How to Become A Mental Health Counselor

A Mental Health Counselor’s (MHC’s) job is to advise and help people suffering from behavioral mental health issues such as, eating disorders, alcoholism, drug addiction/abuse etc. MHCs are also required to devise treatment plans and establish support systems to help their clients recover from these issues.

Should I Become a Mental Health Counselor?

Mental Health Counselors are trained specialists who use a variety of techniques to help their clients cope with a wide range of mental and behavioral problems. These issues include, grief, anxiety, depression, stress and so on. MHCs assess patients’ situations to devise treatments in order to elevate pressure. MHCs may work with all types of age groups or they may specialize in the treatment of a particular age group.

Education Required

At least a bachelor’s degree

Major Requirement

Counselling, Psychology or a related subject


Licensure is mandatory for MHCs but requirements vary by state


Not Required

Key Skills

Compassion, Patience and Interpersonal skills

Annual Mean Salary

$47,920 (for all Substance Abuse, Behavioral Disorder, and Mental Health Counselors)

Job Outlook

22% (Much faster than average)

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (2018)

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Substance Abuse, Behavioral Disorder, and Mental Health Counselors earned an annual mean salary of $47,920 in 2018 which equates to a mean wage of $23.04 per hour. In addition to that, BLS reported Junior Colleges as the highest paying industry for this career with an annual mean income of $63,760. BLS listed California as the state with the highest level of employment (31,270) and Utah as the highest paying state in this occupation with an annual mean salary of $66,330 in 2018.

Career Requirements

This profession requires MHCs to exhibit empathy, compassion, mental and emotional maturity as well as excellent communication skills. MHCs work in close proximity with people suffering from mental or behavioral disorders which requires them to be patient and work with their clients in devising strategies that would help them recover from such issues.

Steps to Become a Mental Health Counselor

If you are interested in becoming a Mental Health Counselor, you must complete the following requirements.

Step-1: Education

To begin working in this field at an entry-level position, employers require you to obtain a bachelor’s degree in Counselling, Psychology or a related subject from an accredited institution. However, the employment requirements vary by state and some states mandate MHCs to have at least a master’s degree in Psychology, Clinical Social Work, Mental Health Counseling or a related subject.

Step-2: Training and Work Experience  

People who possess a master’s degree in Psychology, Clinical Social Work or Mental Health Counseling are not required to work under strict supervision and can also treat people in one-on-one sessions. Although it is not necessary but people who have some field experience are given preference by the employers.

Step-3: Licensure and Certification

Mental Health Counselors who are interested in maintaining private practice must acquire a state issued license. Requirements of such licensure vary for each state and the National Board for Certified Counselors acts as the regulatory authority for issuing licenses to MHCs. However, all states require candidates of licensure to:

  • Possess a master’s degree
  • Have completed 2,000 to 4,000 hours of supervised clinical experience
  • Pass a written exam
  • Complete yearly continuing education to maintain licensure

On the other hand, those who do not want to pursue private practice may get the state issued licensure by;

  • Passing a written exam
  • Graduating from a master’s degree
  • Completing supervised work experience

The Addiction Technology Transfer Center Network acts as the regulatory authority for this type of license.

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