How Do You Become a Clinical Mental Health Counselor?

If you are looking to become a clinical mental health counselor, it is important to understand the job duties, average wages and education requirements to determine whether this is the right career for you. Clinical mental health counselors work with traumatized and distressed patients on issues that may range from addition to self-esteem. Mental health counselors can work with groups, individuals, or with a specific population like children or college students. They aim to help their patients make sound decisions regarding the future, and they develop behavioral and coping modification strategies to help their clients get to where they need to be.

Earn a Bachelor’s Degree

Aspiring clinical mental health counselors must first earn a bachelor’s degree in a field such as psychology and counseling. Coursework at the undergraduate level is designed to introduce students to subjects such as social structures, counseling principles, psychological theory, and human and cognitive development. Most bachelor’s degree programs also include some type of internship or practical experience that allows students to gain hands-on training in the field.

Continue Education

Many colleges across the country offer master’s degree programs in mental health counseling. Through these degrees, students cover topics such as group counseling, grief counseling, gender, personality disorders, sexual and substance abuse, domestic violence and psychopathology. The curriculum also requires students to successfully complete a number of sessions of supervised counseling practice.

Finish Experience Requirements

The American Mental Health Counselors Association (AMHCA) requires master’s degree students to complete counseling experiences after they earn their degree. These experiences must be supervised by a licensed clinical mental health counselor, and at least 3,000 hours, or two years, of post-master’s practice is typically required for students to be eligible to sit for licensure. However, licensing requirements vary depending on the state in which the counselor wishes to practice.

Earn Licensure

Every state is responsible for licensing its clinical mental health counselors, according to the AMHCA. Although requirements vary depending on the state, prerequisites typically include completion of supervised clinical work and completion of a master’s degree in a relevant field. Once you are deemed eligible to sit for a state-sanctioned licensure exam, you must also agree to complete continuing education requirements to maintain your licensure and comply with ethical standards of the field.

Seek Certification

Although not mandatory, many aspiring clinical mental health counselors seek certification to make themselves more attractive to prospective employers. The National Board for Certified Counselors offers voluntary certification, the most relevant of which is the Certified Clinical Mental Health Counselor (CMHC) credential. In order to be eligible for this certification, you must have completed a clinical experience as well as a specified amount of coursework at the graduate level. In addition, you must first earn the National Certified Counselor certification, which is the more general of the two, prior to applying for the mental health credential.

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Other related careers that may be of interest include rehabilitation counseling and school counseling as these professions involving helping clients to gain the resources and skills necessary to succeed in daily life. As is the case to become a clinical mental health counselor, you will also need to earn a minimum of a master’s degree to seek employment in these areas.