Best Cities for Mental Health Counselors

Best Cities for Mental Health Counselors

Mental health counselors often promote healthy behaviors, helping their patients with preventative measures. Here at ValuePenguin, our own kind of evaluation, which looks at four data points (number of jobs, average salary, cost of living and location quotient), should help these professionals determine where they're wanted and needed most.

Best Five Cities for Mental Health Counselors

Of the 276 cities reporting data, these five earned our best score, comprising the factors of median salary, cost of living and location quotient. Speaking of salary, the 120,010 mental health counselors employed in the U.S. in May 2014 earned $43,990 on average, or an hourly wage of $21.15, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

1. Colorado Springs, Colorado

Recording a ValuePenguin score (52) that was 83% lower (and therefore better) than the study's average, Colorado Springs comes out on top. The first of three Colorado cities to crack our top 25 -- Boulder (23rd) and the Fort Collins-Loveland area (24th) are the others -- Colorado Springs also rose to this spot because of its sheer number of mental health counselor positions. Although with 630, it still falls wells short of the usual suspects: 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 points to the actual demand for a mental health counselor, as a percentage of all other occupations -- Fairbanks narrowly secured the second spot. The first of two Alaska cities to crack the top five, Fairbanks-based mental health counselors earn an annual average salary of $53, 290, which turned out to be 21% higher than the study's average. Fairbanks, the least populous city among our top five.

3. Anchorage, Alaska

A fifty-minute flight south of Fairbanks, Anchorage registered the study's only other sub-60 ValuePenguin score to secure the third slot in our national rankings. Facing an exceptionally high cost of living -- it's 35% more expensive to live here than it is in the average American city -- mental health counselors are fittingly paid the study's second-highest salary ($64,080); only those professionals in the dissimilarly inexpensive Tyler, Texas earn more ($74,060). Also, Alaska as a whole has the country's highest annual mean wage ($58,800) when it's broken down on the state level.

4. Mankato, Minnesota*

The "second-smallest best" city in our top five, Mankato -- and it's metropolitan statistical region partner North Mankato -- come in the penultimate spot of our top five best cities for mental health counselors. Despite just 110 such professionals working in this region, the counselors here are paid relatively handsomely, earning an annual average salary of $60,120, the sixth-highest figure captured in our study.

*Statistical region includes: North Mankato, Minn.

5. Roanoke, Virginia

The fifth and final city to record a sub-70 ValuePenguin score, Roanoke (69) rounds out our top five; see the full top 100 below. The Virginia city is the most affordable place to live among the best five cities for mental health counselors; in fact, it's 11 percent cheaper to live here than a given city in the U.S. Roanoke also sports the study's 13th-best location quotient, which points to 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. Lastly, Virginia as a whole has the nation's third-most jobs as far as states are considered.

Top 100 Cities for Mental Health Counselors


Average Salary
Location Quotient
Cost of Living


Colorado Springs, CO$52,0806302.8210052


Fairbanks, AK$53,2901203.7613358


Anchorage, AK$64,0803302.1313559


Mankato-North Mankato, MN$60,1201102.449862


Roanoke, VA$49,5404103.048969


Bay City, MI$51,6501003.147873


Portland-Vancouver-Hillsboro, OR-WA$53,9501,7301.8411178


San Luis Obispo-Paso Robles, CA$58,7202002.0416581


Newark-Union, NJ-PA$51,6101,6801.9612585


Allentown-Bethlehem-Easton, PA-NJ$50,0506602.199587


Manchester, NH$51,4302102.3111590


Springfield, MA-CT$47,1509803.8010791
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These were the three key questions we asked in coming up with the list.

1. What 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 likely the most important factor people consider when starting their career or relocating elsewhere. A high salary in an expensive city, however, may 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?

Now that we have the median salary, we’ll look next at 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, would mean that generally speaking, living expenses are 88 percent more expensive compared to the 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 perfect, but job opportunities may 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.