What To Know About Becoming A Mental Health Counselor

Careers in mental health have always been critically important. The mental health of individuals directly affects the well-being of society as a whole and is, therefore, a vital field. The paradoxical nature of mental health–it can be acute and chronic–makes it especially important that those who treat mental health are experts in the field who are knowledgeable, trained, and prepared to handle whatever comes before them. Becoming a mental health counselor requires commitment.

Undergraduate Degree

A significant amount of education is required in order to become a mental health counselor. There will be a significant amount of expense in pursuing this line of work and a student loan or student loan refinance may be necessary. The first step someone who wishes to enter this field must pursue is a bachelor’s degree. This degree must be in an area that provides the necessary prerequisite education to continue on to graduate-level studies in mental health counseling. Psychology, sociology, and social work are examples of fields that provide counselor-related courses that meet the prerequisites for the master’s program in mental health counseling and provide students with the necessary foundation to succeed in the graduate-level courses. However, not having the prerequisite courses will not necessarily prevent a student from being accepted into a graduate program in mental health counseling. Some programs will allow students to take any missing prerequisites once they have been admitted to the graduate program. Any students who are sure they plan to pursue a career in mental health counseling would be best served by declaring an undergraduate major that requires courses that fulfill the requirements to be admitted to a master’s program in mental health counseling. 

Graduate Degree

Unlike some careers that encourage or reward a graduate-level degree, mental health counseling is a field in which a master’s degree is required in order to be allowed to proceed towards even the possibility of working in the field. Individuals who receive their master’s degree are only part of the way through their journey toward practicing mental health counseling. In addition to graduate-level coursework, students eventually are required to gain practical experience. Students are required to find placements that allow them to practice using the knowledge they have acquired and develop their skills in counseling while under the supervision of a licensed counselor. This clinical experience is a critical part of the preparation for independent licensing and practice. This portion of the program is so important that it is similar to working full-time but unpaid. 

Clinical Experience 

The training, however, does not end once the graduate program is completed. Before becoming independently licensed, there are additional steps that an aspiring mental health counselor must take. After successfully completing graduate school, individuals can be hired to practice mental health counseling but must do so under the supervision of a professionally licensed counselor who oversees their treatment and paperwork. A specified number of clinical hours must be obtained before the unlicensed counselor is eligible to move forward towards taking the licensure exam to become fully independent. 

Licensing Exam

It is only after the supervised clinical hours after graduate school have been successfully completed that a person can take the mental health counselor licensing exam. Passing this exam, which may vary by state, is necessary in order to practice mental health counseling independently. Not until the licensing exam has been successfully passed can an individual apply for a license. 

Continuing Education 

Becoming a mental health counselor in certain specialties may require additional training and practical experience. Additionally, in order to maintain licensure, mental health counselors in many states are required to take continuing education courses in order to stay up-to-date on best practices and new research.   

Being a mental health counselor is a challenging career, so, rightfully, becoming a mental health counselor is a challenging task in and of itself. The significance of the job cannot be overstated. The dedication and commitment that it requires are only surpassed by its importance. 

Paisley Hansen
Author: Paisley Hansen

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