mental health Mandy Kloppers

What Does a Career in Clinical Mental Health Counseling Look Like?

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Mental health counseling is a lucrative and rewarding career path that allows professionals to make a big difference in other people’s lives. It’s also very difficult work. The path to being certified takes many years to complete, while the job itself can be emotionally challenging.

In this article, we take a look at what counselors do, how to become one, and what sort of mental health conditions they will most commonly encounter.

Counseling, another word for therapy?

First,  what is counseling, and how does it differ from “therapy”? While many use the terms interchangeably, they are distinct, at least from a professional perspective. Therapists provide services that could be described as “counseling” but the focus is narrowed to predetermined sessions.

A mental heal counselor, on the other hand, could have a more active role in providing robust mental health services. Typically, these services will include therapy, but might also involve other forms of therapeutic treatment.

A difficult job

Prospective counselors should note that mental health work is very demanding, both emotionally, and professionally. Counselors often encounter people in their lowest moments. A survey in the 1990s revealed that over 60% of counselors experienced some level of work-related depression—a number that is twelve times the average national rate.

Potential counselors should consider the emotional stress factors of the job before they take their first steps toward that career path.

Educational background

The most direct way of becoming a licensed mental health counselor is usually to get either a master’s or doctorate degree in psychology from an approved university. The majority of schools that offer doctorate programs will be fully accredited. However, you should be able to find a list of accredited schools provided by the state that you are hoping to get licensed in.

Once you have earned your degree, the path to starting your career can vary slightly based on where you live. Most states require a background check. Future counselors will also be required to pass an exam sponsored by the National Board of Certified Counselors.

Some states will also require fees for licensing and processing. Once you have fulfilled your educational requirements and jumped through all of the legal hoops, you are ready to begin your career in mental health counseling.

Consider getting an online degree

There are many educational paths toward becoming certified as a mental health counselor. A mental health counseling master’s program online can serve as a flexible way to get your education from home.

Online master’s programs are fully certified, satisfying the same educational requirements that an in-person university would. Online school makes it slightly easier to work a job or take care of your family as you begin your exciting journey down this rewarding career path.

The job

The responsibilities of a counselor are highly subjective and will depend on who they are working with. Because the overall goal is to improve mental health, their responsibilities can change by the hour depending on the needs of the person they are helping at the moment.

Below we highlight common encounters mental health counselors might experience.

People who are struggling with addiction often require the services of a mental health counselor. Not only will counselors work with the person suffering from addiction but they might also work with their families to repair relationships.

Depression / Anxiety

An estimated 5% of the global adult population suffers from depression. Another 7% suffers from anxiety. These are two of the most common mental health concerns—particularly in the United States, and they are sure to come up frequently in the professional lives of most mental health professionals.

Counselors may work with depression or anxiety sufferers to diagnose their problems, identify the stimulus that triggers their symptoms,  and help them manage their condition.

Family counseling

There are many situations that can lead to tension within a family. For example, in the cases of parental abuse, juvenile delinquency, or other problems, counselors are often on the front lines, working to repair family bonds and avoid escalation.

In cases involving DCFS, family counseling is often a requirement for parents hoping to retain or regain the custody of their children.

Community specific issues

Some counselors specialize in servicing a specific community. The LGBTQ community, for example, experiences higher rates of depression, suicide, and anxiety directly resulting from their social treatment.

Some mental health counselors focus their attention specifically on helping that community deal with mental health considerations that are unique to them.


Photo by Jason Goodman on Unsplash

Mandy Kloppers
Author: Mandy Kloppers

Mandy is a qualified therapist who treats depression, anxiety, OCD, PTSD, trauma, and many other types of mental health issues. She provides online therapy around the world for those needing support and also provides relationship counselling.