Mental Health Counseling

Education and Careers

Mental health counselors are often one of the first helping professionals available to people in need of emotional and psychological support. They help their clients learn how to make healthy decisions about themselves, their relationships and their futures.

What They Do

Mental health counselors offer guidance to individuals, couples, families and groups that are dealing with issues that affect their mental health and well-being.

Counselors treat many of the same problems as other psychologists: depression and anxiety, PTSD, ADHD, bipolar disorder, eating disorders, personality disorders, and just about any psychological issue you can think of.

Their approach depends on their education and professional experience, but like psychologists, they may primarily practice psychodynamic therapy, cognitive- behavioral therapy, humanistic therapy, or have a holistic, integrative approach.

Skills You'll Need

Compassion for others and a desire to help are two of the most important qualities of mental health counselors. Learn which personal and professional traits you’ll need to succeed in this career.

  • Clear communication skills
  • Goal-setting skills
  • Clear boundaries
  • High ethical standards
  • Motivational skills

Find the Right School For You

How to Become a Mental Health Counselor

Licensing and certification guidelines for mental health counselors vary by state. Make sure to check the guidelines in your state before you start your studies.

  • 1

    Get a Bachelor's Degree in Psychology

    Earning an undergraduate degree is the first step toward becoming a mental health counselor. This will give you a general undergraduate education, and you can major in psychology or another related field.

  • 2

    Get an Advanced Degree in a Specialty

    Next, a master's or doctoral degree in mental health counseling is required, depending on the state you live in. Most states also require you to finish either a practicum or an internship as part of your studies.

  • 3

    Get Clinical Counseling Experience

    Many states will also require a minimum of 36 months of full-time counseling or 3,000 hours of postgraduate mental health counseling under the supervision of an approved licensed mental health professional.

  • 4

    Take the Counselor Exam

    States generally require you to pass an exam. Normally, either of the following exams is accepted: the National Counselor Exam or the National Clinical Mental Health Counselor Exam.

  • 5

    Apply for Licensure in Your State

    In order to practice as a mental health counselor, you must be licensed by your state. State licensure conditions can vary so check your state regulatory board for specific requirements.

Salary Comparison

Mental health counselors can make a good living. But salaries vary greatly depending on location, years of experience and a variety of other factors.

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics 2014-15 Occupational Outlook Handbook.

*The salary information listed is based on a national average, unless noted. Actual salaries may vary greatly based on specialization within the field, location, years of experience and a variety of other factors. National long-term projections of employment growth may not reflect local and/or short-term economic or job conditions, and do not guarantee actual job growth.

Job Growth

Employment of mental health counselors is expected to grow 29 percent between 2012 and 2022. This is much higher than the 11 percent growth predicted for all professions combined. National long-term projections of employment growth may not reflect local and/or short-term economic or job conditions, and do not guarantee actual job growth.

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