Demand for mental health counselors is growing—so should your program offerings

Since 2014, Medicaid expansions have granted 16 million Americans access to mental health services for the first time, spurring significant demand for mental health counselors. This widespread surge in demand for mental health services is seen from college students to veterans and first responders.

Bipartisan legislation—ranging from flexible Medicare reimbursement rules to the 21st Century Cures Act—has expanded access to services. Employers have responded: COE Forum labor market analysis shows 48% more demand for mental health counselors in 2016 than 2013, as seen in the graph below.

Mental Health Counselor Job Posts

However, the American Health Care Act passed by the House is now being rewritten by the Senate and threatens to pull back access to those newly covered.

Despite the unpredictability of further efforts, the COE Forum predicts that demand for mental health counseling professionals will continue to grow. Continued recognition of mental health’s role in overall wellness, alongside the increasing prevalence of mental health issues, indicates the need for a growing number of mental health counselors.

Two program opportunities to serve this growing market

There are two graduate degree programs that train future mental health counselors:

  • Master of Clinical Mental Health Counseling (CMHC)
  • Master of Social Work (MSW)

Although these programs have different curricula, licensure to practice in most states mandates similar training for both sets of graduates. Similarities follow graduates into the labor market, as employers largely perceive graduates of these programs as interchangeable. COE Forum labor market analysis shows that mental health counselor job postings require 90% of the same skills regardless of degree and licensure.

To determine which program may be better suited to your institution, EAB assessed the accreditation requirements for each degree with detailed input from deans and program directors teaching and leading in the field.

Two key accreditation differences may make one program a better fit for your portfolio:

Key Differences Between Clinical Mental Health Counseling and Social Work

A decision-support tool to select the right program for your institution

To help you identify which program is the better fit for your portfolio, the COE Forum created the toolkit Developing Health Profession Programs in an Era of Disruption, featured in our forthcoming publication Health Professions: Capitalizing on Creative Disruption available in July. Guided by research interviews with COE deans and program directors from existing CMHC and MSW programs, the toolkit walks you through key decision points in comparing each program’s opportunity and fit for your COE portfolio.

Get more insight on program opportunities in the health professions

The Developing Health Profession Programs in an Era of Disruption toolkit is just one of many resources available through the COE Forum to develop your health professions portfolio. The upcoming installment of the Industry Futures series, Health Professions: Capitalizing on Creative Disruption, assesses mental health counseling, health informatics, and physical therapy, and occupational therapy programs. Notify me when this study is available.

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