How to Become a Mental Health Counselor

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In the United States, approximately 18 percent of the adult population has some kind of mental illness, such as depression or anxiety. While there are a number of treatment models for these diseases, mental health counselors are the first line of defense. Mental health counselors work with clients to help them establish coping tools, strengthen self-confidence, develop awareness of problematic behaviors and learn to build stronger relationships. Because there are many different kinds of problems and disorders that people seek therapy for, there are many different kinds of mental health counseling.

Types of Mental Health Counseling

Here are just a few of the most common types of mental health counseling, including:

  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy, which focuses on awareness and behavior, helping clients develop positive beliefs about their lives and make healthier choices in the moment.
  • Interpersonal therapy helps clients build healthy emotional relationships, and family therapy focuses specifically on communication in the family dynamic.
  • Psychodynamic therapy is designed to help people better understand their unconscious emotions and motives.
  • Psychoeducation teaches clients about mental health conditions, so that they better understand their own situations.

How to Become a Mental Health Counselor

A student seeking to become a mental health counselor typically needs a master’s degree in psychology, marriage and family therapy or a related field at a bare minimum, per the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Most practices also prefer candidates whose degrees are from institutions accredited by the Council for Accreditation of Counseling & Related Educational Programs; such programs provide students with a strong foundation in understanding mental and emotional disorders, and in techniques used to counsel clients.

Postdegree clinical work — such as an internship or residency — is also typically necessary. This hands-on work with clients helps counselors develop practical skills. In addition, every state requires licensure. It varies by state, but they all require a master’s degree and 2,000 to 4,000 hours of supervised clinical experience. Counselors must also pass a state exam and engage in annual continuing education to obtain and maintain licensure. The goal of these requirements is to ensure that counselors enter the profession with the skills necessary to do their jobs well.

Mental Health Counselor Skills

Mental health counselors are responsible for the mental well-being of their clients, and the client/counselor relationship requires a high degree of trust. To foster trust, counselors need specific skills.

  • Compassion
  • Listening and communication skills
  • Organization skills

Jobs for Mental Health Counselors

The BLS reports that job growth for the field of mental health counseling is likely to increase by 20 percent between now and 2024 — well above the national average. Graduates with mental health training and licensure can also find work in marriage and family therapy or in social work and other community services. While these fields don’t have the strong projected growth rate of mental health counseling, their projected growth is still above average for the nation.

A trained mental health professional could work in an outpatient care center, on-site in a residential care center or at a substance abuse treatment facility.

Mental Health Counselor Salary

Pay is above average for the nation, with a median salary of $42,840 for mental health counselors. Mental health counselors in state and local government earn the highest salaries, while salaries in residential facilities are on the lower end of the range.  Salaries for marriage and family therapists are higher, with a median wage of $49,170.

Education is mandatory for mental health counselors, and an online degree in behavioral and health services can be an excellent start to your mental health education. While a bachelor’s degree will not qualify you to be a mental health counselor, it can prepare you for entry-level jobs in the field or for graduate school. PhilaU’s flexible, online program allows you to earn your degree on a schedule that works for you.

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