What is a Clinical Mental Health Counselor?

Working as a clinical mental health counselor is a very rewarding job that helps clients work through difficult struggles happening in their lives. They can work with those struggling in their marriages and help them decide whether divorce is the best option, assist children acting out in different ways and provide support to those dealing with depression and other mental conditions. Below, we explain how to become one, salary expectations and more important information.

What Counselors Do

Mental health counseling professionals generally use the word counselor to describe their jobs. They handle group counseling sessions that allow multiple people to meet and talk about their problems as well as private counseling sessions with just one person. Those specializing in marriage and family therapy will hold sessions for married couples and their families. They will listen to the struggles that their clients have and suggest possible treatments as well as provide clients with referrals to doctors. Counselors are mandatory reporters and must report any signs of abuse that they witness.

How to Become a Counselor

To become a clinical mental health counselor, you must have at least a master’s degree in mental health counseling. Most programs take three years to finish because you will take two years of classes and then spend the final year doing clinical fieldwork. Some programs let you graduate in two years and let you do your clinical fieldwork while also taking classes. Before you can get your license, you will need to do at least 100 hours of clinical fieldwork that includes 40 hours of supervised work. Some states will require that you take a licensing exam and/or do more than 1,000 hours of additional clinical fieldwork.

Average Salary

The Bureau of Labor Statistics puts the mean salary of a counselor at $46,050 a year or $22.14 per hour. The top 10% of those working in the counseling field earn more than $70,000 a year, but the bottom 10% earn closer to $27,000 a year. That bottom 10% includes professionals just starting out who haven’t worked with clients before. It may include some who work for government agencies and those who work in rural areas. The BLS found that the top employers of these counselors include family services organizations and outpatient care and treatment centers.

Counseling Specialties

Before becoming a licensed counselor, you should decide whether you want to work with all types of patients or specialize in working in a certain field. This field includes marriage and family therapy, which focuses on individuals, couples and their loved ones. Some marriage and family counselors work more with minors and small children than adults. You can also specialize your degree to work as a substance abuse counselor and help those struggling with drug and alcohol addictions or work as an abuse specialist and help the younger and adult victims of abuse.

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Though you will need an undergrad degree and a graduate degree to work in the counseling field, the programs you attend will teach you how to work with others as well as the treatments that are best for certain types of people. A clinical mental health counselor may work with anyone struggling with mental issues or with specific populations or groups.