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What Education Is Needed To Become A Mental Health Counselor
Are you interested in helping others deal with difficult emotions, trauma or stress? Do you have the compassion, empathy, and problem-solving skills necessary to provide mental health care? Becoming a licensed mental health counselor is not only important for the healing of others, but it can also be a rewarding profession for furthering your own personal growth and aspirations.
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Not everyone’s journey will look the same. Each person has a unique approach, personality and care. Some people may want to work with young children or teens, while others may want to work with adults, couples, families, veterans, or individuals with significant psychological and emotional needs. Certified mental health counselors can work with individuals or groups and receive special training that allows 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 a commitment to years of training, evaluation, and continuing education. It is a powerful process, as mental health professionals have a great responsibility to the community and their individual patients. To become a certified mental health counselor, you must earn at least a master’s degree in a related mental health field, gain supervised clinical work experience, and obtain a license to practice. Each country and program has its own requirements, so it’s important to research and plan your trip.
Regardless of where you are currently on this journey, it’s important to understand the requirements required to become a certified mental health counselor in the state where you plan to practice (counsel patients). Below are 5 steps to becoming a certified mental health counselor, from when you can get started to when you can legally provide counseling to individuals.
The first step to becoming a certified mental health counselor is getting a degree. While you can have a bachelor’s degree, a degree in counseling, psychology, social work, sociology, or other human services is highly recommended. Courses on substance abuse, family dynamics, education, community relations, religion, and anatomy will be helpful.
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If you’re just starting out on this path and don’t have a degree yet, the best bachelor’s degree is mental health. In this program, an individual can expect a strong foundation in the following areas:
Make sure the degree is from an accredited college or university so that your courses qualify for the next step. Most graduate programs last between 3 and 5 years, depending on the course load and program size.
A person must have at least a master’s degree to qualify as a certified mental health counselor. Earning a master’s degree in mental health or other similar degree is important. Many states have specific requirements for educational credit counseling, so even if you already have a master’s degree, you must meet the accreditation requirements for the state in which you plan to practice. It may be necessary to take additional courses on treatments, diagnoses and other relevant guidance topics.
The best route is to enroll in a specific mental health counseling graduate program. If you want to do a PhD, it is appropriate, but not necessary to become a certified mental health consultant. Doctoral students are usually involved in research and writing (scientist), while master’s students are usually trained to work directly in the field (practitioner). In a graduate counseling program, a student can expect to take courses in the following areas:
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As part of the program, the student also takes a series of elective courses specifically tailored to the population the counselor would like to work with. This may include, but is not limited to, the following interests:
Regardless of the path you choose, any accredited mental health graduate program will provide you with the tools you need to move forward to oversee clinical work in the field. A typical master’s program can take between 2 and 3 years, depending on the study load and specialization. Some programs also require an internship, which may or may not count toward completed work experience.
In addition to obtaining the required basic training in mental health counseling, certification and/or licensure requires hands-on experience in the field. Most states require between 2,000 and 4,000 additional field hours. Many of these hours must be supervised by a licensed mental health professional. Students receive more information about placement and possibilities within their study programme.
The key here is to determine the state requirements in which you plan to practice. The American Psychological Association and the American Counseling Association are excellent resources for individuals who want to make a difference and build a career in psychology and counseling.
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After completing the required work experience, you must become a licensed mental health counselor. Licensing also depends on the state you plan to provide counseling in, but each state requires mental health counselors to pass a state exam. Typical exams are the National Counseling Examination (NCE) or the National Clinical Mental Health 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 licensure in its Knowledge Center.
Whether you want to open your own private practice, join a group of private practice consultants, or work in the public sector, becoming National Board Certified is optimal. Not only will this step improve your credentials and increase your job prospects, but many states require certification from the National Board of Practice, either in lieu 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 who are struggling with a number of issues. They are trained to identify mental health issues including anxiety disorders, depression, bipolar disorder, ADD/ADHD (ADHD for children or adults), and other mental health complications. However, an individual need not have a diagnosable problem to seek help. Clinical mental health counselors focus on the well-being of the whole individual and help that person make choices that support physical, mental, social, emotional, and even 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 substance abuse therapies, and psychoeducational and prevention programs. They also provide individuals with talk therapy to improve the person’s overall life.
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People who choose this career path should be prepared for the role they will play in the lives of the people they care for. The following qualities correspond to the qualities of a clinical mental health counselor:
Mental health counselors should dedicate their professional lives to keeping abreast of the latest psychoeducational and counseling treatments. Here’s a great article on continuing education for mental health professionals! Their focus is on taking the patient to a place of health, equipping them with the tools they need to support the health of the whole person.
Mental health care can also be considered clinical mental health care. Educational programs and licenses may differ in name, but the process and credentials are the same. A professional counselor works from a welfare function and guides patients towards solutions that lead to positive experiences.
However, there is a difference between (clinical) mental health counseling and clinical psychology, or even counseling psychology. Both counselors and psychologists must be licensed in the states in which they work. They treat clients directly and both work in mental health care. However, there are differences in their education, professional requirements and the services they usually provide.
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Furthermore, there is also a difference between clinical psychologists and counseling psychologists. Clinical psychologists are more concerned with acute care for serious problems, as well as research and empirical studies. Counseling psychologists provide services similar to mental health counselors; however, the emphasis may shift more to the acute diagnosis.
In the spectrum of mental health, there are also areas of Life Coaching and NLP. A life coach helps an individual focus on their goals and can help improve various areas of one’s life. (There are online life coaching certifications that can ease the process of becoming a life coach.) And an NLP certification allows an individual to provide therapy to patients to improve their personal development and their communication skills. (There are also NLP certifications online!)
To learn more about a mental health profession, visit the American Psychological Association or explore different degree programs at the school of your choice.
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