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Licensed Mental Health Counselor Career Information

Learn about the education and preparation needed to become a licensed mental health counselor. Get a quick view of the requirements as well as details of degree programs, job duties and licensing to find out if this is the career for you.

Licensed mental health counselors work in many different work environments and their services are always needed. They can work in private practice or in a variety of agencies and institutions conducting individual, group or family therapy. They deal with mental and emotional stresses and trauma. Some specialize in a particular population, such as children or addicts.

Essential Information

The licensed mental health counselor's primary goal is to help people improve their mental and emotional well-being. Counselors treat people with mental illness and those who have difficulty coping with a variety of life situations. Licensing is mandatory in most cases and requirements vary from state to state. A master's degree in counseling, psychology or a related subject is a usually a minimum academic requirement.

Required Education Master's degree in counseling, marriage and family therapy, social work or another related field; bachelor's degree is usually needed to enter a graduate degree program
Licensing Required in most states; completion of a graduate program, supervised clinical hours, passing a state-recognized exam
Projected Job Growth (2014-2024) 20% for all mental health counselors*
Median Salary (2015) $41,880 for all mental health counselors*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Career Information for Licensed Mental Health Counselors

There are many mental and emotional issues that licensed mental health counselors address as they counsel individuals, groups and families. These issues include addictions, anxiety, depression, grief, stress, substance abuse, suicidal tendencies and trauma. Counselors also aid with family and relationship situations as well as career and educational issues. Some specialize in working with specific populations or issues, such as children, the elderly or addictions.

Job Description and Duties

Counseling and therapy are only some of the duties and responsibilities of licensed mental health counselors. They must assess problems, determine what kind of treatment to offer and make treatment plans with measureable objectives. They must also plan individual, family or group counseling sessions.

Counselors work with other professionals and agencies to access additional services for clients. These services include medical or legal help, financial aid, housing, psychiatric medication or additional psychiatric care. Careful documentation of every contact with clients or professionals is required. Continuing education courses must be taken to maintain licensure.

Career Options

Licensed mental health counselors have a number of career options. They may work in community health or mental health centers, hospitals or schools. They often have a private practice or work for a government agency. They have the option of specializing in areas such as eating disorders, abuse, children, high-risk youth and the elderly.

Salary Information

In 2015, the median hourly wage for mental health counselors was $20.13 per hour, or $41,880 a year, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The highest wages for mental health counselors were found for those providing consulting services and working for junior colleges, though very few counselors actually work in these sectors. States with the highest average salaries were Alaska, Utah and Idaho.

Employment Outlook

The BLS predicts 20% growth from 2014-2024 in mental health counselor employment. This is higher than for other counseling fields and much faster than the average growth of all occupations. About 135,400 mental health counselors were employed in 2014, whereas employment of nearly 161,000 is anticipated for 2024. Employment opportunities in rural areas are predicted to be particularly good during the decade.

Licensed mental health counselors can find employment in hospitals, schools, and numerous other organizations. They work with individuals and families developing treatment plans and providing counseling and psychotherapy. A master's degree in a relevant field is required, as is state licensure.


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