How Do You Become a Clinical Mental Health Counselor?

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Mental Health CounselorMental health issues are prevalent in the U.S. with one in four adults diagnosed with some form of disorder in any given year. For the 13 to 18 age group, the prevalence of conditions related to mental issues is 20 percent while the rate of occurrence in the 8 to 15 demographic is estimated at 13 percent, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness. Clinical mental health counselors play an important role in helping people cope with these problems and engage in positive and preventive behavior.

Role of Mental Health Counselors

The need for clinical mental health counselors far exceeds the picture painted by NAMI statistics. These counselors are typically the first services made available to people who need emotional and psychological support following a traumatic event. Counselors provide guidance to those who are dealing with problems that may affect their mental and behavioral conditions. Providing services to individuals, couples, families and groups, counselors typically focus on the wellness approach that emphasizes client strengths rather than illnesses.

Aside from crisis management, the functions of clinical mental health counselors extend to mental and behavioral assessment, diagnosis and treatment planning. Psychotherapy and solution-focused therapy for limited periods for cases involving alcoholism and substance abuse are also part of their tasks, according to the American Mental Health Counselors Association.

How to Become a Clinical Mental Health Counselor

Completion of a four-year degree in social work, counseling, psychology or sociology is a crucial first step to become a clinical mental health counselor. Undergraduate studies should be a well-balanced selection of science and liberal arts courses that would help you become a resource for people needing emotional and mental help.

A master’s degree in counseling would boost your chances of success in this field especially if your undergraduate degree was not in one of the fields mentioned. It will typically take two years or more to complete the master’s, and an internship may be a requirement, depending on the applicable state regulations where you intend to work. Earning a doctorate is not strictly necessary to become a mental health counselor, but it may be helpful. In almost all states, mental health counselors must show proof of postgraduate work. This means completing 2,000 to 4,000 hours of supervised clinical work and passing the state licensure exam to obtain the necessary credentials to work in this field. Licensing, certification and continuing education requirements will depend on state-provided guidelines.

Outlook for Mental Health Counselors

Counselors can expect to work in different settings, including outpatient mental health centers, residential facilities, hospitals, schools, state and local governments. Mental health counselors may also go into private practice as individual and family counselors.

According to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics, this sector will experience job growth in the coming years. Clinical mental health counselors will be in greater demand, growing by 19 percent, which is better than average.

Related Resource: Top 15 Online Masters in Counseling Degree Programs 2015

If you have a passion for helping others and strong interpersonal skills, you can take the necessary steps to become a clinical mental health counselor. Finding personal and professional fulfillment as a clinical mental health counselor involves preparation to earn the requisite credentials.