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How Can I Become a Licensed Mental Health Therapist?

Explore the career requirements for mental health counselors. Get the facts about education and licensure requirements, salary, and job duties to determine if this is the right career for you.

What Does a Mental Health Therapist Do?

Mental health counselors assess and treat emotional and behavioral disorders, as well as promote mental health. Encouraging clients to communicate their feelings and emotions, they work with these individuals to help them deal with problems in relationships such as with marriage partners, families, and work colleagues. They try to help people understand disorders such as depression and anxiety in order to overcome those that can be overcome and teach them to manage or minimize those that cannot be overcome.

The following chart gives you an overview about becoming a mental health counselor.

Degree Required Master's degree
Training Required 2,000 to 4,000 hours of supervised clinical experience
Education Field of Study Counseling, mental health, psychology, social work or related field
Licensure and/or Certification Licensure to practice is required by all states; professional certification is available
Job Growth (2018-2028) 22% (for substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors)*
Mean Salary (2018) $47,920 (for substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors)*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

What Is a Mental Health Therapist?

As a mental health counselor, you may help people with issues such as anxiety, depression, addiction, stress and grief. In addition, you may be involved in community outreach efforts, help people make decisions regarding career or education, help people with relationship issues or serve as a mediator.

Your day-to-day work can involve collaborating with school counselors, psychiatrists, social workers, psychiatric nurses and other mental health professionals. You'll work with individuals, families and groups, keeping detailed records, case histories and assessments. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), job opportunities for mental health counselors were expected to grow 22% from 2018-2028. The fact that mental health counselors provide more affordable services than do psychiatrists and psychologists may contribute to this job growth.

What Are the Education Requirements?

Educational requirements to obtain licensure vary by state, but a master's degree in counseling or a related area is usually required to become licensed. Courses you may take in a counseling program include counseling techniques, ethics and legal issues, human development, cultural diversity, assessment and research methods. You'll also participate in internships or supervised clinical experiences. Often, you can proceed to a doctoral program but this is not required. As a graduate, you can go on to work in non-profit agencies, prisons, halfway houses or universities.

Salary Info

The BLS indicates that in 2018, the highest paying jobs for substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors were generally found in junior colleges and paid a mean annual salary of $63,760. Substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors in general earned a mean salary of $47,920 in 2018. Salary is generally based on varying factors that include education level, industry worked in, experience level certification and licensing. According to PayScale.com, as of November 2019, most mental health counselors earned a salary ranging from $31,000 to $59,000 annually.

Get Licensed

To become a licensed, you'll need to check with your state for specific requirements. Each state can have different education and experience requirements. Your state may also require that you participate in continuing education to maintain your license.

In addition, the National Board of Certified Counselors offers voluntary certification for mental health counselors. In some states, if you pass the national certification exam, you are exempt from having to take a state licensure exam.

What Are some Related Alternative Careers?

School and career counselors, who hold a master's degree, work with students and adults to guide them through school or work lives. School counselors help students develop academically and socially, in order to help them mature and make the transition to life after school. Career counselors guide individuals by helping them choose an appropriate career, make effective decisions related to that career and even choose an educational program that can help them acquire the proper career-mandated skills.

Sometimes individuals are hampered in their attempts to live independently or be successfully employed. These difficulties can result from mental, developmental, physical or emotional disabilities or infirmities. This is where the services of a rehabilitation counselor can mitigate problems and help individuals overcome the existing obstacles. Barring that, armed with a master's degree, rehabilitation counselors can teach clients to manage the deleterious effects that psychological, physical, personal or social afflictions can have on employment or living independently.