How Can I Become a Clinical Counselor?

Research what it takes to become a clinical counselor. Learn about job duties, education and licensing requirements to find out if this is the career for you. Schools offering Mental Health Counseling degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Is a Clinical Counselor?

Clinical counselors are trained to help people work through a range of issues, such as cognitive and behavioral disorders, addiction and stress. They typically work with individuals, but may also meet with couples or families if needed. These professionals meet with their clients and listen to their issues. They may lead them through a discussion on how to properly react to situations or hardships, how to make life decisions and how to change their behavior. Clinical counselors are qualified to diagnose various emotional disorders, including depression and anxiety. They may also refer their clients to community services and resources like support groups. Take a look at the following chart for an overview of how to enter this field.

Degree Required Master's degree in accredited program
Education Field of Study Mental health counseling
Training Required Supervised clinical experience
Licensure/Certification Licensure or certification required depending on state
Job Growth (2014-2024) 20%*
Average Salary (2015) $45,080*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

What Will I Do as a Clinical Counselor?

According to the American Mental Health Counselors Association (AMHCA), clinical mental health counselors use a variety of approaches, such psychotherapy and crisis management, to assess and treat many forms of mental, emotional and behavioral disorders (www.amhca.org). As a clinical counselor, you may treat patients who suffer from depression, eating disorders, anger issues or substance abuse, among other life-affecting issues.

Clinical counselors begin the psychotherapy process by gathering information to identify clients' issues. This may entail interviewing clients as well as their friends, families and coworkers. You might also observe patients and administer tests to assess disorders. You will then create effective treatment plans unique to each client. Depending on the case, you might provide one-on-one counseling to individuals, or you may work with groups of clients or families.

What Is the Work Setting?

Clinical counselors work in a wide range of environments. You might find employment with a hospital, mental health clinic, community health agency, substance abuse treatment center, nursing home or another healthcare institution. Many clinical counselors own their own counseling practices. Clinical counselors are often subjected to stress, since they work closely with people suffering from many different kinds of emotional and mental problems. You may find that you'll often work extended hours, evenings or weekends to accommodate clients' schedules.

What Skills and Education Do I Need?

Clinical counselors must have a desire to help others and strong communication skills. Patience and understanding are also necessary, as well as investigative, interviewing and assessment skills.

To formally prepare for this career, clinical counselors must complete master's-degree programs in counseling accredited by the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs. In a master's program in mental health counseling, you can expect to take courses in diagnosis and assessment, group and family therapy, crisis intervention and counseling ethics. You must also gain supervised clinical experience by completing internships and practicums.

In addition to completing accredited programs, aspiring clinical counselors must gain two years of clinical experience beyond the master's-degree level. In these years, training counselors work under the direction of certified or licensed mental health counselors.

What Are the Licensing Requirements?

According to the AMHCA, there are licensing or certification guidelines for mental health counselors in place in all 50 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico. While some counselors must pass state-administered licensing exams, others are required to pass the National Clinical Mental Health Counseling Examination (NCMHCE) administered by the National Board for Certified Counselors (www.nbcc.org). You may be required to earn continuing education credits to keep your certification or license valid.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

A few other counseling positions that require a master's degree include rehabilitation, school and career counselors. Rehabilitation counselors primarily work with people of different disabilities. They help them acquire the skills they need to work and live independently. School counselors may work in elementary, middle or high schools to help students learn the necessary academic and behavioral skills to be successful in school. Career counselors may work in high schools, colleges or adult education centers. They help students learn about their interests, possible careers and what is required for certain careers.

To continue researching, browse degree options below for course curriculum, prerequisites and financial aid information. Or, learn more about the subject by reading the related articles below:

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