mental health counselor requirements

How to Become a Mental Health Counselor: Key Requirements

It is estimated that 26% of adult Americans are diagnosed with mental health disorders every year. Depression and anxiety are the most common of these, causing disruptions in the lives and the happiness of sufferers. Mental health counseling can provide relief and much-needed support. Through their work, mental health counselors can significantly improve their clients’ lives. These highly trained professionals are key members of a person’s care team and provide a much-needed service. If you desire a career that makes a difference, and wish to improve the mental health outcomes of your community, then this career is an excellent path. Here’s what you need to know about becoming a mental health counselor, including education and licensing requirements.

What is a Mental Health Counselor?

Mental health counselors are responsible for diagnosing and treating mental, behavioral, and emotional disorders. These professionals use multiple forms of counseling in their work and tailor their approach to the particular needs of each client. For example, they may use cognitive behavioral therapy, interpersonal therapy, or psychodynamic therapy, or any combination of therapeutic methods. Counselors may work with a larger team of mental health professionals, such as psychologists or psychiatrists, to create a specialized treatment plan for their patients.

Mental health counselors may address such issues as addiction, depression, anxiety, grief, disordered eating, phobias, or suicidal ideation with their patients. They may work directly with their clients, or with clients’ family members. Typically, mental health counselors work with their clients for a short-term basis. When clients are suffering from a longer-term or chronic illness, counselors may refer them on to a psychiatrist or psychologist.

Mental Health Counselor Requirements

In order to become a licensed mental health counselor (LMHC), prospective counselors must earn, at minimum, a master’s degree. But, before earning a master’s degree, students must achieve a bachelor’s degree. This education prepares students for the licensing examinations they will need to pass in order to work as a professional counselor. Here is a breakdown of how to become a mental health counselor.

1. Earn a Bachelor’s Degree

As a first step, future mental health counselors will need to successfully complete their bachelor’s degree. While it isn’t a requirement, many choose to major in Psychology or Human Services, as these subject areas will directly support graduate study in Counseling or Psychology.

Many master’s degree programs require applicants to have completed a variety of courses prior to matriculating. Courses to consider in your bachelor’s degree program include:

  • Abnormal Psychology
  • Lifespan Development
  • Personality Psychology
  • Research Methods

Additionally, some master’s programs require that applicants have field experience working in mental health. University of Bridgeport requires graduate school applicants to have at least 6-9 months of field experience working in social service, mental health, or substance use intervention. Those who wish to major in Clinical Mental Health Counseling must demonstrate significant experience in the mental health field.

2. Earn a Master’s Degree

Upon earning a bachelor’s degree and completing the aforementioned prerequisite courses, those who are interested in becoming mental health counselors can apply to graduate school. A master’s degree in Counseling prepares students to work as mental health counselors by providing foundational coursework in psychopathology, appraisal, addiction treatment, clinical skills, and psychotherapeutics.

  • Students in the master’s in Counseling program are prepared for a dynamic career helping those struggling with their mental health. Courses that students are required to take in this degree path include, but are not limited to:
  • Theories of Counseling
  • Research Methods
  • Human Growth and Development
  • Social and Cultural Foundations
  • Topics in Behavioral Medicine
  • Appraisal Processes
  • Trauma and Crisis Intervention
  • Career and Lifestyle Development

Students are also required to complete supervised training in the form of an internship. The internship of the master’s program provides students with a setting in which they can develop the skills needed to work as an entry-level counselor upon graduating. Internships are typically completed over the course of two semesters (or, the course of a full academic year). In addition to two, 300-hour semester internships, students are required to complete a 100-hour practicum. Supervised training is critical to the future success of mental health counselors.

It’s important to keep in mind that it is a requirement for students to earn their degree from a program accredited by The Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP). Accreditation by this organization guarantees that students receive a high-quality education that prepares them for the rigors of a career in counseling. A graduate’s ability to apply for licensure is reliant on their graduation from a CACREP accredited program.

3. Earn Licensure

In the state of Connecticut, prospective mental health counselors are required to earn licensing before working as a counselor. Licensing is contingent on completing and passing the National Counselor Examination for Licensure and Certification (NCE) or the National Clinical Mental Health Counseling Examination (NCMHCE), which is administered by the National Board for Certified Counselors.

In order to qualify for licensure, applicants must have earned at least a master’s degree in Counseling, Social Work, Marriage and Family Therapy, or Psychology from a regionally accredited institution. They are also required to have completed 60 graduate semester hours in counseling or a related discipline from a regionally accredited institution. These 60 semester hours should include coursework in areas including (but not limited to) human growth and development, social and cultural foundations, counseling theories, group dynamics, research and evaluation, career and lifestyle development, and appraisals.

Applicants for licensure are also required to have earned 3,000 hours of postgraduate supervised experience in counseling, completed in no less than one year. At least 100 hours of these hours should be under the direct supervision of a board certified psychiatrist, psychologist, advanced practice registered nurse, a licensed marriage and family therapist, a licensed clinical social worker, or a licensed professional counselor.

Mental health counselors are responsible for guiding, supporting, and treating their clients. Through mental health counseling, patients are provided with the tools they need to live full, happy lives, in spite of their mental health disorders. Mental health counselors can help their patients navigate the stresses of daily life, teach them ways to mitigate the impact of their mental illness on their lives, and problem solve in the face of challenges. In other news, mental health counselors provide their patients with vital assistance. The first step to becoming a mental health counselor is, of course, to make sure you have earned the correct education and licensure. At University of Bridgeport, a master’s degree in Counseling can provide you with the foundation you’ll need to begin a gratifying and meaningful career.

Is a career in mental health counseling for you? Learn about University of Bridgeport’s Master’s Degree in Counseling, here!