our everyday life

Which Pays More: MSW or a Master in Mental Health?

by Luanne Kelchner

A graduate of a Master of Social Work degree program qualifies for a license to practice as a clinical social worker, while those who complete a master’s in mental health counseling can meet the requirements for a mental health counselor. The information from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that, in 2012, some social workers earned a higher median annual salary than mental health counselors.

Master's Degree Programs

Master of Social Work degree programs consist of coursework and fieldwork experience. Courses in a social work program include social work methods, social welfare history, theory and data management. The fieldwork requirement in a master’s degree program allows students to gain experience under the direction of a licensed clinical social worker. Students can complete a master’s degree program in social work in two years. A bachelor’s degree is a requirement to enter a Master of Social Work program, but applicants are not required to complete a bachelor’s degree in social work. Schools may require students to complete coursework in psychology and sociology to enter the master’s degree program. A master’s degree in mental health counseling may meet the requirements for a license to work as a counselor. Courses include counseling techniques, diagnosis and assessment, psychotherapy theories, couples counseling and psychopharmacology. Master’s programs also include a counseling internship requirement.

Median Salaries for Social Workers and Mental Health Counselors

The national salary statistics for social workers vary according to the professional’s area of specialization. The median annual wage for child, family and school social workers was $41,530 in 2012 while health care social workers earned $49,830, according to the BLS. Mental health and substance abuse social workers earned $39,980 and all other classifications of social workers earned $54,560 in 2012. The median annual salary for mental health counselors during the same year was $40,080, according to the BLS.

Top Earners

The top 10 percent of social workers who do not fall into an area of specialization earned the highest salary among social workers and mental health counselors with a wage of $80,320, according to the BLS. The highest paid 10 percent of child, family and school social workers earned $71,000 and those specializing in health care had earnings of $74,030 in 2012. Mental health and substance abuse social workers in the top 10 percent earned $66,880. The BLS statistics show the highest paid 10 percent of mental health counselors earned $66,630 in 2012.

Highest Paying Industries

Social workers specializing in child, family and school social work were paid the highest mean annual salary in 2012 by elementary and secondary schools, with a wage of $59,620. Specialty hospitals, which do not include substance abuse and psychiatric facilities, paid the highest mean wage of $61,750 to health care social workers, according to the BLS. Mental health and substance abuse social workers who do not fall into an area of specialization earned the highest mean salary from the federal executive branch with a wage of $71,160. Insurance carriers paid the highest mean wage to mental health counselors with a salary of $58,230, according to the BLS.

Locations Paying the Highest Salaries

Connecticut employers paid the highest mean salary to mental health and substance abuse social workers with a wage of $55,690 and those specializing in child, family and school social work with earnings of $61,930, according to the BLS. The salary statistics from the BLS show that health care social workers in the District of Columbia earned the highest mean wage, with $66,130, while all other social workers earned the highest salary in Rhode Island, with salaries of $69,750. Mental health counselors in Alaska earned the highest mean annual wage in 2012, with earnings of $56,300, according to the BLS.

About the Author

Luanne Kelchner works out of Daytona Beach, Florida and has been freelance writing full time since 2008. Her ghostwriting work has covered a variety of topics but mainly focuses on health and home improvement articles. Kelchner has a degree from Southern New Hampshire University in English language and literature.

Photo Credits

  • Jupiterimages/liquidlibrary/Getty Images