Helping others is a career and a calling for mental health professionals. Of course, you also want to make ends meet and live a particular lifestyle.
The average salary for a mental health professional in the U.S. is about $50,000. But, how much money mental health professionals make depends on the training you received and the type of professional role you fulfill.
Because of the various positions available in the profession, asking, “How much do psychiatrists make?” isn’t the same as questioning how much counselors make. This post explains.
Salaries by Accreditation
Accreditation for a mental health professional is a way of validating education and training. Different types of counselors have various licenses and accreditations because of differences in their education. For example, a mental health counselor must earn an accredited master’s degree in counseling, followed by up to three years of supervised counseling practice. Once that is completed, they can take the tests needed to become licensed in their state.
In contrast, a psychiatrist must get a medical degree and complete a residency training program in psychiatry. After their four-year residency, they might opt to serve a fellowship for more training. Once training is completed, they must fulfill their state’s board exams and licensing requirements.
Becoming a psychiatrist requires more education and training than becoming a counselor or psychologist. Therefore, a psychiatrist’s salary is higher than a counselor’s salary.
The average yearly earnings for different types of mental health professionals in the U.S. are:
- Psychiatrist – $250,000
- Psychologist – $98,000
- Licensed Mental Health Counselor – $81,000
- Clinical Social Worker – $79,000
Being in private practice offers the best potential earnings, but it does not guarantee a higher income. Therapists with private practices control most aspects of their wages. How many hours a week they work is a major factor. Overhead and putting in effort to grow your practice also matter.
Salaries by Geographic Area
Location is one of the biggest factors that influence how much a counselor makes. Wages differ from country to country, state to state, and even from city to city within the same state.
Where do therapists make the most money in the U.S.? States that pay the highest average wage for mental health professionals are (in ranking order):
- New Jersey
The U.S. state that offers the lowest compensation is Florida. Alabama, Arkansas, North Carolina, and West Virginia also rank among the bottom five.
Salary Comparison Between Urban and Rural Areas
It’s easy to assume that mental health professionals earn less in rural areas than they do in cities. After all, the cost of living is generally higher in the city, and the higher population provides a bigger client base. It stands to reason that compensation would be higher overall.
It is true that private practice mental health counselor salary is potentially higher in larger populations. But, some rural healthcare facilities offer competitive salaries to attract talented professionals.
A study by the New England Journal of Medicine found that the salaries of healthcare workers were up to 10% higher than those in urban areas. Other factors that can increase gross earnings for rural counselors include:
- Lower cost of living
- Signing bonuses
- Benefit packages
- Payment for continuing education and licensure fees
- Flexible schedules
- Relocation pay
- Student loan forgiveness and tuition reimbursement
- State-funded stipend programs
Mental health professionals interested in working in a hospital or other healthcare facility can earn more overall by seeking employment in a rural area.
Public vs. Private Sector Salaries
Leadership roles are typically the highest-paying opportunities in mental health. A private practice therapy salary will most likely be less than that of a psychologist who works in a management role. Jobs like supervising interns or counseling personnel are examples of private practice titles.
Consider these median salaries of a managing psychologist for comparison:
- Public Hospital – $110,000
- Private Hospital – $150,000
- Federal Government – $106,000
- State Government – $111,300
Private sector or “for-profit” organizations pay more than public institutions. Government positions can pay even more. State government positions often pay at a higher rate than federal government positions.
How Much Do Private Practice Therapists Make?
The earning potential for a private practice or self-employed mental health professional varies. The main factors that influence income are:
- Business expenses
Each therapist’s goals are also different. Some desire a busy, full-time practice, while others enjoy a more relaxed schedule. There is also the question of, “How much do private practice therapists make per hour?” Those with many years of experience can charge higher rates than newly licensed therapists.
All differences aside, the average annual earnings of a private practice therapist in the U.S. is about $98,000.
5 Ways to Increase Your Salary
Years of education and training go into becoming a mental health professional. Most new private practice counselors have only a few appointments a day, leaving them with open hours each week to work on growing their practice and expanding their careers. Professionals working at a healthcare facility may not start out with a full-time position or get the compensation they need.
So, how can a therapist make extra money? Here are five ways.
1. Pursue Advanced Degrees and Specializations
In every profession, there’s always more to learn. The same is true in psychotherapy. Continuing your education to earn an advanced degree is a smart way to command higher wages and more opportunities. You might also consider specializing.
Some of the most common areas of specialization include:
- Marriage and family
- Social work
Adding a specialization to your resume can open new doors for increased income.
2. Earn Additional Certifications and Training
There are many different approaches to psychotherapy. Most professionals are trained in several modalities but may not necessarily be certified experts in those areas. Seeking certification or increasing your expertise can increase your income.
3. Leveraging Experience and Demonstrating Expertise
Are you using your experience to your advantage? It’s possible you don’t need more training or certifications. Perhaps all you need to earn a higher wage is to focus on the best ways to apply your skills as a person and mental health professional.
Networking, building relationships with administrators, and drawing on your personal skill set are all effective ways to advance your career.
4. Seeking Leadership or Supervisory Roles
Training new counselors and taking other supervisory roles doesn’t always guarantee a higher pay rate, but it will give you more exposure and build your resume. There’s little downside to showing employers you have the skills and desire to step into leadership roles.
If you work for yourself and are trying to increase your salary, network with local mental health organizations to find ways to engage in leadership.
5. Use Negotiation Techniques for Better Compensation Packages
Whether you’re interviewing for a position or working your way up the ladder, negotiation techniques can help you secure better pay and benefits.
Techniques to consider include:
- Research comparable wages in your area
- Have well-supported points to justify your requests
- Be prepared for counteroffers
- Weigh benefits and perks, as they may be more valuable than wages
- Show confidence in your abilities and experience
- Don’t offer ultimatums unless you are prepared to find another position
- Have a “win-win” mindset when negotiating
Offering to take on more responsibility or earn more certifications may also help. Staying up-to-date on new techniques and theories shows employers you are a dedicated mental health professional. More importantly, it ensures you are an effective therapist for your clients.
Non-Monetary Benefits and Perks
Every job has its positive and negative points. The same is true for mental health professionals. It’s important to make a living wage. It’s also essential to consider how a career and its benefits will enhance your life.
Benefits of being a mental health professional include:
- Job satisfaction, mental health therapists help others live happier lives
- Flexible work arrangements and schedules
- Opportunities for research and publication
- Status, as being a mental health professional is a respected job
- Continuing education benefits and professional development
- Variety in working with a wide range of people on varying issues
- Ample professional opportunities
- Health and wellness benefits
There are many opportunities available to qualified mental health professionals. Your exact “benefits” will differ, depending on your unique professional situation. If you feel called to help people with mental health concerns, the non-financial benefits of becoming a therapist may be more important than wages.
Industry Trends and Job Outlook
The need for mental health services continues to increase and isn’t expected to decline any time soon.
In addition to traditional counseling services, the American Medical Association projects that the number of telehealth services, including those for mental health services, will continue to grow for the foreseeable future. As the need for all types of mental health services continues to grow, so does the demand for counselors.
An ever-growing understanding of the connections between mental and physical health is also driving the mental health industry. Integrating mental health services into healthcare systems is becoming mainstream. An increased awareness of trauma and the need for trauma-informed care also contribute to the need for more trained professionals.
Though stigmas still surround mental illness, they’re weakening as more people seek help for issues like depression and anxiety. More openness and willingness to address mental health disorders is yet another component of industry trends.
All of these factors contribute to a positive job outlook for mental health counselors. The Bureau of Labor Statistics lists job growth at 18% through 2032. That’s much faster than average when compared to other occupations. Many of the projected yearly 42,000 openings are expected to be in the fields of behavioral disorders, substance abuse, and mental health counseling.
Gender and Diversity Pay Gap in Mental Health Professions
Pay gaps based on gender and race exist in almost every field. Historically, the field of mental health was no exception, but the numbers appear to be changing.
Nearly 74% of all mental health professionals are women. About 25% are People of Color and 15% are LGBTQ+.
In 2022, reports confirmed that women mental health professionals earned 102% of what males earned. White mental health professionals earned the least of any other ethnic demographic.
How Much Do Psychiatrists Make? Summing It Up
Your level of accreditation and where you work matter when it comes to how much you make as a mental health professional. Psychiatrists make the most, but they also must receive the most schooling and clinical experience before they can receive a license to practice. You may make more working for a private entity and being a specialist than you would in other circumstances, although running a successful private practice offers the benefits of flexibility, high-income potential, and excellent job satisfaction.
If you’re in private practice and working to grow your business, All Counseling can help. Claim your profile in our therapist directory to help people looking for assistance find your practice.
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