Thanks in part to COVID-19, the demand for both mental health and addiction treatment has increased significantly, according to the National Council for Mental Well-being. Fifty-two percent of behavioral health organizations have seen an uptick in the need for services. Almost half of all Black, Hispanic, Asian, Native American and LGBTQ+ individuals reported increased mental health challenges in the last year, but not many of them received treatment. The Council also cited a diminishing capacity for care because of the pandemic and that 54% of treatment facilities have had to close programs.

Those losses have created opportunities for more mental health professionals. The need for culturally competent counselors continues to become more evident when we see the health disparities throughout the country, says Pat Russell, Psy.D., dean of the School of Health and Social Services at City University of Seattle.

“To prepare to become a practitioner, you first must have commitment and drive. When you do, becoming a counselor is one of the most rewarding things you can do,” says Russell.

If interested, you need to identify an accredited school for your core courses. The accrediting body, in this case, is the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Education Programs. Necessary courses may include advanced counseling theory and practice, instructional theories, ethics and assessment. You also might have to write a dissertation, thesis or complete a final project, which may coincide with the next step – the practicum or internship stage. Then when you’ve completed your internship hours, you can apply for state licensure. Fulfilling these requirements can lead to becoming an educator or researcher in the mental health arena.

“To become an educator or a researcher, you must have had practical experience working with individuals, families and communities first,” says Russell.  “We need educators and researchers who are or have been out in the field.”

How do you decide which role to focus on?

You can choose from being a practitioner in counseling education and supervision, a professional position within academia or doing research in the counseling field. Russell says once an individual has been an active clinician, they start to see which issues need to be addressed. That may lead to teaching or research. With a Ph.D. you have more mobility and more options, she says.


If you focus on becoming a school career counselor or adviser, those roles are expected to grow by 8% before 2029 according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

As a practitioner you can work at a mental health clinic or open your own private practice, says Russell. Academia affords opportunities for both teaching and research.

“Research is very important in the field,” she says. “For example, the relationship between mental health counseling and intersectionality are extremely important right now. Other research areas include counseling and culture, social justice and trauma.”

The importance of understanding different cultures

CityU’s own Ph.D. in Counselor Education and Supervision program contains multicultural and social justice context. This is important because our society is ever-increasing in diversity and because of being more globally connected than ever before, social justice issues continue to arise, says Russell.

Mental Health America compiled statistics explaining the need for mental health professionals with cultural knowledge:

  • Black adults are 20% more likely to report significant psychological trouble than White adults.
  • Hispanics and Blacks experience more continued depression than Whites.
  • Native and Indigenous Americans exhibit higher incidences of post-traumatic stress disorder and alcohol dependence than any other racial group.
  • BIPOC populations can exhibit an excessively high incidence of disability because of mental disorders.
  • When health care providers suffer from cultural ineptitude, they are more likely to underdiagnose or misdiagnose mental illness in the BIPOC community.

“As you can see, the issues of social justice are impossible to ignore,” says Russell.

If you’d like to help lessen the mental health crisis in America, a PH.D. in CES might be your next move.

“We are looking for students who have a master’s degree in counseling, who are passionate about providing culturally responsive education and supervision and want to have a positive impact on the counseling field,” says Russell.

City University of Seattle is a private nonprofit university accredited through the doctoral level. It has been ranked by U.S. News & World Report among the Top 50 in the country for its online bachelor’s degree programs for eight consecutive years.