Mental Health Counselor: Education & Career Requirements

Oct 10, 2019

Mental health counselors require a significant amount of formal education. Learn more about mental health counselor training and education, licensing requirements, and job duties to see if this is the right career for you.

To prepare for a career as a mental health counselor it is necessary to complete a master's degree in a related field of study. Certification may not be required, but completing state certification may increase a mental health counselor's career options.

How to Become a Mental Health Counselor

Mental health counselors are trained in the use of various therapies to assist clients with mental and emotional issues, such as stress, grief, depression, anxiety, or relationship issues. These counselors evaluate patients and develop treatment plans. They may work with the general population or may specialize in a particular age group, such as children, college students, or the elderly. This career requires empathy and excellent listening skills, and is best for individuals who are emotionally stable and mature.

Required Education Master's degree
Other Requirements State licensing
Certification Options Voluntary certifications, such as the National Certified Counselor, Certified Clinical Mental Health Counselor and Master Addictions Counselor are available
Projected Job Growth (2018-2028)* 22% for substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors
Median Salary (2018)* $44,630 for substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors

Source:*U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

How to Become a Mental Health Counselor

In order to become a licensed mental health counselor in most states, a master's degree is required. They must also obtain experience and become licensed to practice independently. Optional mental health counselor certification is also available, and it sometimes needed for career advancement. Read below for more details about each of these steps.

Mental Health Counselor Education Requirements

The first step to become a licensed mental health counselor is to earn an appropriate mental health counseling degree. Schools offer master's degrees in mental health counseling, general counseling, psychology and other related mental health fields. Admissions requirements into a master's degree program generally include completion of a bachelor's degree and obtaining a minimum score on the Graduate Record Examination (GRE). Curricula for master's degree programs in the mental health fields may include classes such as cognitive psychology, counseling psychology and professional ethics.

Licensure Requirements for Mental Health Counselors

For mental health counselors, becoming licensed typically means that a counselor can practice independently. Although licensure requirements may vary by state, licensure is always a way of demonstrating that a mental health counselor has met certain minimum professional standards. Licensed counselors usually possess a master's degree in a mental health field, have finished two years of clinical work with licensed or certified mental health practitioners following graduation, and have passed licensing exams.

Certification Information for Mental Health Counselors

Certification is voluntary for mental health counselors but may be a career benefit. The National Board for Certified Counselors offers a couple certification options for counselors. The National Certified Counselor (NCC) credential is the baseline designation, which may be earned by either graduates of counseling graduate programs or licensed professionals. Requirements to earn the NCC designation vary depending on the type of applicant, but always include passing the National Counselor Examination for Licensure and Certification (NCE).

Those who have earned the NCC credential may opt to earn the Certified Clinical Mental Health Counselor (CCMHC) designation. Applicants must pass the National Clinical Mental Health Counselor Examination (NCMHCE) and demonstrate a certain number of hours of counseling experience. NCCs who have experience as addiction counselors may also earn the Master Addictions Counselor (MAC) designation. Those who apply for this credential must pass the Examination for Master Addictions Counselors (EMAC).

Career and Salary Information

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics ( predicts that substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors could see a 22% increase in job opportunities between 2018 and 2028. Additionally, the BLS reported that the median annual salary for these counselors was $44,630 in May of 2018. Candidates who complete a master's degree and state certification should have many employment opportunities in this field.

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