Master of Arts Degree in Clinical Mental Health Counseling
Put Your Passion for Helping Others to Work
If you are ready to prepare for your helping career, expand your employment options or retool your career path, the Master of Arts in Clinical Mental Health Counseling program at Palo Alto University is the place to start.
The Clinical Mental Health Counseling (CMHC) Masters of Arts (MA) program strives to benefit the local and global community by promoting mental health, wellness, social justice, education, and vocational wellbeing that meet the emerging needs of the ever-changing human condition.
You can earn your degree from a fully accredited university in just two years!
Online or hybrid formats available.
What can you do with a masters degree in Clinical Mental Health Counseling?
Specific career tracks for licensed clinical counselors include:
- Mental Health Counseling
- Private Practice
- Addiction Counseling
- School-Based Counseling
- Career and Guidance Counseling
- Community-Based Agency Practice and Management
- Rehabilitation Counseling
Non-Licensed Career Options
While most graduates of this program pursue licensure, students who defer seeking licensure may seek positions in education, research, publishing, administration, advocacy, business, and other fields, or pursue further educational opportunities at the doctoral level.
Licensed Professional Clinical Counselors (LPCC) deliver mental health care to individuals, couples and families, and groups, incorporating the principles of empirically-based and recovery-oriented counseling.
Professional counselors help clients to understand their problems and develop strategies to improve their lives. They are directly responsible for ensuring client safety, remaining compliant with all laws, and regulations and ethical guidelines for the profession.
LPCC Licensure Options
What Can You Do with an MFCC Emphasis?
Marriage and Family Therapists (MFCC) may find employment in such settings as:
- Private Practice
- Schools and Colleges
- Social Service Agencies
- Health Maintenance Organizations
- Inpatient and Outpatient Care Facilities and Hospitals
- Medical and Mental Health Centers
- Nursing Homes and Residential Care Facilities
- Religious Organizations
While most graduates of this program pursue licensure, you can also find positions in education, research, publishing, administration, advocacy, business, and other fields – or go on to earn a doctoral degree.
Online & Hybrid Learning Format
Residential Hybrid Learning Format
The hybrid program is offered weekday evenings. Courses are held on the PAU campuses or live via Zoom.
Classes take place:
4-6 pm or 6-8 pm (depending on cohort)
All skill-based clinical work is done in an appropriate clinical or classroom setting. And with the time savings from your online classes, you will be able to take three classes per quarter – and that means earning your degree in just nine quarters.
Staying local while participating in a distance learning (online) master’s degree program gives students the best of both worlds.
Palo Alto University offers students a multicultural focus that emphasizes culture, social justice, and families that students experience in weekly live classes. Students benefit from the latest academic research and clinical approaches while tailoring their experience to the culture and community in which they live and practice, all in a program format that fits into their busy lives.
Online: Distance Learning Format
When you enroll in PAU’s distance learning courses, you will attend all classes online in a live Zoom classroom.
Info about Residency for online students only: You will meet your professors and classmates in person during two residential training experiences. These intensive study and competency-based skill training seminars culminate in a clinical interviewing assessment that is a prerequisite for clinical fieldwork.
NOTE: Online students must be located in a state in which we are authorized to provide online education. Please review PAU's State Authorizations page.
Students learn through lecture, discussion, and research, and apply new knowledge in an internship, all guided by their professors. The professors draw on their academic research and professional experience to the provide students with the background they need to be successful practitioners. Instructors of online courses are trained in distance learning teaching methods, and advisors serve as coaches to help students address the challenges unique to online learning.
PAU’s on-campus format uses a cohort system. You will be assigned to a group of students who will have the same schedule and sequence of courses for their entire program. You will be enrolled continuously and to complete your degree on schedule with their cohort.
Support and openness – you will study together, encouraging and assisting others when needed. You will also develop the familiarity and trust to discuss tough issues and personal experiences.
Residential Hybrid (On-Campus) Format Course Sequence
Click the links below to view and download the specific course sequence for the quarter in which students can start the on-campus program. Students receive their official degree plan for their cohort prior to beginning the program.
- Fall Start, On-Campus, 9 Quarters, CMHC Emphasis (PDF)
- Fall Start, On-Campus, 9 Quarters, MFCC Emphasis (PDF)
Distance Learning (Online) Format Course Sequence
Click the links below to view and download the specific course sequence for the quarter in which students can start the online program. Students receive their official degree plan for their cohort prior to beginning the program.
- Fall Start, Online, 9 Quarters, CMHC Emphasis (PDF)
- Fall Start, Online, 9 Quarters, MFCC Emphasis (PDF)
- Spring Start, Online, 9 Quarters, CMHC Emphasis (PDF)
- Spring Start, Online, 9 Quarters, MFCC Emphasis (PDF)
For course descriptions, please see the Palo Alto University Catalog.
Palo Alto University is on the quarter-unit system:
- Fall quarter: September to December
- Winter quarter: January to March
- Spring quarter: April to June
- Summer quarter: June to August
Information about work and schooling schedule
Classes take place Monday-Thursday evenings from 4-6 pm or 6-8 pm, depending on cohort. Courses are held on the PAU campuses or live via Zoom.
During the first year of the program most students can maintain full-time employment during the day, and study in the evenings and on weekends.
During the second year students should be aware that evening and weekend practicum placements are extremely hard to find. Most students will need to adjust their schedules in order to spend two days during the normal workweek to complete their practicum experience.
Students are expected to be enrolled continuously and to complete their degree on schedule with their cohort.
Practicums and Internships for Direct Counseling Experience
As you progress through the MA in Clinical Mental Health Counseling program, you will gain critical hands-on experience through an on-site practicum in a community organization.
The program requires a minimum of 700 hours, including a minimum of 280 face-to-face client hours with the student working in the role of Counselor Trainee or Therapist Trainee, over a minimum of three academic quarters (typically 9-12 months). A portion of these hours come from class time.
Supervision occurs at your practicum site and with PAU faculty online. All students will meet online on Tuesday evenings.
Finding Your Fieldwork Site
PAU’s Clinical Training Team will help you as you secure an ideal practicum or field placement in your community that matches your specific interests – and support you throughout your field experience.
We work closely with mental health agencies throughout the San Francisco Bay area and beyond.
PAU students have completed practicums at:
- School districts
- Teen counseling centers
- Adult psychological service agencies
- Aging senior counseling centers
- Community mental health agencies
- Non-profit and faith-based organizations, such as the Salvation Army and the YMCA
- And more
If you live outside the San Francisco Bay Area, the Team will work with you to find practicum and internship sites near your home community.
PAU’s CACREP-accredited programs and faculty training meet or exceed quality standards, reflecting our commitment to providing the highest level of care for all students. Palo Alto University was most recently accredited in January 2017 and received the maximum of eight (8) years CACREP accreditation.Learn More About PAU's CACREP Accreditation Annual Report Data
Program and Student Learning Outcomes
OUTCOME 1 - Professional Counseling Orientation and Ethical Practice
Graduates will have internalized and integrated roles, responsibilities, and relationships of a professional counselor in alignment with ethical and legal standards of practice with a focus on serving as an advocate on behalf of clients to address systemic, institutional, architectural, attitudinal, disability, and social barriers that impede access, equity, and success. (CACREP Standards 3.1.c., 3.1.j., 3.1.d., WASC CC 1, ILO 7)
OUTCOME 2 - Social and Cultural Diversity
Graduates will have developed an understanding of the effects of various socio historical and cultural factors on mental and physical health and wellbeing as well as strategies for identifying and eliminating barriers created by discrimination, oppression, implicit bias, and prejudices. (CACREP Standards 3.2.f., 3.2.i., WASC CC 1, 2, ILO 4)
OUTCOME 3 - Lifespan Development
Graduates will have integrated an understanding of the theories of individual and family development across the lifespan including systemic, social justice, cultural, and environmental factors that affect lifespan development, functioning, behavior, resilience, and overall wellness. (CACREP Standards 3.3.a., 3.3.k., WASC CC 1, ILO 1, 5)
OUTCOME 4 - Career Development
Graduates will have demonstrated the ability to apply theories and models of career development, counseling, and decision making to employ strategies for improving access to educational and occupational opportunities for people from marginalized groups. (CACREP Standards 3.4.a., 3.4.k., WASC CC 1, 4, ILO 1)
OUTCOME 5 - Counseling Practice and Relationships
Graduates will have applied theories and models of counseling through essential interviewing, counseling, and case conceptualization skills and will have integrated a critical thinking approach to conceptualizing client development, presenting issues, and culturally relevant counseling strategies and approaches. (CACREP Standards 3.5.a., 3.5.b., 3.5.c., 3.5.g., WASC CC 1, ILO 2, 4, 5)
OUTCOME 6 - Group Counseling and Effective Leadership
Graduates will have incorporated theoretical foundations of group work to become a group process facilitator and a positive force in achieving high levels of participation, cooperation and cohesion in group work across diverse counseling settings and with diverse client populations. (CACREP Standards 3.6.a, 3.6.b., 3.6.f., 3.6.h., WASC CC 1, ILO 2, 4, 5)
OUTCOME 7 - Assessment and Diagnosis
Graduates will have acquired, refined, and demonstrated appropriate ability to assess diverse client issues for diagnosis and treatment planning using culturally informed approaches and assessments. (CACREP Standards 3.7.e., 3.7.k., WASC CC 1, 2, ILO 1, 2)
OUTCOME 8 - Research and Program Evaluation
Graduates will have demonstrated the ability to critique research and evaluate client (and/or program) outcomes in order to incorporate evidence-based, culturally responsive, counseling practices in a variety of settings. (CACREP Standards 3.8.a., 3.8.b., 3.8.i., WASC CC 1, 3, ILO 1, 3)
OUTCOME 9 (CMHC Specialty ) - Professional Practice
Graduates will have acquired, refined, and demonstrated appropriate knowledge, skills, and dispositions to effectively assess, diagnose, and treat clients in a variety of settings as well as advocate for equitable care for the communities they serve. (CACREP Standards 5.a., 5.c., 5.d., 5.e., WASC CC 1, 2, 4, ILO 1, 2, 6, 8)
OUTCOME 10 (MFCC Emphasis Only*) - Professional Practice
Graduates will have acquired, refined, and demonstrated appropriate knowledge, skills, and dispositions to effectively work with couples, families, and other systems in a variety of settings. (CACREP Standards 5.g., 5.h., 5.j., WASC CC 1, 2, 4, ILO 1, 2, 6, 8)
*This outcome is required only for students who select the MFCC emphasis.