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Overview

Mental health counselors work with people from all walks of life, including couples struggling with marital issues, stressed-out college students and depressed working professionals. Essentially, the job involves solving a myriad of problems people face in their work and/or personal life. These professionals often apply real-life experiences when giving advice and form meaningful bonds with patients. Along with diagnosing mental and emotional disorders, mental health counselors work with patients on treatment, partnering with psychiatrists and social workers to coordinate proper care. The trio also collaborate in referring patients to specific support groups and inpatient treatment facilities.

In today’s managed care environment, clinical mental health counselors are uniquely qualified to meet the challenges of providing high quality care in a cost-effective manner. Clinical mental health counselors practice in a variety of settings, including independent practice, community agencies, managed behavioral health care organizations, integrated delivery systems, hospitals, employee assistance programs, and substance abuse treatment centers.

Clinical mental health counselors offer a full range of services, including:
  • Assessment and diagnosis
  • Psychotherapy
  • Treatment planning and utilization review
  • Brief and solution-focused therapy
  • Alcoholism and substance abuse treatment
  • Psychoeducational and prevention programs
  • Crisis management

Education

The education process may be long and challenging as a master’s degree is recommended, particularly if you wish to have  your own practice. At the master’s level, a sampling of courses involve:

  • Theories of Personality
  • Theories of Psychotherapy
  • Crisis Assessment and Intervention
  • Group Counseling and Psychotherapy
  • Mental Health Counseling
  • Human Sexuality
  • Child and Adolescent Counseling

Graduate education and clinical training prepare clinical mental health counselors to provide a full range of services for individuals, couples, families, adolescents and children. The core areas of mental health education programs approved by the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP) include:

  • Diagnosis and psychopathology
  • Psychotherapy
  • Psychological testing and assessment
  • Professional orientation
  • Research and program evaluation
  • Group counseling
  • Human growth and development
  • Counseling theory
  • Social and cultural foundations
  • Lifestyle and career development
  • Supervised practicum and internship

Licensure and Certification

Each state has its own licensing board whose respective web address may be found at the American Mental Health Counselors Association (AMHCA) website: amhca.org  Clinical membership in AMHCA requires a master’s degree in counseling or a closely related mental health field and adherence to AMHCA’s National Standards for Clinical Practice.  All 50 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico license or certify mental health counselors for private practice.

 Employment

Mental health counselors earned a median salary of $41,500 in 2012, or $19.95 per hour, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). The best-paid earned about $66,630, while the lowest-paid earned less than $25,430. Top-paying areas of the industry include insurance carriers and state government services. The salary figures are based on a master’s degree.

The BLS has projected the job growth rate to be 29% from 2012 to 2022 or a change of 48,200 jobs. This growth rate percentage is above the average for similar occupations.

Some of the job postings are “contract” positions requiring the applicant to be flexible in hours available (ie. evening hours). It is also a profession where, depending on one’s circumstances, one may work part time.