How to Become an Online Mental Health & Substance Abuse Counselor

Licensed mental health and substance abuse counselors don’t need extra credentials to transition to online therapy jobs. Learn what’s involved to become a teletherapist.

Telehealth and teletherapy are growing in popularity among patients due to their accessibility and affordability. Fortunately, there are no additional requirements or credentials needed for mental health or substance abuse counselors to transition to the online space.

Teletherapists provide online counseling to patients struggling with substance use disorders or mental health conditions, helping them improve their wellbeing and learn healthy strategies for dealing with life situations. Many communities throughout the U.S. face a lack of mental health care and recovery resources, which makes teletherapy ideal for those who would otherwise be unable to find the help they need.

Occupational Outlook for Teletherapists

The demand for mental health and substance abuse counselor roles is predicted to rise by 22% by 2028. The median pay is estimated to be around $44,630. These roles, as well as many other addiction-related positions, can be done online or in person. 

Demand is expected to grow because more people with drug-related crimes are being given mandatory treatment and counseling as part of their sentencing. Additionally, rates of mental health issues in young people are rising, which will likely lead to a greater need for counselors. 

Clients practicing social distancing due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic can also stay safe in their homes while using teletherapy services. This may significantly increase the demand for online counselors and motivate states to update telehealth addiction treatment policies to meet the changing needs of clients.

Types of Online Therapy Jobs

A variety of mental health and addiction recovery roles can be done online. These include:

  • Licensed Social Workers: Social workers help people transition out of treatment and into their lives in recovery by helping with day-to-day duties. 
  • Psychiatrists: People in this role assess, diagnose and treat patients with mental health disorders and can prescribe medication.
  • Mental Health Counselors: These counselors provide various forms of individual and group therapy to people with mental health disorders.
  • Substances Abuse Counselors: These counselors help people in addiction recovery, both during and after the initial rehab stay.
  • Marriage and Family Therapists: These counselors help improve communication and solve issues within families, marriages and relationships.
  • Recovery Coaches: Also known as life coaches, these individuals help people improve their day-to-day life and achieve goals throughout recovery.
  • Physicians (MD/DO): Doctors can provide consultations, diagnose health conditions, prescribe medication and refer patients to more specialized treatment facilities.
  • Licensed Psychologists: Psychologists help treat mental health conditions and provide therapy to patients.

Related Topic: Addiction treatment specialists 

The Role of Online Counselors and Virtual Therapists in Addiction Treatment

In general, online mental health and substance abuse counselors provide resources and knowledge to people struggling with substance use disorders and co-occurring mental health conditions. Their duties may include:

  • Providing substance abuse and mental health counseling, including advice and guidance
  • Using various forms of therapy, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy and dialectical behavior therapy
  • Holding behavioral or medical interventions
  • Providing education about mental health and substance use
  • Creating prevention strategies
  • Helping form and define goals in recovery

Online counselors may work through a clinic’s telehealth services or they may work through other professional internet platforms. Through these services, they can hold individual and group sessions for people in outpatient care or long-term recovery. They may reach their clients through video conferences, chat rooms, phone calls, text messages or emails. 

How to Become an Online Counselor

The path toward becoming an online counselor involves becoming a licensed mental health counselor, or substance abuse counselor or clinical therapist first. There are no additional requirements needed to work in teletherapy. 

Typically, online counselors must have the following:

  • Education and Degree Requirements: Counseling positions generally require a master’s degree, though some entry-level roles may only require a bachelor’s degree.
  • State License Requirements: Most states require a master’s degree to receive a license, though some states allow counselors with bachelor’s degrees to be licensed. Counselors can only offer teletherapy services to clients living in states where they are licensed. Some state licensing boards may have additional regulations to follow regarding what services a counselor can provide online and what types of insurance can be accepted.
  • Clinical Experience and Past Work History Requirements: Requirements vary among different state licensing boards. Candidates with bachelor’s degrees will generally need 4,000 to 10,000 hours of clinical experience to be licensed. In states where a master’s degree is required, counselors can receive licensure with as few as 1,000 hours.
  • Certification Requirements: Some employers require a certification from either The Commission on Rehabilitation Counselor Certification or the National Board of Certified Counselors.
  • Technology and Device Requirements: Online counselors will need the capability to conduct video meetings, use text chat and work remotely over the internet. Just like your client, you’ll want to prepare your technology well before to make the most of your online sessions. 
  • Medical Malpractice or Liability Insurance: Insurance is not required, but it is recommended.

How to Find Online Counseling Jobs

Many online organizations directly hire or provide a platform for teletherapists, including BetterHelp, Talkspace, DotCom Therapy and Smart IOP. Counselors and therapists can also search job boards or inquire with local hospitals, clinics, rehab facilities and mental health organizations about potential telehealth job openings.


Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Telehealth in Rural Communities.” May 31, 2019. Accessed April 12, 2020.

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. “Substance Abuse, Behavioral Disorder, an[…]l Health Counselors.” September 4, 2019. Accessed April 12, 2020.

American Psychological Association. “Mental health issues increased significa[…]ts over last decade.” ScienceDaily, March 15, 2019. Accessed April 12, 2020.

Center for Connected Health Policy. “State Telehealth Laws & Reimbursement Policies. The National Telehealth Policy Resource Center, Fall 2019. Accessed April 12, 2020.

Novotney, Amy. “5 ways to avoid malpractice.” American Psychological Association, March 2016. Accessed April 12, 2020.

Medical Disclaimer

The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers.