How Do You Become a Mental Health Counselor?

Mental Health CounselorIf you have an interest in helping others combat their mental illnesses and diseases, you may want to become a mental health counselor. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, this occupation will grow at a faster rate than average and will add more than 31,000 new jobs through 2024. Many of those working in this field earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology before going to graduate school, but you’ll want to look at all the other requirements associated with working in this field.

Major in Social Sciences as an Undergraduate

It’s important that you have a deep understanding of mental illnesses, which you can get in a solid undergraduate program. Though most professional counselors majored in psychology, you may earn a degree in social work, sociology or another of the social sciences. To gain more experience, talk with your adviser about doing an internship. You might work in a counseling center, a homeless shelter or a hospital. Graduate schools look for well rounded applicants who have high grades and some additional experience. Even if you don’t do an internship, you might volunteer at local centers.

Attend Graduate School

You cannot become a mental health counselor unless you have a master’s degree first. The school you attend should have accreditation from the Council for Accreditation of Counseling & Related Educational Programs. You can select a program that emphasizes marriage and family counseling or mental health counseling. The courses you take show you how to work with people from different backgrounds, how to get your clients to open up to you and how to identify issues that might relate to the emotional health problems, including drug addiction or abuse at home. Most programs will require that you do some fieldwork too.

Go Through Training

Even after finishing your master’s degree, you still aren’t ready to work as a counselor. You will need to go through some additional training towards the end of your studies or after completing your studies. Some colleges refer to this as an internship, but other universities call this a residency program. You usually spend a minimum of 1,500 to 2,000 hours working in a supervised setting. While you’ll work with real clients, you’ll work under the guidance of a licensed therapist. Most programs require that you spend an additional 1,500 hours or more working independently with your clients.

Get a License

To become a mental health counselor, you also need to meet all the requirements in your state for getting a license. You usually need to show that you completed an extensive residency program or internship and pass a background test. Most states require that you go to the police department, submit your fingerprints and wait for the results. Your record should be free of any felonies. You will also take a professional counseling examination and submit your test scores to your state, which will keep the results on file. Some states also ask that applicants agree to continue their education and pursue a PhD.

Related Resource: Master of Public Health

Mental health counselors provide assistance to patients diagnosed with depression, anxiety disorders and other mental or emotional conditions. Before you can become a mental health counselor, you must complete your undergraduate studies, earn an advanced degree, go through a residency program and obtain a license to practice in your state.