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Mental Health Counselor: Education and Career Information

Mental health is a serious epidemic among the population. Having someone available who can manage patients and their families through difficult situations is important. This is a highly specialized career field that requires extensive education, but is valuable to the clients that need assistance. This can be a rewarding and lucrative career path for those who like helping others.

What does a mental health counselor do?

A mental health counselor provides psychological care to clients in their time of need during unstable mental and psychological issues such as depression, substance abuse and triggers that cause unhealthy relationships. They wear a number of hats and have a diverse clientele. They treat clients holistically and in conjunction with healthcare workers, education specialists and other fields to assess and formulate treatment plans tailored for each patient. You may find them in a number of areas, including family counseling, marriage counseling, career counseling, substance abuse counseling, school counseling and rehab counseling. They may choose specific areas like children, elderly, couples, or families. You find mental health counselors working in rehabilitation centers, hospitals, private practices, assisted-living facilities, correctional facilities and medical treatment facilities.

How much does a mental health counselor earn?

In 2013, the median salary of a mental health counselor was $40,580, but it really depends on the location, facility, capacity and role, education and experience. On the high end, a mental health counselor can make up to and over six figures.

What types of skills does a mental health counselor need?

Because of the amount of interaction needed in this particular profession, there are a number of skills that are essential to this job:

Social Perceptiveness: The counselor must be aware of the reactions of others and be able to understand why they are reacting in that manner.

Critical Thinking: The counselor must use reasoning and logic to identify the strengths and weaknesses of certain situations, identify alternative solutions and determine approaches to the problems.

Active Listening: The counselor must be able to pay attention to what the clients and other professionals they work with are saying to be able to fully process and understand different points of view. They must be able to ask the right questions after getting the information they need.

Active Learning: The counselor must be able to understand new and future problems and make informed decisions.

Speaking: The counselor must be able to engage and speak with a variety of individuals to gather and convey information effectively. Being able to speak on a number of levels is key in effectively communicating with others.

Time Management: The counselor must be able to effectively manage their time and the time of others to complete their tasks.

Reading Comprehension: The counselor must be able to understand a variety of documents to be able to disseminate the right information and read records.

Monitoring: The counselor must be able to assess the performance of the treatment plans, monitor the actions of others, and make the improvements needed if necessary.

Negotiation: The counselor must be able to bring a number of people together and reconcile differences.

Writing: The counselor must be able to take accurate and clear notes to effectively communicate to their audience.

Coordination: The counselor must be able to coordinate with others and adjust any actions needed to provide the services needed.

Problem Solving: The counselor must be able to identify and solve problems that exist and may arise throughout the treatment plan. They must have the information needed to develop and evaluate a number of options to implement the best solutions.

Instruction: The counselor must be able to instruct others on what to do and how to do it. This is essential in demonstrating techniques to avoid harmful triggers.

Internship Requirements

Two years of clinical work is usually required in order to complete the programs in mental health. Additional internship requirements may vary based on the school and program.

Education Requirements

In order to become a mental health counselor, there are a number of educational requirements needed to achieve this goal. Individuals interested in this career path must complete a bachelor’s degree program in psychology or counseling. Coursework includes psychology, counseling and other mental health fields. After completing the bachelor’s degree, the individual must pursue a master’s degree in psychology. Coursework for this program may include cognitive psychology, counseling psychology and professional ethics.

There are a number of brick-and-mortar, and online degree programs available in this field. In order to get into the master’s degree program, the individual must have a certain score on the Graduate Record Examination (GRE), which identifies aptitude and helps determine whether or not you will be able to handle the curriculum of the program. Once the master’s degree is completed, the counselor must become licensed.

Licensure varies by state, but is highly recommended to demonstrate that the counselor has met professional standards, and have passed licensing exams. Although certification is voluntary, The National Board for Certified Counselors has a number of options that are available. One of those options includes the National Counselor Examination for Licensure and Certification (NCE).

The Certified Clinical Mental Health Counselor (CCMHC) is also available, as well as the Master Addictions Counselor (MAC). In order to obtain these, individuals must pass the Examination for Master Addictions Counselors (EMAC).

This career path can be advantageous for someone who wants to work in the mental health field and has an innate nature to help others. Depending on the level of education and where the individual works, this could be a very lucrative choice that will prove to be rewarding in the future. This field is continuously growing, as mental health is one of the most devastating and crippling epidemics in society.

Counseling Scholarships

American Psychological Foundation Scholarships Association of Black Psychologists Epilepsy Foundation
Elizabeth Munsterberg Koppitz Child Psychology Graduate Student Fellowship Future Counselors of America Scholarship Gallagher Koster Health Careers Scholarship
Kay Wilson Presidential Leadership Award NIH Undergraduate Scholarship NAJA Graduate Scholarship
National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship Psi Chi Awards and Grants Wayne F. Placek Grants
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