What is a Mental Health Counselor and What is Their Role?
A licensed mental health counselor works with people in a variety of settings to provide psychotherapy and other counseling services. Mental health counselors help clients to resolve psychological and emotional problems, including stress, anxiety, and depression. They may also help clients to develop and carry out effective self-help or rehabilitation plans. Mental health counselors are licensed by the state in which they work.
Mental health counselors can choose to specialize in a particular area of counseling, such as crisis counseling or couples counseling, or in a particular type of therapeutic approach, such as cognitive-behavioral counseling. Therapists can also specialize in one type of therapy over another, like developing their own unique personal therapeutic approach and combining it with the most effective forms of psychotherapy.
What Kinds of Job Opportunities are There for Mental Health Counselors?
Mental health counselors can find employment in many types of settings such as private practice or hospitals or clinics. Other counselors work for employers that offer employee assistance programs to their employees. Some therapists work as teachers in colleges or universities and other educational settings, teaching human development and other psychology-related topics. Mental health counselors are also found working in schools, where they may be employed as school psychologists or counselors, assisting students with all types of personal problems. Licensed mental health counselors may also be employed in the workplace as health-care workers, treating patients in offices and other settings.
How Much Does a Mental Health Counselor Make?
The salary for a licensed mental health counselor depends on many factors including experience, location, and licensing requirements. Salaries often start at $33,000 to $40,000 per year. Many mental health counselors work as independent contractors or consultants at lower rates of pay than they would if they were receiving health insurance benefits from their employer.
What Education is Required to Become a Mental Health Counselor?
To become a licensed mental health counselor, most states require applicants to have at least an undergraduate degree from an institution of higher education. Some states also require applicants to have graduate degrees in social work, psychology, or other related fields of study before being allowed to practice as a counselor.
Steps To Become a Mental Health Counselor
1. Obtain a Bachelor’s Degree
Mental health counselors are licensed at the state level and must have a minimum of a bachelor’s degree in psychology, social work, or related field. Some states also require several hundred hours of supervised clinical experience. If you plan to become licensed in one of the nine states that do not require licensure, such as California, you can obtain an associate’s degree. Become knowledgeable about laws and ethical guidelines specific to your state.
2. Update Your Skills
Become effective at practicing the counseling techniques that you learn in school. Interact with others, practice during free hours, or work part-time and volunteer with a local organization to use your skills. You can also join professional associations and attend relevant conferences to become familiar with the latest developments in mental health counseling. Look for ways to learn how mental health professionals handle ethical dilemmas and how they support clients and families in their decisions.
3. Consider the Costs
As you consider your education and career goals, consider what it will take to get started in a career in mental health counseling. Some counselors opt to earn an associate’s degree before pursuing a bachelor’s degree and some do not require advanced education beyond a bachelor’s degree. Licensed mental health counselors can also get licensed and work in other careers that support the field, such as school and workplace counselors, educators, therapists, or social workers. Career progression also depends on individual needs and desires.
4. Locate a Program that Meets Your Needs
Before applying to graduate school, you will want to shop around and find the best program for your needs. Use our counseling graduate school locator service to assist with locating schools that offer the kind of programs you desire. Look at the program requirements, tuition costs, as well as residency requirements for out-of-state students, and financial aid programs available. You can also look for distance learning programs that can be completed from a remote location to become a licensed mental health counselor.
5. Prepare for Licensing Requirements
You will need to meet additional requirements to obtain licensure, including meeting the experience requirement and passing exams. The number of hours for licensure varies by state but is usually between 900 and 1000 hours.
6. Gain Experience Through Internships
If you want to gain some experience before entering into a counseling career, you may want to consider obtaining an internship with a counseling agency to obtain experience before entering into graduate school. Speak with agencies in your area about volunteer positions, or ask about arranging for a stipend for your work. You may want to inquire about their policies regarding student interns. You can also find volunteer opportunities in mental health museums, clinics, schools, and other organizations.
7. Apply for Graduate School Programs
Search for programs that offer non-degree options, or look on financial aid websites and scholarship databases to see what scholarships are available. Some private colleges and universities have scholarship programs specifically for applicants with a background in mental health counseling or related fields of study.
What Tests are Administered for a Licensed Mental Health Counselor?
The majority of states have licensing exams that mental health counselors must pass to be licensed and practice.
Before you can begin your state’s licensing process, you must first pass the National Counselor Examination for Licensure. The exam is administered by the National Board for Certified Counselors (NBCC).
After passing the NCE, you will need to apply for licensure with your state board. Most states require that you submit a criminal background check, proof of citizenship, or residence identification, and pay a fee before beginning the licensing process.
Once you are given the official notification that your application for a licensed mental health counselor has been approved, you will need to complete the requirements for pre-licensure training. Requirements vary by state but many states will require a certain number of hours of supervised training before being issued a license.
Once you have completed the steps above, you will be presented with an examination that must be passed to become a licensed mental health counselor and receive your certificate of licensure. This will include an examination of your professional knowledge and skills.
What are the Skills a Mental Health Counselor Utilizes?
- Provides emotional support and counseling.
- Identifies and assists clients in coping with emotional, behavioral, or mental health problems or issues.
- Gather information from the client, his or her family, or the community about the issues involved. And begin to develop a counseling plan that will meet the client’s needs. This may include:
- Develop a plan for the client to reach goals that have been identified in counseling sessions.
- Identifies and provides strategies for coping with stress and anger management problems.
- Discusses alternative therapeutic techniques, including family therapy and medication counseling, that may help achieve client goals.
- Assess clients’ progress and provide feedback to clients, spouses, or family members as needed.
Career as a Mental Health Counselor
A licensed mental health counselor is a professional who listens to, talks with, and advises individuals or groups experiencing psychosocial issues in an attempt to help them solve their problems. These problems may be related to mental health, physical well-being, or developmental issues. Treatment includes working with the client to address the presenting problem and to help them develop strategies to manage it. Research involves collecting data, analyzing it, and perhaps writing about it for publication in a professional journal.
There are many different branches of counseling all focused on helping people deal with various types of mental issues. Many mental health counselors choose branch-like substance abuse counseling, school counseling, or marriage and family counseling.
Mental Health Counselors’ Workplace
In their work environment, licensed mental health counselors work in various settings. Mental health clinics and hospitals are one workplace where counselors can apply their skills and education. Some counselors choose to work partially or entirely in the private practice setting. Which can include working for an agency, a group practice, or one-to-one client services. Schools are another place where a mental health counselor may find employment, although they will most likely be restricted to working with students if they work in this setting.
With the appropriate education, training, and experience, licensed mental health counselors can have a successful career. It is important to not only obtain the necessary education but also the right mix of experience that incorporates the proper licensure and certification requirements as well. Mental health counselors are needed in every aspect of the field, and a person’s knowledge is important for overall growth.