Mental Health Counselor: Job Duties, Career Outlook, and Educational Requirements

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. Schools offering Mental Health Counseling degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Is a Mental Health Counselor?

Mental health counselors advise, educate and support people with mental health issues. They may work with families, couples, groups of people or individuals. Some mental health counselors may choose to specialize in a particular population, such as children. These professionals will diagnose and treat a variety of emotional or mental disorders, including grief, anxiety, stress and more. They may also address how these issues affect a patient's health and relationships. Mental health counselors will treat patients by helping them develop skills and strategies to cope with and change their behavior, as well as help their patients make decisions about their future. They can also suggest additional community resources available to the patient, like a support group. The following chart gives you an overview about education requirements, licensure and job growth for this career.

Degree Required Master's degree
Training Required 2-year supervised clinical experience
Education Field of Study Psychology, social work, marriage and family therapy, counseling 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 (2014-2024) 20%*
Median Salary (2015) $41,880*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

What Will I Do as a Mental Health Counselor?

Through observations, evaluations and interviews, you'll determine the problems or issues plaguing patients. You'll work with individuals, families or groups to address mental and emotional problems and to promote mental well-being. You'll address many kinds of issues, including depression, addiction, stress, marital problems, sexual issues, grief, aging, low self-esteem and anxiety. You'll work with other professionals who may help your patients, such as psychologists, social workers, school counselors, parole officers, addictions counselors and physicians.

What Can I Expect from this Career?

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that employment of mental health counselors was expected to grow by 20% between 2014 and 2024 (www.bls.gov). According to the BLS, as of May 2015 the median annual salary for mental health counselors was $41,880. The top five paying states for mental health counselors were Alaska, Utah, Idaho, Oregon and Wyoming. The industry with the most available jobs included individual and family services, outpatient centers, residential facilities, local governments and health practitioners' offices.

What Should I Study?

Most mental health counselors hold a master's degree. You can typically begin your education with a bachelor's degree in psychology, social work, counseling or a related field. You must then complete a master's degree in mental health counseling or a similar mental health discipline, such as community counseling or psychology. Doctorate programs are available but usually are not required by employers; however, completion of a doctorate degree may be required to maintain a license or certification, according to the BLS.

Coursework in a master's program often includes human development, substance abuse, legal and ethical issues, assessment techniques, the psychology of sexuality, career counseling and personality theories. You'll also study counseling methods, such as group counseling, holistic counseling, psychopathology and role reversal. You must also complete a 2-year clinical under a licensed mental health counselor to complete most programs.

Do I Need Licensure or Certification?

According to the BLS, most states require licensure. Each state has distinct licensing requirements; however, some accept the National Board for Certified Counselors' mental health counseling certification as a supplemental credential (www.nbcc.org). To earn the NBCC's Certified Clinical Mental Health Counselor (CCMHC) credential you must complete an examination of ten case studies.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

There are a few other counseling positions that one may be interested in pursuing that require at least a master's degree. Rehabilitation counselors work with patients that have a range of disabilities, from physical to emotional ones. They work to help their patients manage or overcome their disability so that they can live on their own. School counselors work with students at various levels of education, and help them learn the skills necessary to complete school. Similarly, career counselors typically work with students, but prepare them for life after graduation. This includes developing the skills necessary for obtaining a job or pursuing post-secondary education.

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