About one in five U.S. adults experience mental illness in any given year, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness. However, over half of those adults did not receive treatment in the past year, and the rate varies from state to state.
The need for trained professionals, like mental health counselors, to provide treatment is growing.
What Do Mental Health Counselors Do?
Mental health counselors provide strategies and ways to work through problems and listen to their clients each session. They may treat conditions like depression, anxiety, suicidal thoughts and low self-esteem while also working with emotional health and relationship issues.
Most work in individual practices (20%), while 18% work in outpatient mental health or substance abuse centers. Some may choose to specialize in different populations, like elderly, veterans or children.
The work can be rewarding, but also stressful at times. Some may need to deal with crisis situations or difficult patients, and resources to handle those situations may not always be available.
How to Become a Mental Health Counselor
A good starting point for becoming a mental health counselor is to earn a bachelor’s degree in applied psychology, and then move on to a master’s program. Most states require counselors to have a master’s degree, as well as hold a license.
To become a licensed mental health counselor, several qualifications must be met. Requirements may vary by state, so check with your respective state to make sure you have everything needed.
According to the Florida Board of Clinical Social Work, Marriage and Family Therapy and Mental Health Counseling, licensed Florida mental health counselors must have a master’s degree related to mental health counseling that meets these requirements:
- At least 60 semester hours
- At least three semester hours in 12 areas: counseling theories and practice, research and program evaluation, diagnosis and treatment of psychopathology, career and lifestyle assessment, counseling in community settings, human sexuality, individual evaluation and assessment, social and cultural foundations, substance abuse, human growth and development, group theories and practice, and legal, ethical and professional standards
- At least 1000 hours of clinical practicum, internship or field experience that is university-sponsored
- Two years of post-graduate supervised experience with a licensed mental health counselor
- Pass the National Clinical Mental Health Counseling Examination
- Take an eight-hour laws and rules course
- Take a three-hour course on HIV and acquired immune deficiency syndrome, and a two-hour domestic violence course within six months of becoming licensed
Mental Health Counselor Salary and Job Outlook
As of May 2016, mental health counselors pulled in an average annual wage of $42,840, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The field is expected to grow 23% by 2026, which is much faster than the average for all occupations, due to more people looking for mental health counseling. Statistics and salaries may vary from state to state and based on experience, so job seekers are encouraged to do their own research.
Is Mental Health Counselor Right For You?
To successfully work as a mental health counselor, soft skills like the following are needed:
- Active listening: Counselors must understand what their patients are telling them, but also be able to think of ways to help them while they’re talking.
- Communication skills: Creating treatment plans is important, as well as being able to communicate with the patient and the patient’s caregivers if necessary.
- Critical thinking: Being able to present patients with solutions to their problems in real time and help them work through their issues is key to this role.
Do you possess these soft skills? If so, you could pursue a career helping others that is in high demand.