As Americans face continued struggles with mental health, the demand for trained counselors continues to grow. Currently, there is a gap between the number of people who need mental health services and the number of available counselors. Clinical mental health counselors are one type of professional that helps people struggling with mental health, and they are in high demand. In today's high-stress world, that demand is unlikely to change. Students who pursue an education in clinical mental health counseling will open the door to a number of career possibilities.
This guide will discuss all of the details about clinical mental health counseling, how to become a clinical counselor, and what the income potential is in this field. To learn if this is the right field for you, keep reading.
Chapter 1: Intro to Clinical Mental Health Counseling
- What is clinical mental health counseling?
- What does a clinical mental health counselor do?
- Why mental health counseling is important
- Why become a clinical mental health counselor
What is clinical mental health counseling?
Clinical mental health counseling is a branch of psychology that allows counselors to diagnose and treat mental and emotional disorders. Counselors work with people from all walks of life to evaluate their mental and physical states, identify behavior issues, diagnose addictions, and find effective ways to treat these issues. Clinical mental health counselors create treatment plans and support clients in treatment.
What does a clinical mental health counselor do?
Clinical mental health counselors work one-on-one with patients to apply professional training to their patients' mental health needs. They work directly with social workers, support groups, treatment centers, and psychiatrists to support the mental health of their clients.
Clinical mental health counselors often work directly with addiction treatment professionals. They help identify addictive behaviors, then create treatment plans to address those behaviors. They work with their clients to identify and combat triggers to addictive behavior while also building self-esteem to prevent relapse.
Clinical mental health counselors may also work in family and marriage counseling settings. They help individuals and families work through mental health needs, such as healing from trauma or dealing with failing marriages. They can address the problems that PTSD and depression create in the family unit. A clinical mental health counselor gives their patients a safe place to express emotions while also looking at the impact of those emotions on mental health.
One of the primary roles of a clinical mental health counselor is diagnosing and treating mental illness, regardless of the setting where the counselor works. Mental health conditions, including anxiety, depression, PTSD, schizophrenic disorders, and similar issues, often require monitoring and testing to diagnose accurately. The training received in a clinical mental health counseling program teaches these professionals how to spot and then treat these problems using the American Psychiatric Association's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5). The diagnostic step is critical to ensuring these individuals get the right treatment for their ailments.
Why mental health counseling is important
The statistics surrounding mental health in the United States are staggering. The National Institute of Mental Health estimates that one out of every five American adults lives with a mental illness. In 2017, that was a total of 46.6 million people. Sadly, only 19.8 million of those people, or 42.6 percent, received treatment for their mental health needs. Among the young adult population, only 38.4 percent of those who need mental health services received it. That means the majority of people who need mental health services do not receive it.
Not getting treatment has serious consequences for people and society in general. Mood disorders, which fall under the auspices of mental health, are the third most common cause of costly hospitalizations in the country among those between the ages of 18 and 44. Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the nation, and each year around 41,000 people lose their lives to suicide due to mental health issues.
Why become a clinical mental health counselor
Clinical mental health counselors provide access to this much-needed treatment. They give people with mental health conditions the ability to live a healthy and productive life. They provide patients and clients with the tools they need to successfully navigate these orders and avoid the risk of suicide and other serious consequences.
Clinical mental health counselors are also in high demand. While the need for them is intense, many states do not have enough mental health counselors and other professionals to meet the current demand. In fact, as many as 15 states in the nation are experiencing a true shortage.
If you are looking for a career where you can help people, will be in high demand, and have potentially strong income potential, then studying clinical mental health counseling could be a good fit.
Chapter 2: How to Earn Your Degree in Clinical Mental Health Counseling
- How to get a license in mental health counseling
- What skills do you learn in clinical mental health counseling programs?
- How long does it take to become a clinical mental health counselor?
- Is a master's in clinical mental health counseling worth it?
If you feel that working in clinical mental health counseling fits your needs well, then you need to start with the right training. Earning a degree in clinical mental health counseling is the starting point, then you will need to get a license in the field as well. Here is a closer look at how to earn a degree and become licensed in mental health counseling to start your career path.
How to get a license in mental health counseling
To become a clinical mental health counselor, you must first earn the right degrees. A bachelor's degree in a behavioral or psychology field is a good start. This will provide the right foundation for your graduate training, and many grad programs have a prerequisite for undergrad training in a related field. This undergrad will teach you about human development, basic counseling skills, and basic psychology.
Graduate-level training is required for a license in mental health counseling, so the next step is earning a master's degree in the field. Online master's degree programs help you attain this degree with a measure of flexibility. You will need to earn your master's degree from a CACREP accredited university. This accreditation means that the university offers a degree program that specializes in mental health counseling, and it is the preferred accreditation for mental health counseling licensure.
Before applying for your license, you will need to complete an internship in the mental health field. This gives you hands-on experience in counseling that you can apply to your future career. Check your state's internship requirements to know what is required.
Finally, the last step before applying for your license is to pass any state licensure exams for mental health counselors. Some popular exams are the National Counselor Examination (NCE) or the National Clinical Mental Health Counseling Examination (NCMHCE). Once you have successfully passed, you can apply for certification and licensure through the National Board of Certified Counselors (NBCC).
What skills do you learn in clinical mental health counseling programs?
Mental health counseling degree programs do more than just fulfill education requirements. They teach invaluable skills that you will apply to your education in the future. Here are some examples:
- Communication and Listening Skills – Counselors must be able to communicate with their clients and with other professionals in the field. First, they must be able to present information clearly. Second, they must be able to listen well to gather information from their clients and assess overall mental health and wellness.
- Interpersonal Skills – Counselors must be able to earn the trust of their clients. This requires strong interpersonal skills. Effective body language, a friendly demeanor that is also professional, and good relationship management to set clear patient/counselor boundaries are all important and will be discussed in the education program.
- Research Skills – Clinical mental health counseling is a scientific field, and as such it requires strong research skills. Counselors must be able to delve into the research to find information to help their clients.
- Critical Thinking – There is a lot of analysis that goes into listening to a patient and then assessing their potential mental health concern. Analytical thinking is also necessary to find treatment options and navigate the ethics of the mental health field. Learning this type of critical thinking starts in the classroom.
How long does it take to become a clinical mental health counselor?
Becoming a clinical mental health counselor requires an undergrad and graduate degree, which can take a minimum of six years to complete unless the student finds an accelerated program.
Upon completion, many states require 3,000 to 5,000 hours of supervised clinical experience and a passing score on a licensing exam. This means it can take seven years or more to fulfill all of the training and education requirements for this particular career path.
Is a master's degree in clinical mental health counseling worth it?
If you want a career in clinical mental health counseling, a master's degree is considered a requirement in most states; so yes, earning a master's degree in clinical mental health counseling is valuable. This is an in-demand career field with good income earning potential, making it a wise choice if you have a passion for helping others.
Chapter 3: Clinical Mental Health Counselor Jobs & Salary
- What are the job duties of a clinical mental health counselor?
- Where can clinical mental health counselors work?
- What are the top careers for clinical mental health counselors?
- How much do clinical mental health counselors make?
Working as a clinical mental health counselor not only allows you to help other people, but it also allows you to make a good income while you do so. Because these trained professionals are in high demand, they earn a high salary. They also can find work in a variety of settings in the healthcare field.
What are the job duties of a clinical mental health counselor?
A clinical mental health counselor has several duties to fulfill. These include:
- Diagnosing mental health conditions
- Evaluating the mental health needs of clients and patients
- Finding barriers to wellness or behavioral patterns that need to be changed
- Recommending treatment plans for mental health concerns
- Helping clients develop new behaviors to cope with their mental or emotional health concerns
- Referring patients to others in the mental or medical health world that can assist them with their mental wellness
Where can clinical mental health counselors work?
Mental health counselors work in both public and private settings. They are often employed in recovery centers and outpatient mental health facilities. They may also work in schools and universities. Sometimes they operate a private practice. Hospitals also need clinical mental health counselors, and so do community centers.
Sometimes clinical mental health counselors will specialize in working in a particular population, such as working with children or working with people battling substance abuse. Others might focus primarily on helping families. Some may serve as school-based counselors to help those in the midst of their education go the right direction. In the private sector, counselors work one-on-one or with small groups to help patients and clients work on their social and emotional concerns.
What are the top careers for clinical mental health counselors?
Clinical mental health counselors can fulfill several roles. Some job titles that fall under this position include:
- Psychotherapist – A psychotherapist treats emotional and psychological difficulties in a clinical setting, often in connection to a medical practice.
- Career counselor – These professionals help young people find the right career path. They often work in college and university settings.
- Substance abuse counselor – Counselors who specialize in helping people battling addiction and eating disorders are substance use counselors. They teach their clients how to modify their behaviors
- Clinical directors – Nursing homes and rehab facilities need leaders who can oversee the mental health needs of the residents. Clinical mental health counselors can hold this role.
- School counselor – High schools need school counselors to work with students and help them make college and career choices. They also provide support to students dealing with mental health concerns that affect their education.
- Counselor – A counselor works directly with clients, usually in an office or clinical setting, to help them manage their mental health needs.
How much do clinical mental health counselors make?
The amount that a clinical mental health counselor can make will vary depending on where they work. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) estimates an average salary of $46,240 per year for substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors, with a 25% increase in the demand for these professionals. Those in the top 10 percent earn over $76,080 a year, while those in the lowest 10 percent earn $29,520 per year.
Where a counselor works will impact how much they make. Government-employed mental health counselors earn the most, with an average annual salary of $52,720. Those who work in hospitals make an average of $49,100, while those who work in residential facilities earn the lowest at $39,690 a year.
School and career counselors have slightly higher income averages. The BLS estimates an average salary of $57,040 for these professionals, with the highest 10 percent earning over $96,090. This career is not in as high of demand, with expected growth of 8 percent in the next ten years.
Frequently Asked Questions About Clinical Mental Health Counseling
- What is the difference between mental health counseling and clinical mental health counseling?
- What is the difference between a counselor, therapist, and psychologist?
- Are there internships for clinical mental health counseling?
- What will my salary be if I get my master's in clinical mental health counseling degree?
- Can I get my master's in clinical mental health counseling online?
- What clinical mental health counseling programs does University of the Cumberlands offer?
Here are answers to some common questions revolving around a clinical mental health counseling career:
What is the difference between mental health counseling and clinical mental health counseling?
Clinical mental health counselors and mental health counselors can do the same thing, but sometimes those who hold the position of clinical mental health counselor will take a more clinical approach to dealing with mental health and behavioral problems. Mental health counselors may focus on a humanistic approach to therapy, striving to give their clients holistic tools to address their needs, while clinical psychologists work on a more medical level, using therapy as well as medication to treat their patients. There is much overlap between the two titles, and the training is the same.
What is the difference between a counselor, therapist, and psychologist?
A counselor is an umbrella term that covers a number of different mental health professionals. They typically guide clients through mental health concerns through talk therapy. They will also use behavioral therapy to teach patients the tools they need to effectively overcome their mental health challenges.
A therapist is a licensed professional who uses behavioral therapy treatment to address behavioral and mental health problems. Therapists often cannot prescribe medications, but they can give their clients the tools to overcome their mental health issues.
Psychologists are licensed clinical professionals that use psychological behavioral therapy to treat their clients. They are equipped to make clinical evaluations and diagnose mental health conditions. They are also able to prescribe medication, when appropriate, to treat mental illness.
Are there internships for clinical mental health counseling?
Yes, clinical mental health counselors need hands-on experience for most state licenses. This requires internships under the care of licensed counselors.
What will my salary be if I get my master's in clinical mental health counseling degree?
The average salary for mental health counselors is $46,240, but those in the highest 10 percent earn over $76,080. Earning a master's in clinical mental health counseling opens the door to more lucrative positions. In many states, it is the minimum degree required to start a career in the field. Graduates who choose to work as school counselors earn an average of $57,040, with the highest 10 percent earning over $96,090.
Can I get my master's in clinical mental health counseling online?
Yes, many schools offer online clinical mental health counseling programs that allow students to complete the majority of their coursework online. Internship opportunities require in-person training to complete the hours required for certification and licensure.
What clinical mental health counseling programs does University of the Cumberlands offer?
University of the Cumberlands offers a Master of Arts in Clinical Mental Health Counseling that is available fully online. This CACREP-accredited program addresses private practice, marriage and family counseling, child and adolescent counseling, and advanced counseling theories and techniques. It prepares students well for state examinations as they pursue licensure in the field.