Mental illness can be found in people from all backgrounds, lifestyles, and within all social layers. Professionals implemented in mental health agencies can work with clients in an effort to improve their overall quality of life and provide them with coping skills to use daily.
There are certain expectations for professionals in the field of counseling to meet before receiving a license. The entry-way to certification as a counselor is through undergraduate programs in counseling or psychology. In this experience, you can spend around 4 years taking courses in general education as well as specific introductory courses in counseling and psychology.
Typical Education Requirements for Mental Health Counseling
Completing of the undergraduate Mental Health Counseling degree is generally followed-up by a graduate program focusing on counseling, specifically the Master of Counseling or Master of Clinical Mental Health Counseling.
Each of these programs can allow you to dive deep into a curriculum that includes the assessment of clients, diagnosis, and treatment in a clinical setting. Students in these programs may also be required to engage in practicum or clinical requirements to test their skills.
Since the master's is the minimum degree requirement for licensing, most graduates stop at this level and begin their work. However, doctoral programs in counseling can also be a good way for you to gain entry into this field. Doctoral programs could be appropriate for new graduates from counseling master's programs or even graduate degree holders from other related fields.
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Length of a Mental Health Counseling Program
The time it takes to complete all of the requirements for licensure in mental health counseling may depend heavily on your ability to engage in course work. Bachelors degree programs can be completed in around 4 years, master's programs can be completed in 2-3, and doctoral programs may require an addition 2-3 years beyond the master's level.
The educational component to licensure can take anywhere from 5-8 years, depending on the school you choose and the time you can commit to studying along the way. Licensing as a counselor also requires that you work in a clinical setting under supervision for a period of 2 years, which can add additional time to your wait if you do not partner your education with experience during the time frame.
The clinical experience component of licensing can be vital to your integration into the field as a professional. Some students begin this experience during their master's program, while others may begin after they have obtained their degree. In some degree programs, students can attend conferences and workshops that can act as credit toward their overall clinical experience requirement.
You should definitely check into what your state requires in terms of clinical experience prior to choosing a destination for practice or a supervisor. Most states require that students complete 2 years of supervision, which should include around 1,000 on-site clinical hours.
Different Types of LMHCs
Since mental illness can affect people within all walks of life, all age groups, and different religious backgrounds, counselors may be needed in different specialized treatment areas. In local mental health organizations, you might find that there are a variety of therapists available to provide a wide array of treatments depending on their expertise.
In this list below, you can see some of the most common forms of professional counselors in the field, some of which may be an excellent choice for you. As you read through the remained of this guide, consider how the requirements can help you to provide these specific types of services to clients in the field.
- Cognitive-Behavioral Therapists
- Behavior Therapists
- Group Therapists
- Trauma Therapists
- Grief Therapists
- Child Therapists
Path to Becoming a LMHC
- Bachelors in Counseling or Psychology
The journey to success in the field of mental health counseling begins with a bachelor’s degree. Choosing a bachelor’s program that best fits into your mission in the field can be a great first step towards overall satisfaction within your career. At this stage, the Bachelor’s in Counseling or Psychology could be an excellent choice to prepare you for the curriculum to come.
- Masters in Counseling or Mental Health Counseling
The next stage of your learning experience is at the master’s level. States licensing mental health counselors require that you hold at least a Master’s in Counseling before being eligible for licensing, making this step vital to your future credentialing. Master’s in Counseling or Clinical Mental Health Counseling would be great options here and must be accredited by the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP).
- Doctorate in Counseling
In some cases, moving into a Doctorate program in Counseling may be more fitting. If you have graduated from another degree field previously and are seeking transition into the field of counseling, Doctoral programs in Counseling could help you success fulfill your goal.
- Ensure CACREP or APA Accreditation For Your Program
Doctoral programs should also hold accreditation, with some counseling supervision programs holding CACREP accreditation and other research-oriented majors holding accreditation from the American Psychological Association (APA).
- Clinical Supervision
Regardless of which degree program you settle for, you are required to complete a 2-year clinical supervision before being allowed to take the counselors examination for licensing. During this experience you can work with clients in a mental health setting and receive constructive feedback and teaching from a supervisor licensed in mental health counseling.
- Licensure Examination and Application
Once you have successfully submitted documentation of your 2-year stint in the field, you can apply for licensure and sit for your counselor’s examination. Completion of this exam can provide you with your license to practice counseling in your state.
- Continuing Education to Retain LMHC Licensure
Holding your license is not the final step to ensure your practice in the years to come. The field of counseling is constantly changing and improving, making continuing education a necessity for professional growth. States vary on the amount of continuing education they require each year, so you should be aware of what you are responsible for to maintain your license in the future.
Employment and Salary for LMHCs
The employment arena for Licensed Mental Health Counselors can be broad depending on the state you live in. Most mental health agencies employ mental health counselors with different specialized certifications in order to provide their clients with the best portfolio of services available.
Another interesting component about the employment field of mental health counselors is that you can also branch off into private practice once you have received all of your credentials for practice. This can be a beneficial way for you to moderate your client-base and salary over the life of your career.
Whether you choose to partner with hospitals, mental health agencies, schools, or work on your own, there can be ample opportunity for growth within the field of mental health counseling. A look at the salaries of actual mental health counseling professionals is provided in the section below for you to browse.
Average Salary for LMHCs
- Mental Health Counselors: $44,360 on average per year (BLS).
- Rehabilitation Counselors: $35,630 on average per year (BLS).
- School Counselors: $56,310 on average per year (BLS).
Intangibles and Skills LMHCs Tend to Have
Great counselors historically have used their social skills as a tool for building trust and communicating with their clients. Without even knowing it, you may already have most of the skills it requires to be an effective mental health counselor in the field.
Communication, a caring personality, and a hard work ethic can provide you with an advantage when pursuing a career in this area. Some counselors may also be good at breaking apart issues to find a central component, fast at finding solutions, and creative in their implementation of therapies in the mental health setting.
Desire to Help
An important factor to consider when deciding whether or not this field is right for you is your own desire. If you feel the need to help others working through the difficult symptoms of common mental illnesses such as depress and anxiety, this could be a field for you to enter for the long haul.
Mental Health Organizations to Know
Even after a high-quality degree program and in-person training, entering into a brand new field can be overwhelming. One way that you can counteract this feeling of discomfort is through joining professional organizations in your field. Professional organizations are joined by professionals with a broad range of experience, providing you with access to support regardless of your level of expertise in the field.
ACA and AMHCA
Some mental health counselors immediately join organizations such as the American Counseling Association (ACA) as a means to interact with counseling professionals in all field. Your mental health specialization could make you a great candidate for the American Mental Health Counselors Association (AMHCA), which is an organization specifically focused on the needs of counselors in your field.
If you would like to expand your horizons beyond just your specialization, you can consider other counseling organizations such as the Counselors for Social Justice and the Association for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, & Transgender Issues in Counseling (ALGBTIC).