health counselors developed from a literature review and assistance from AMHCA. Survey themes included: demographics, education and training, licensure, area of practice, function/daily responsibilities, and practice setting.  


Understanding key characteristics of the MHC workforce is vital for addressing gaps in mental health care provisions. With 92% of respondents currently providing prevention or treatment services for mental health or substance use disorder, it was found that nearly all held licensure to provide counseling, either professional or mental health. The vast majority (91%) of mental health counselors are only licensed in one state. Individual and family practice settings are the most common setting for care (55%), and behavioral health services are frequently provided at rural sites (22%) and through telehealth/telemedicine (72%).

Providers worked an average of 33 hours per week with 77% planning to maintain those hours in the future. There are a small number of providers interested in increasing their hours (17%) or seeking career advancement (16%), and only a small number (4.9% cumulative) plan to leave the field, retire, or seek a non-clinical job in the next 12 months. Fee-for-service (62%), consumer self-pay (43%), and salary (20%) payment arrangements make up most income for providers.


Behavioral Health Workforce Minimum Data Set for Mental Health Counselors

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