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How To Become A Mental Health Counselor | Complete Guide 2021



How To Become A Mental Health Counselor

Would you like to become a mental health counselor? In the United States alone, there are hundreds of thousands of professionals who have found their dream careers in counseling, be it in rehabilitation, education, mental health, or other related fields of study. Because this career path can be rewarding and indeed in high demand these days, many people still don’t know what a job as a mental health counselor is, or how to become a mental health counselor, or perhaps what opportunity is open to becoming a mental health counselor.

So in this article, I’m going to answer many questions about a career as a mental health counselor. I’ll treat facts like;

  • What is mental health counseling?
  • What is a mental health counselor Job?
  • How to Become a Mental Health Counselor?
  • Skills Gained in a Mental Health Counseling Program
  • What is a Mental health counselor’s salary?
  • Highest Employing Industries for Mental Health Counselors

What is mental health counseling?

college counselor

Mental health counseling by definition simply means the act of helping an individual achieve emotional wellness. A health professional that takes on this career path is referred to as a mental health counselor. A lot can cause an individual to lose their mind.

In a world riddled with frustration and hard times, people are trying to balance their family life and career, coupled with long-overdue bills they can’t afford to pay.

it surely can be overwhelming for many, and not being able to deal with this stress in a healthy way may lead to mental and emotional strain.

Thus, mental health counseling will just be the only way to pull such a person out of his/her mental din.

Example mental Illnesses and Disorder:

In the career of a mental health counselor, they get to encounter different individuals with varying degrees of mental issues like people dealing with everyday stress to people with diagnosable mental illnesses and disorders.

In many cases, some of the mentally ill patients might be individuals having hard times because of family, jobs, or social differences. They also counsel individuals experiencing any of the following:

  • Depression
  • Bipolar Disorder
  • Generalized Anxiety Disorder
  • Panic Disorder
  • Phobias
  • Eating Disorders
  • Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder
  • Addiction
  • Grief
  • Chronic Pain
  • Substance Abuse
  • Suicidal Impulses
  • Self-Esteem
  • Marital Distress

In fact, it is believed that a quarter of every adult suffers from a form of mental disorder in the united states according to research that was conducted by the National Institute of Mental health.

People are finally realizing that their mental well-being is as important as their physical well-being. Even, insurance companies are beginning to cover mental illness services as such there will be a lot of mental health counselor jobs.

Mental health counselor Job | What does a mental health counselor Do?

If you are asking what is the job of a mental health counselor at this point, you are not wrong.

According to one of the world’s largest professional association solely for counselors, the American Counseling Association explained counseling as a “collaborative effort between the counselor and the client” such that they “identify goals and potential solutions to problems which cause emotional turmoil; seek to improve communication and coping skills; strengthen self-esteem; and promote behavior change and optimal mental health”


To achieve these goals, a counselor has various methods in their arsenal, such as individual therapy, group discussions, and /or referrals to a healthcare professional.

Hence, becoming a counselor may include building fundamental skills and expertise in counseling specialization, mostly through a graduate degree program in counseling or a similar field of study not forgetting your state-issued licenses.

How to Become a Mental Health Counselor?

Firstly, to become a licensed mental health counselor, you must complete your undergraduate studies and mental health counselor master’s. here are all you need to do:

Degree Requirements

The educational requirement to become a mental health counselor varies from state to state. In some states, you are allowed to work in psychology if you only have a bachelor’s degree. But to become a clinical mental health counselor, you will need a master’s degree. this is because a clinical professional works directly with the patient.

For students who are looking to make a choice of a degree program, only courses accredited by the  Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP) can be accepted.

Thus, you can only take the Licensing exam if you successfully complete a CACREP-certified graduate program. Then you can practice as a clinical mental health counselor. Though, you may decide to pursue a doctoral degree in mental health, at this point you can take up a health administrator’s job or work in a highly specialized area.

Clinical Experience Requirements

The clinical experience requirements are as important as the degree requirements. In some graduate programs, you will need internship hours for credit before you can graduate.

During this internship, the student is expected to work with a patent directly under the supervision of a licensed counselor.

This also applies to online mental health students too but they can take their locally even if the school is in another state. However, every state in the United States maintains specific licensing requirements. No matter your area of study clinical experience is a necessity. And every candidate must complete 3,000 supervised clinical hours.

Licensure and Certification Requirements

Practicing legally as a mental health counselor, the applicant must be license by the state he/she is practicing in. In most cases, you may need to possess at least a master’s degree from a program accredited by CACREP.

The program has to cover mental health counseling, not just school counseling or education counseling. In some jurisdictions, the applicant must complete his/her clinical hours and also pass the National clinical mental health counseling exams that are organized by the National Board of Certified Counselors (NBCC).

In some states, the candidate might also be required to pass a state exam before they can practice. So, it is advisable to check in with your state of residence to know their specific requirements.

Furthermore, a License is not the only thing a counselor can have if they want to practice. you might decide to go for some special certifications. Though the NBCC certifies licensed counselors to practice, some employers may require certain certifications.

Mental health counselors can specialize in areas like community mental health, addictions, suicide, or depression. Thus learning how to treat a particular set of patients.

Master’s Degree vs. Doctoral Degree in Mental Health Counseling

In other to earn your license and practice as a clinical mental health counselor, you will need at least a master’s degree. For professionals who decide to advance their career, they may want to pursue a doctoral degree. As such increase their earning power.

so someone with just a master’s degree in mental health earns a lower salary.

compared to someone with a Ph.D. degree in mental health.

What is a Mental Health Counselor Salary?

Mental health counselor salary varies from state to state and also depends on specialization and experience.

For instance, a counselor that has worked with the military for many years will definitely earn more compared to an entry-level employee.

a mental health counselor salary average salary is around $42,590 annually, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

  • PH.D., COUNSELING $75,000

Top-Paying Industries for Mental Health Counselors

Depending on certain factors like location, educational backgrounds, experience level, and industry, mental health counselors earn different salaries.

Nonetheless, the junior college industry pays the highest for the service of a counselor.

In this industry, the counselor deals with students with varying disorders, addictions, and behavioral issues.

In the United States, Utah pays the highest followed by Alaska, the District of Columbia, Oregon, and New Jersey.

Mental Health Counselor Masters Degree

If you are asking; how do I earn a master’s in mental health counseling? Then you need to know this- To earn a master’s degree in clinical mental health counseling, can take up to 3 years depending on the candidate’s level of education, enrollment status, and study program.

some study programs may require an internship as an important part of their curriculum, thus accounting for about 12 credit hours.

The masters’ program the majority of the time requires thesis projects.

Sample Courses to take in Mental Health counselor Masters Program

  • Psychopathology and Diagnosis
  • Professional and Ethical Issues
  • Psychopharmacology
  • Trauma Impact and Counseling
  • Research and Statistics

Psychopathology and Diagnosis: like this course title goes, the student gets to learn about Psychological disorder, its symptoms in varying patients as well as diagnostic criteria.

Professional and Ethical Issues: in this course, the students learn how to navigate ethical and professional situations when the needs arise.

Psychopharmacology: here, the student learns how psychologically prescribed drugs can affect their patients even though they are not allowed to prescribe medications.

Trauma Impact and Counseling: in this course, the student learns how to help trauma patients in the immediate aftermath and long term too.

Research and Statistics: mental health counseling is a continuous learning career ;

Thus, this course helps the student to learn about new data, interpret them and apply them to their practice.

Doctoral Degree in Mental Health Counseling

If you want to advance your career into clinical management or counseling education, earning a doctorate degree is the way to go.

Before applying to any university for your doctoral degree program

it will be wise for you to do a thorough investigation.

As some universities are more focused on one area than the other, so make sure it is your area of study.

They may also require you to take a doctoral program in the area of study as your Masters and C.G.P.A, at least 3.0.

It usually takes up to 2 years to complete your doctoral programs.

This depends on the required number of hours and enrollment type.

In some doctoral programs if not all may you defend dissertation projects.

Hence, graduates can go on to train the next generation of counselors, supervise or other professionals and conduct research.

Sample Courses to take in Mental Health counselor Doctoral Program

  • Business Issues in Professional Practice
  • Quantitative Research Methods
  • Residency
  • Sexual Trauma and Domestic Violence and
  • Teaching in Higher Education


With this information, I am very confident that you are ready to take on the world. This answered all of the questions you asked yourself about becoming a mental health counselor.

So share it with your friends and family. If you have any questions or contributions, we look forward to your comments in the comment area.

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