How to Become a Mental Health Clinician: Step-by-Step Career Guide

Learn how to become a mental health clinician. Research the education and career requirements, training and licensure information and experience required for starting a career as a mental health clinician. View article »

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  • 0:00 Becoming a Mental…
  • 1:19 Step 1: Bachelor's Degree
  • 2:04 Step 2: Master's Degree
  • 2:42 Step 3: Clinical Experience
  • 3:08 Step 4: Licensure
  • 3:21 Step 5: Continuing Education

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Video Transcript

Becoming a Mental Health Clinician

Also known as mental health counselors, mental health clinicians work to counsel and support patients with mental illnesses. They may diagnose and treat emotional disorders, encourage patients to talk about their feelings and help patients develop new strategies to improve their lives and relationships. Working with emotionally and mentally challenged patients may be stressful, and some may find the experience to be a negative. Other clinicians find great rewards in helping these individuals.

Degree Level Master's degree
Degree Field Counseling, marriage and family counseling, social work or psychology
Experience 2,000-4,000 hours of supervised clinical experience
Licensure and Certification A state-issued license is required
Key Skills Compassion, listening skills, organizational skills, speaking skills, people skills, knowledge of therapy and counseling techniques
Salary (2015) $43,190 (median for mental health counselors)

Sources: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, O*Net OnLine, Mariposa County.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), O*Net OnLine, and Mariposa County, there are various requirements for this career. Mental health clinicians should have a master's degree in counseling, marriage and family counseling, social work or psychology, as well as 2,000-4,000 hours of supervised clinical experience, and a state issued license.

Key skills for a mental health clinician include compassion, listening skills, organizational skills, speaking skills, people skills, and knowledge of therapy and counseling techniques.

In May 2015, the BLS reported that the median salary for all mental health counselors was $43,190 per year.

Step 1: Earn a Bachelor's Degree

A bachelor's degree is the first step toward becoming a mental health clinician. While there is no specific field of study required, students might consider majoring in psychology, social work or a related field. A bachelor's degree program in psychology may cover topics such as social psychology, personality theories, health psychology and human behavior. These courses can help a student better prepare for concepts addressed in a master's program.

Success Tip:

  • Volunteer in a mental health facility. Students can benefit from volunteering at a local mental health clinic or hospital to gain first-hand experience working with patients. Volunteer experience may also help a student stand out when applying to master's programs.

Step 2: Earn a Master's Degree

Mental health clinicians are required to hold a master's degree in counseling or a related field. A master's program in counseling typically covers advanced topics in counseling, such as assessment techniques, foundations of group counseling and behavioral disorders. These courses will prepare a student for clinical experience and provide the skills a mental health clinician needs to succeed in the field.

Success Tip:

  • Participate in an internship. An internship may be required in order to graduate from a master's program. Students can benefit from the real world experience an internship provides.

Step 3: Clinical Experience

In order to obtain licensure, mental health clinicians must first complete 2,000-4,000 hours of supervised clinical experience, depending on the specific requirements in their state. According to the American Mental Health Counselors Association (AMHCA), clinical experience is typically obtained during 2 years of post-master's work performed under the supervision of a licensed mental health counselor.

Step 4: Licensure

Mental health clinicians are required to obtain a state-issued license in their state. In addition to completing the required clinical experience, mental health counselors must take and pass a state-offered licensure exam.

Step 5: Continue Education

Mental health clinicians must complete continuing education credits in order to maintain licensure. According to the BLS, this must be done annually. Continuing education may be completed by attending annual conferences, completing online courses or by participating in online seminars. In addition to satisfying renewal requirements, continuing education can help a mental health counselor stay current in the field.

Success Tip:

  • Join a professional organization. Joining a professional organization, such as the AMHCA, can give a mental health counselor access to continuing education opportunities. The AMHCA offers a variety of online courses and webinars to satisfy continuing education requirements.

The steps towards becoming a mental health clinician include earning a bachelor's degree, earning a master's degree, completing 2,000-4,000 hours of supervised clinical experience, obtaining a state-issued license, and continuing education in order to maintain licensure.

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