Careers in Mental Health Counseling: A Guide

Mental health counselors can treat a range of mental illnesses including more common issues such as family or marital problems, depression, anxiety or stress and patients who are recovering from traumatic experiences, substance abuse disorders, suffering from chronic conditions or people who are contemplating suicide.

To be an effective counselor, you should have natural empathy and compassion, the innate desire to help others, active listening skills, and excellent verbal and written communication skills. You also need to be adept at critical thinking and have intuitive interpersonal skills to be able to diagnose and treat patients with complex emotional issues.

If this sounds like you, read on to discover more about the challenging but incredibly rewarding profession.

Duties & Responsibilities of a Mental Health Counselor

There are many duties and responsibilities which a mental health counselor will encounter, but the key duties include.

  • Assessing and diagnosing mental health issues
  • Designing a treatment plan for each patient’s individual needs.
  • Counseling patients (both individuals and groups) with various psychoanalytical strategies to promote recovery.
  • Monitoring and reporting on a patient’s progress while adhering to the documentation guidelines, both state and federal.
  • Reviewing treatment plans and making referrals to other mental health professionals as appropriate.

Research online mental health counseling jobs to find out the ways in which a mental health counselor can specialize in a particular field.

How Much Can a Mental Health Counselor Earn?

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2018, the average annual salary for a mental health counselor was $44,630 or $21.46 per hour. In terms of the top of the salary range, the top 10% earn over $70,000 a year. The salary a mental health counselor receives will vary depending on whether they work in private practice, a private organization, or the government.

What are the Prospects for a Mental Health Counselor?

More than 44 million American adults struggle with a mental health condition, and there are increasing numbers of young people also being diagnosed with mental health conditions. In addition, more Americans have health insurance and are using it to access the professional care they need.

Despite the increasing prevalence of mental health conditions, there is a shortage of mental health professionals with 1 in 5 adults in America reporting that they have an unmet need. With the increasing understanding of the social and economic impact that mental health issues bring to the country, we need effective mental health counselors like never before. This means that prospects for people entering the mental health profession today are definitely positive. In fact, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics finds that employment in this field is expected to grow by 23% between 2016 and 2026.

Where Does a Mental Health Counselor Work?

Being a mental health counselor is usually a full-time job and can require working evenings and weekends to ensure you can see patients outside of their working hours. You may, from time to time, need to work unscheduled hours should an emergency require it. The workload for a mental health counselor is often significant and requires a high level of organization.

A mental health counselor can be employed by a hospital, prisons, schools, mental health centers, or substance abuse and rehabilitation centers. Alternatively, a counselor may open their own private practice.

How to Train as a Mental Health Counselor

Training as a mental health counselor requires many years of education as well as the achievement of a license and potentially certain certifications. The first step is to achieve a bachelor’s degree in a related field of study, such as psychology, social work, or counseling. You will then need to complete a master’s in mental health counseling from an institution which is accredited by the Council for Accreditation of Counseling & Related Educational Programs (CACREP). During your studies, you will also need to complete a minimum number of clinical hours (typically 2,000-4,000) when you’ll gain practical experience under the supervision of a licensed counselor.

Before you can become licensed in the state in which you want to practice you will need to be licensed which usually involves a written exam such as the National Counselor Examination for Licensure and Certification (NCE). Although not required, many counselors choose to certify as a mental health counselor and then specialize their skills for a certain group in the population.

image credit: Mental Health Counseling via Chanintorn.v/shutterstock

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