What Do I Need To Become A Mental Health Counselor – Home > Blog > Growth Mindset > Professional Development > 5 Steps to Becoming a Certified Mental Health Counselor
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What Do I Need To Become A Mental Health Counselor
Are you interested in helping others cope with difficult emotions, trauma or stress? Do you have the compassion, empathy, and problem-solving skills necessary to provide mental health counseling? Becoming a certified mental health counselor is not only important for the treatment of others, but it can also be a rewarding career to further your personal growth and aspirations.
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Not all journeys are the same. Each person has a unique perspective, personality and interest. Some people want to work with young children or teenagers, while others want to work with adults, couples, families, veterans, or people with significant psychological and emotional needs. Certified mental health counselors can work with individuals or groups and receive specialized training that enables them to identify mental health problems, diagnose and treat patients with a variety of applied counseling services.
The path to becoming a certified mental health counselor requires years of training, evaluation, and dedication to continuing education. This is a robust process, as mental health professionals have an important responsibility to the community and to their individual patients. To become a certified mental health counselor, one must obtain at least a master’s degree in a related mental health field, complete supervised clinical experience, and a state license to practice. Each state and program will have its own requirements, so it’s important to research and plan your trip.
No matter where you are on this path at this time, it is important to understand the requirements to become a certified mental health counselor in the state in which you plan to practice (counseling patients). Below you’ll find the 5 steps to becoming a certified mental health counselor, until you can legally provide counseling to individuals.
The first step to becoming a certified mental health counselor is obtaining a bachelor’s degree. Although you can have any bachelor’s degree, a degree in counseling, psychology, social work, sociology, or other human services is highly recommended. Courses in substance abuse, family dynamics, education, community relations, religion, and anatomy would be beneficial.
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If you are just starting this journey and do not yet have a bachelor’s degree, the best bachelor’s degree program is in mental health counseling. It is in this program that one can expect to gain a solid foundation in the following areas:
Make sure the degree is from an accredited college or university so that your course qualifies for the next step. Most graduate programs take between 3 and 5 years to complete, depending on the course load and size of the program.
A person must have at least a master’s degree to qualify as a certified mental health counselor. Obtaining a master’s degree in mental health counseling or other similar degree is important. Many states have specific requirements for academic credits for counseling, so even if you already have a master’s degree, you must meet the accreditation requirements for the state you plan to practice in. You may need to take additional coursework on treatment, diagnosis, and other relevant counseling topics.
The best route is to enroll in a specialized mental health counseling graduate program. If you want to earn a doctorate, it is appropriate but not required to become a certified mental health counselor. PhD students are often involved in research and writing (scientific), while master’s students are usually trained to work directly in the field (professional). In an undergraduate counseling program, a student can expect to take courses in the following areas:
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Within the program, students will also take a variety of electives that are tailored specifically to the population the counselor wishes to serve. This may include, but is not limited to, the following interests:
Regardless of the path you choose, any accredited mental health counseling graduate program will provide you with the tools you need to supervise clinical work in the field. Depending on course load and specialization, a typical master’s degree program can take between 2 and 3 years to complete. Some programs also require an internship, which may or may not count as completed work experience.
Practical experience in the field is required to obtain the necessary basic training in mental health counseling, certification and/or licensure. Most states require between 2,000 and 4,000 additional hours related to fieldwork. Many of these hours must be supervised by a licensed mental health professional. Students will receive more information about accommodations and opportunities within their programs.
It is important to determine the state requirements where you plan to practice. The American Psychological Association and the American Counseling Association are excellent resources for people who want to make a difference and build a career in psychology and counseling.
Do You Need A Degree To Be A Mental Health Worker?
After completing the required work experience, you should become a licensed mental health counselor. Licensing also depends on the state in which you intend to provide counseling, but each state requires mental health counselors to pass a state exam. Common tests include the National Counseling Examination (NCE) or the National Mental Health Counseling Clinical Examination (NCMHCE), but some states use alternative national tests. All tests are administered by the National Board of Certified Counselors (NBCC). The American Counseling Association (ACA) has specific information about licensing in its Knowledge Center.
Whether you want to open your own private practice, join a private group of consultants, or work in the public sector, it is optimal to pursue national board certification. Not only will this step enhance your credentials and improve your employment prospects, but many states require national board certification to practice, either instead of or in addition to a state license. For more information, visit the National Board of Certified Counselors website.
A clinical mental health counselor is a licensed and experienced professional who helps people struggling with a range of issues. They are trained to recognize mental health problems, including anxiety disorders, depression, bipolar disorder, ADD/ADHD (ADHD in children or adults) and other mental health complications. However, a person does not have to have a diagnosed problem to seek counseling. Clinical mental health counselors focus on the well-being of the whole person and help them make choices that support physical, mental, social, emotional, and spiritual health.
Their ability to diagnose comes with the knowledge and tools to treat individuals through counseling and other therapies. Their services may include crisis management, solution-focused therapies, alcohol and drug abuse treatments, and psychoeducational and prevention programs. They also provide speech therapy to people to improve their overall life.
Steps To Become A Certified Mental Health Counselor
People who choose this profession must be prepared for the role they play in the lives of the people they care about. The following specialties are consistent with a clinical mental health counselor:
Mental health counselors must devote their professional lives to the latest psychoeducational and counseling therapies. Here is a great article on continuing education for mental health professionals! Their focus is to bring the patient to a place of wellness by equipping them with the tools necessary to support the health of the whole person.
Mental health counseling can also be considered clinical mental health counseling. Academic programs and licenses may differ in name, but the process and credentials are similar. A professional counselor works in a wellness capacity and guides patients to solutions that lead to positive experiences.
However, there is a difference between (clinical) mental health counseling and clinical psychology or counseling psychology. Both counselors and psychologists must be licensed in the states in which they practice. They deal directly with clients and both work in the mental health field. However, there are differences in their training, professional requirements and the services they typically provide.
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There is also a difference between clinical psychologists and counseling psychologists. Clinical psychologists are involved in acute care for serious problems, as well as research and empirical research. Counseling psychologists provide services similar to mental health counselors; However, the emphasis on acute diagnosis may be excessive.
Within the mental health spectrum are also the areas of life coaching and NLP. A life coach helps a person focus on their goals and can help improve various areas of a person’s life. (There are life coach certifications online that can make the process of becoming a life coach easier.) And NLP certification enables a person to provide therapy to patients to promote their personal growth and improve their communication skills. (There are also NLP certifications online!)
For more information about any mental health career, visit the American Psychological Association or explore the various degree programs at your school of choice.
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