What Do I Need to Become a Professional Clinical Mental Health Counselor?
A clinical mental health counselor helps people through difficult times often brought on by the stress of life, mental disorders, or devastating events. Mental health counseling is a job that is always in demand, as populations increase and more people understand the benefits of seeking mental health counseling.
Mental health counselors treat many conditions and disorders, including depression, bipolar disorder, anxiety, phobias, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and addiction—all situations where a person needs support in making life manageable.
It’s a fascinating career where professionals can have a direct, dramatic impact on patients’ lives.
Becoming a clinical mental health counselor requires a commitment to earning the right level of education and licensure, including earning a master’s degree in the field.
The demand is there for those willing to make the commitment. The federal government projects 23% growth in the mental health counseling field by 2026, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).
At the undergraduate level, students can earn a bachelor’s degree in mental health counseling or psychology. Most states require a master’s degree to become a mental health counselor. It’s also a requirement to earn licensure in all states, according to the BLS.
Master’s degree programs are designed to prepare well-rounded students with expertise in many areas related to clinical mental health counseling. Using the New England College program as an example, the following are some of the outcomes students can expect.
- Learning the history and philosophy of counseling
- Understanding professional roles in counseling, as well as collaboration, credentialing, and ethical standards from the American Medical Association and the American Mental Health Counselors Association
- Developing an advocacy mindset
- Learning theories around adaptive and maladaptive development, developmental crises, disability, and psychopathology and then applying those theories to counsel people throughout their lifespan
- Developing expertise in mental health counseling as it relates to career development, relationships, group counseling, and assessments, and testing
- Acquiring knowledge on research in mental health, including methods, statistical analyses, needs assessment, and program evaluation, as well as the use of technology in research and ethical and legal issues
The program meets coursework requirements for professional licensure in 39 states and the District of Columbia.
Internship and Licensure
All states require mental health counselors to hold a license. To earn that license, professionals need a master’s degree and 2,000 to 4,000 hours of supervised clinical experience, according to the BLS. Online programs provide this through internships, with NEC offering three internships over the last year of its 24-month program.
Mental health counselors are also required to pass a state-approved test to earn licensure in each state, along with requirements for continuing education. The National Board for Certified Counselors has specific information for each state.
Why Become a Mental Health Counselor?
A strong commitment is needed to become a clinical mental health counselor, but the rewards are many. As research has advanced over the decades, the importance of quality mental health counseling has become clear.
Mental health counselors are needed in outpatient treatment centers, private counseling services, residential mental health and substance abuse facilities, government agencies, and hospitals.
Graduates from master’s degree programs learn the latest in assessment, research, and counseling techniques. If you are interested in mental health and helping others, earning a master’s degree can help you achieve your career goals.