How to Become a Mental Health Counselor


With an expected growth of 50% through 2020, the counseling and therapy industry may be of interest to students still seeking a career path (photo courtesy of CapitalTherapyGroup on flickr).

Deciding on a career to pursue can be a cumbersome task. How does one even begin to research all the job possibilities?! Well, if you are interested in assisting individuals and families through a time of need, or would just like to work with patients on a regular basis (minus the blood) a career as a Mental Health Counselor may be for you!


Mental health Counselors and Marriage and Family Therapists help people mentally and emotionally deal with issues and/or disorders associated with their family and relationships. Typically, counselors and therapists will diagnose and treats disorders, such as anxiety and depression, help patients cope with difficult situations, and guide clients through the process of making important decisions about their life and future.

Required Education

To become a Mental Health Counselor you must complete your Master’s Degree and a license to practice. While a bachelor’s degree in most fields is acceptable to enter the Master’s program, students will need to earn their Master’s Degree in Counseling or Marriage and Family Therapy. There are a variety of schools to select from with excellent health degree programs, but their admissions requirements may differ, so research thoroughly.

On-the-Job Training

In order to obtain a license to practice, graduates need to complete 2,000-4,000 hours of supervised clinical experience. In addition, a state-recognized exam needs to be passed and continuing education classes completed on a yearly basis to maintain an active license. More information regarding exams, licenses, and certifications can be found on the National Board for Certified Counselors website.

Required Experience

No previous experience is required outside of the 2,000-4,000 hours of supervised clinical work.

Average Salary

According to a poll taken in May 2010, Mental Health Counselors made an average annual salary of $38,150. The total salary varies, however, based on location, industry, and employer as those who worked in the local or state government made above the median income.

Job Outlook

A 50% growth in the individual and family services sector of the industry is expected through 2020. In the same time frame growth is expected to be 44% in residential and substance abuse facilities and 34% in outpatient services.

Important Qualities

There are five important qualities counselors and therapists should possess. While these qualities are certainly not required to enter the industry, they will probably benefit one throughout his/her career and assist in the success of the practice.

  • Compassion: regularly working with people who are dealing with stressful situations may require empathy and compassion for their issues
  • Listening skills: In order to best understand the client’s issues and problems, counselors will need to give their full attention throughout appointments.
  • Organizational skills: Payments, schedules and insurance companies, oh my! With many hats to juggle, organizational skills are especially important in this industry.
  • People skills: Most of the time counselors will work directly with clients, so building strong relationships is important to the position.
  • Speaking skills: As a therapist or counselor you need to be able to communicate effectively. Ideas and information has to be expressed in a manner that clients can easily understand.

Ashley Benson is a distance education professional with five years of experience in the for-profit sector. She has worked coast-to-coast within the United States as an academic advisor, an adjunct teaching assistant and, most recently, a campus Registrar. Through formal education and industry experience, Ashley practices staying informed on the current events and changes within higher education and the students involved.

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