There are many reasons someone might decide to pursue a career in mental health counseling. Some might want to help therapists and others with similar concerns. Others might be drawn in by the opportunities for travel and personal growth. A PhD or a Master’s degree is not required to enter the profession, but some employers prefer mental health professionals with these credentials because they provide evidence that the individual has undergone an education process designed to teach them how best to work with people in difficult situations.
Many mental health professionals attend schools of psychology that are accredited by the APA (American Psychological Association). This means that educators have followed a strict curriculum to meet specific minimum standards. Beyond these qualifications, professionals typically choose this career after having worked as community outreach workers or substance abuse counselors, among other positions of similar prestige within the field.
The demand for mental health counseling services is skyrocketing so programs are being created to prepare people who want to become mental health counselors. Although it may seem like a daunting task, becoming a mental health counselor is a lofty goal that can be achieved with the right education and skillset.
How to get qualified as a Clinical Mental Health Counselor
For all intents and purposes, the title ‘counselor’ is an umbrella term. A counselor is an individual who is trained on how to help others solve emotional and behavioral problems. The person may be a medical doctor working in a hospital setting, they may be a high school guidance counselor, or they could be a social worker that focuses on addiction counseling.
The best way to start becoming certified as a mental health counselor is to enroll in a program that offers both an associate’s and a bachelor’s degree in mental health counseling.
Licensed Professional Counselor (LCP)
Once you have graduated the next step in becoming a clinical mental health counselor is to apply for an entry-level license. Once your application has been approved you must take the National Counselor Exam. Upon successful completion, you can apply for positions as a Licensed Professional Counselor.
Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor (LPCC)
LCPs are eligible to continue their career progression to become an LPCC. This is the final step in becoming a clinical mental health counselor. To achieve this step requires additional training with a qualified mental health counselor and you will need to pass the National Clinical Mental Health Counseling Examination (NCMHCE).
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There’s no doubt that the route to becoming a fully qualified Clinical Mental Health Counselor is long and rigorous. However, the rewards are incomparable. Not only do aspiring counselors receive a better salary, but they also enjoy the chance to teach and help countless people in need.
What is it like to be a Clinical Mental Health Counselor?
As a Clinical Mental Health Counselor, you will work in private or group practices, or for the government. You can find employment opportunities in hospitals, nursing homes, rehabilitation facilities, and a variety of other mental health settings.
Before you even step foot into a program, you need to make sure that your mind is made up about the type of counseling that you want to do. Most people assume this means picking between clinical or school counseling, but it is not as simple. You must decide whether you want to work with children or adults, if you want to provide short-term or long-term services and if you want to be in a group setting (such as private practice) or on your own. Or, it may be that you already have a counseling qualification and are looking to take the next step, such as with an online Master’s in Counseling and Human Development.
Day to Day Responsibilities of a Mental Health Counselor
The primary responsibility of a clinical mental health counselor is to help patients who struggle with emotional and behavioral problems. Although your duties might vary depending on where you work or what specialty you choose, some examples of daily responsibilities include:
Assessment and Consultation
As part of the assessment process, your job is to conduct interviews and create an inventory that details the patient’s history and current needs.
As part of the consultation process, your job is to work closely with your patient to identify the issue and make a treatment plan. You may need to give extra special attention when it comes to identifying and treating substance abuse or addiction issues. Many patients who seek help because they are struggling with addictions will also require extra counseling to overcome the triggers that are leading them into dangerous activities.
As part of the crisis intervention process, your job is to intervene in any situations where a patient has taken potentially dangerous actions, such as rebelling against medical personnel or self-harming. As part of the intervention process, in addition to crisis intervention, you will also be helping a patient develop and maintain a healthy lifestyle. The following are examples of some common interventions:
This is where you will help couples who are struggling with communication and mutual trust issues.
As part of this type of counseling, your job is to work directly with adolescents to help them develop positive life skills and to help them manage their emotions and relationships. Many adolescents need some extra attention as they struggle with feelings and thoughts that are outside the norm for their developmental stage.
This is where you will help emotionally distressed families cope with issues such as divorce, abuse, and bereavement.
This is where you will help a group of patients work through different issues. One of your key responsibilities will be creating a program that helps each member work through their personal issues.
As a mental health professional, your job may include hospitalization if the patient is a danger to themselves or others. The goal of hospitalization will be to protect the patient and their surroundings until they have regained the stability needed for living on their own. You may also need to advise those who care for the patient so that they can best serve them in their recovery.
In this setting, your job is to work with a patient to increase their ability to cope with their problems. Through the psychotherapy process, you will help the patient identify and understand any issues that they may have. You will also help them find healthy ways to deal with their emotions and behaviors.
As part of the prevention process, your job is to keep patients safe by identifying at-risk individuals who may need some extra help, such as those dealing with substance abuse issues or other behavioral troubles. You can also provide services to prevent families from losing financial stability due to mental health struggles.
Personal qualities needed as a Clinical Mental Health Counselor
Part of becoming a Clinical Mental Health Counselor is being able to identify the characteristics needed to succeed in this field, and being able to use those qualities in your everyday life.
Some of the most important qualities include:
to be able to understand oneself well enough to empathize with others.
to be able to deal with the high level of stress and problems that many mental health patients face
the capacity for quick recovery after suffering a setback or failure. Clinical Mental Health Counselors have a high risk of burnout, and this quality can help them keep going when they are tired or frustrated.
to be able to gain the trust of others, while at the same time being able to stand up for what they believe in. If you want your clients to trust you, you should demonstrate this quality.
Flexibility and open-mindedness:
to be able to accept different ideas about mental health, as well as new kinds of therapy and treatments.
Contributing to society:
you will have many opportunities to contribute by helping people who are ill or in trouble. To be able to keep enjoying your job despite the hardships it might bring is vital for maintaining a healthy outlook on life.
The path to becoming a Clinical Mental Health Counselor is long and challenging. However, it is also one of the most rewarding fields you could choose. The Clinical Mental Health Counselor works closely with patients to help them lead happier and healthier lives. The work performed by these professionals can have a tremendous effect on communities, families, and even entire nations.
As a Clinical Mental Health Counselor, the annual salary ranges greatly between $34,000 and $200,000; however, the average salary of $94,000 is most common.
Many counselors are self-employed in private practice. While being self-employed has its benefits such as setting your own hours and choosing to work from home, it also comes with its own set of challenges such as paying your own benefits and keeping up with your high licensing standards.
Becoming a mental health counselor is a long-term commitment that requires you to develop both a personal, as well as professional, relationship with your clients. The work environment of being a mental health counselor is generally calm and drama-free, which allows you to better serve your patients in their most vulnerable state. If you are ready to take on this major career change and make a long-term difference in the lives of others, then becoming a clinical mental health counselor will be the right choice for you.
Although not everyone can become a clinical mental health counselor or work in the field full-time, there are lots of different opportunities available to help those who need extra support throughout their life.