Licensed Mental Health Counselor
Research what it takes to become a mental health counselor. Learn about education requirements, average wages and job duties to find out if this is the career for you. Schools offering .
Career Information At a Glance
As a mental health counselor, you'll work with distressed and traumatized patients on issues that may range from self-esteem to addiction. The following chart gives you an overview about education and licensure requirements as well as job growth for this career.
|Degree Required||Master's degree|
|Training Required||3, 000 hours supervised clinical experience|
|Education Field of Study||Psychology, counseling, social work, marriage and family therapy, or a related mental health field|
|Licensure and/or Certification||All states require mental health counselors to be licensed; professional certification is available|
|Job Growth (2012-2022)||29%*|
|Median Salary (2013)||$40, 580*|
Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
What Is a Mental Health Counselor?
As a mental health counselor, you help patients overcome vocational, educational, marital, spiritual and emotional issues such as grief, stress and depression. You may counsel patients individually or in group sessions. You'll also work closely with other professionals involved in mental health, such as clinical social workers and psychiatrists.
Step 1: Get a Bachelor's Degree
Relevant programs available at the bachelor's degree level for aspiring mental health counselors include, for example, psychology and counseling. These programs introduce you to topics in human and cognitive development, psychological theory, counseling principles and social structures. You can also gain practical experience through internships in bachelor's degree programs.
Step 2: Continue Your Education
Master's degree programs in mental health counseling are offered through a number of colleges. In these programs, you can take courses in subjects such as psychopathology, domestic violence, substance and sexual abuse, personality disorders, gender, grief counseling and group counseling. The curriculum also requires you to complete multiple sessions of supervised counseling practice.
Step 3: Complete Post-Master's Experience Requirements
According to the American Mental Health Counselors Association (AMHCA), you'll need to complete counseling experiences under the supervision of a licensed mental health practitioner after completing a master's degree program (www.amhca.org). A minimum of at least two years or 3000 hours of post-master's practice is generally necessary for licensure eligibility, though exact requirements depend on the state.
Step 4: Earn Licensure
The AMHCA reports that all states license private practice mental health counselors. Although each state may have differing requirements for licensure, prerequisites to sit for a state-sanctioned licensure exam generally include a master's degree in a relevant field and completion of supervised clinical work. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics notes that you may also need to agree to comply with ethical standards and complete continuing education to maintain licensure (www.bls.gov).
Step 5: Seek Certification
Voluntary certification is available through the National Board for Certified Counselors (www.nbcc.org). The most relevant certification for this field is the Certified Clinical Mental Health Counselor credential. To sit for the qualifying exam, you must have completed a combination of a stipulated amount of graduate coursework and clinical experience. Applicants must first earn the board's general National Certified Counselor credential before seeking the mental health certification.