Best five cities for mental health counselors
Here are the five cities that earned our best scores out of the 276 cities in the study, based on the key factors of median salary, cost of living and location quotient. As a salary benchmark, the 120,010 mental health counselors employed in the U.S. in May 2014 earned $43,990 on average — an hourly wage of $21.15 — according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
In these cities and across the nation, insurance is available for patients needing coverage for mental health services.
1. Colorado Springs, Colorado
With a ValuePenguin score (52) that was 83% lower (and therefore better) than the study's average, Colorado Springs ranks at the top of the list. The first of three Colorado cities to crack our top 25 — along with Boulder (23rd) and the Fort Collins-Loveland area (24th) — Colorado Springs also rose to this spot because of its relatively large number of mental health counselor positions.
At 630, the city's total count of mental health counselors still represents just a fraction of that in major metro areas: Philadelphia (4,260 jobs), Washington, D.C., (3,480), New York City (3,720) and Boston (3,430), among others. Colorado Springs, the most populous city among our top five, is also home to the national Association of Marital and Family Therapy Regulatory Boards.
2. Fairbanks, Alaska
With the study's fifth-best location quotient — a metric that indicates the actual demand for mental health counselors as a percentage of all other occupations — Fairbanks narrowly secured the second spot. One of two Alaska cities to crack the top five, Fairbanks-based mental health counselors earn an annual average salary of $53,290, which is 21% higher than the study's average. Fairbanks is the least populous city among our top five.
3. Anchorage, Alaska
A fifty-minute flight south of Fairbanks, Anchorage garnered the study's only other sub-60 ValuePenguin score to secure the third slot in our national rankings. With an exceptionally high cost of living — it's 35% more expensive than the average American city — mental health counselors are paid the study's second-highest salary ($64,080). Only professionals in Tyler, Texas, a relatively inexpensive location, earn more ($74,060). On a state level, Alaska as a whole has the country's highest annual mean wage ($58,800) compared to other states.
4. Mankato, Minnesota*
The "second-smallest best" city in our top five, Mankato — along with its metropolitan statistical region partner, North Mankato — gets the penultimate spot of our top five best cities for mental health counselors. With just 110 such professionals working in this region, counselors here are paid relatively handsomely. They earned an annual average salary of $60,120, the sixth-highest figure captured in our study.
*Statistical region includes: North Mankato, Minnesota.
5. Roanoke, Virginia
The fifth and final city to get a sub-70 ValuePenguin score, Roanoke (69) rounds out our top five (See the full top 100 list below). This Virginia city is the most affordable among the best five cities for mental health counselors. In fact, it's 11% cheaper to live here than a typical city in the U.S.
Roanoke sports the study's 13th-best location quotient, highlighting the healthy demand for counselors within its city limits. Alexandria, a four-hour drive southwest of Roanoke, is home to many of the nation's trade groups, including the American Counseling Association. Compared to other states, Virginia as a whole has the third-most jobs in the nation in this field.
Top 100 cities for mental health counselors
Cost of Living
|Colorado Springs, CO||$52,080||630||2.82||100||52|
|Mankato-North Mankato, MN||$60,120||110||2.44||98||62|
|Bay City, MI||$51,650||100||3.14||78||73|
|San Luis Obispo-Paso Robles, CA||$58,720||200||2.04||165||81|
Here are the three key questions we asked in determining our top 100 list:
1. How much can mental health counselors earn in the city?
We ranked the best cities for mental health counselors based on the median annual pay. Income is often the most important factor people consider when starting their career or relocating. A high salary in an expensive city, however, can be less attractive than a lower salary in an affordable town. Our next metric takes affordability into consideration.
2. How affordable is it to live in this city?
After the median salary, we considered the cost of living. The cost of living is a measure of how far earnings can be stretched. Cities with lower cost of living index numbers ranked higher in our study. For example, the average city is benchmarked at 100. A city with a cost of living index of 188, such as Honolulu, is 88 percent more expensive compared to an average city.
3. What is the location quotient for mental health counselors in the city?
A place with a high median salary and low cost of living may seem ideal, but job opportunities might still be limited. Our third factor accounts for this by favoring cities with high location quotients. Location quotient measures the concentration of mental health counselors in an area as a percentage of all occupations, and then compares that to the national average. We interpret a higher location quotient to mean a relatively higher demand for a counselor's services.