Over recent years, there has been a societal shift towards recognizing the importance of mental health for overall health and wellbeing. The stigma surrounding mental health conditions in the recent past caused many people to suffer in silence lest they be ostracized by society or seen as weak. While there is still some way to go in regards to breaking every barrier, acknowledging mental health problems and seeking treatment is no longer seen to be shameful; it is the first step on the road to patients getting their lives back on track for a rewarding and fulfilling life.
Furthermore, the treatments available for mental health problems have evolved massively to focus on resolving the root cause of the issue through counseling rather than merely treating the symptoms. As a mental health counselor, you will work with clients to work through whatever problems might be affecting their life, providing them with an excellent set of coping mechanisms. You might specialize in a particular area, such as anxiety disorders or working with patients battling addiction. Counseling is a highly fulfilling career in which you will make a real difference to the lives of your patients. If you are interested in finding out more, read on for a guide to embarking on a rewarding career in counseling.
Why should you become a counselor?
Firstly, you should consider why a career in the counseling profession would be a rewarding one for you. As people increasingly come to realize that looking after their mental health is equally as important as caring for their physical health, more and more people are turning to counselors to help them to resolve certain issues that are affecting their quality of life, in some cases for many years. As such, mental health counseling is a profession that continues to grow each year, meaning that you can be sure of having a stable career as a counselor. Furthermore, you can enjoy the sense of satisfaction and fulfillment of knowing that you are helping clients to overcome trauma and obstacles in their life that are preventing them from reaching their full potential and happiness; you can arrive at the office each morning sure that the work you are doing is making a real difference to peoples’ lives.
So, what steps do you need to take in order to become a counselor? A high level of rigorous graduate education is required before seeking licensure to ensure that clients have access to the highest level of counseling.
Obtain a masters in mental health counseling
The first step in becoming a mental health counselor is to obtain a masters in mental health counseling. This degree program will give you the skills and knowledge to channel your passion for helping people to live their best life into a career. You will learn the essential concepts and fundamentals of counseling, such as abnormal psychology and counseling techniques and theories, as well as a variety of counseling practices relating to specific needs, such as crisis counseling and addiction counseling. Some masters in mental health counseling programs also provide students with the opportunity to work within the field as a counseling intern. Gaining on-the-job experience under the supervision of a licensed counsellor is an essential part of becoming a licensed mental health counsellor, as you are required to have a minimum number of client hours acquired through work experience placements before passing the state licensure exam. Look for an accredited masters in a mental health counseling program that will provide you with a solid path towards gaining state licensure.
It might be that you are seriously considering a career change to mental health counseling but feel financially unable to stop working full-time to pursue a master’s degree. If this is the case, there are fortunately plenty of flexible degree programs available that you can enroll on. An online masters in mental health counseling program will provide you with the necessary flexibility to fit your studies and self-improvement around other life commitments, like a full-time job, childcare, and all-important leisure time. With this, you can rest assured that you can take the first educational step towards pursuing your dream career in mental health counseling while still being able to fulfill your existing commitments.
Gain state licensure
You will need to pass the national counselor examination (NCE)in order to become licensed to practice as a mental health counselor in your state. It is a 200-item, multiple-choice exam used to assess the essential knowledge, skills, and abilities required for providing clients with effective counseling services. The NCE is a requirement in many states for becoming a licensed counselor and is regularly reviewed to ensure that it reflects current research and standards of counseling practice so that clients receive the best possible counseling to reach their needs. This can be followed up with a national certified counselor (NCC) certification, which is a voluntary national certification that demonstrates to clients and other professionals that you have voluntarily met high national standards for the practice of counseling, in terms of continuing with your education and keeping up with research and best industry practice.
If you are planning to work in a clinical setting as a licensed mental health counselor, you will need to pass the certified clinical mental health counselor (CCMHC) board certification. This includes the national clinical mental health counseling examination (NCMHCE), which consists of simulated clinical mental health counseling cases used to assess clinical problem-solving ability, such as identifying, diagnosing, and treating clinical conditions. There are certain requirements that you must meet in order to obtain certification as a CCMHC. The NCC is a prerequisite, and you need to have completed at least 60 semester hours of a graduate-level academic counseling program; as discussed above, an accredited masters in mental health counseling program would provide you with the relevant knowledge and experience required. You need to have had at least 3,000 hours of postgraduate clinical client work experience, along with at least 100 hours of postgraduate clinical supervision. Furthermore, as you will be accessing a lot of sensitive information regarding client confidentiality and welfare as a mental health counselor, you are required to adhere to the National Board for Certified Counselor’s code of ethics.
The field of mental health care is very wide and encompasses vastly different issues, from diagnosing and treating pathological conditions such as narcissism to working with clients to help resolve deep-seated anxieties and build new and more effective coping mechanisms. Now that you have an idea of the education and licensure requirements for becoming a mental health counselor, it is time to consider the different roles you could fulfill as a licensed counselor.
School guidance counselor
School can be a difficult time for a lot of kids and teenagers. Numerous academic pressures are placed on students, as well as dealing with school social problems like bullying, and, on top of all this, middle and high-school students are faced with the physical and mental changes wrought by puberty. Considering these pressures, an increasing number of school-aged kids and teens struggle with their mental health, some even developing serious mental health conditions such as anxiety, depression, and eating disorders. As a school guidance counselor, you will work closely with students and teachers to emotionally support students in their learning and to ensure that school remains a positive, happy environment for them. You will provide support to students who come to you to discuss any issues they are experiencing, such as bullying, and work with them to help resolve that issue. You may also work with particularly disruptive students to get to the root cause of their behavior and provide them with tools to work through that behavior and improve their focus on study.
Drug and alcohol addiction is devastating. However, due to the continued shame and stigma surrounding these destructive issues, in addition to unpleasant withdrawal symptoms, many people battling addiction do not seek the help that they need. Instead, they choose to live with their addictions rather than finding a counselor who has the specific knowledge and skillset to help them improve their lives and conquer their addiction. As an addiction counselor, you could work in a rehabilitation unit as part of a rehab program designed to provide patients with their optimum chance for recovery. Alternatively, you could provide outpatient addiction counseling to clients who recognize that they have a problem and want to resolve it before it manifests further, with devastating consequences. Addiction is not simply a case of becoming hooked on a substance and only requiring a physical detox. As an addiction counselor, you will work with clients who want to overcome addiction to identify and tackle the underlying causes for the addictive behavior, providing them with healthier coping mechanisms for the future. Furthermore, it is becoming increasingly recognized that addictive behavior is not only limited to drug and alcohol abuse: as an addiction counselor, you could help clients dealing with addictions as diverse as sex and gambling to video games and shopping.
Prisons are not all about punishing people for committing crimes: they aim to provide inmates with a level of mental health care and education that they may otherwise not have had access to on the outside so that they are equipped with the skills and knowledge to help them to live a successful, crime-free life once released. As a counselor in a correctional facility, you will work with inmates to identify negative emotions and patterns of behavior that lead them to engage in criminal patterns of behavior. You will help them to understand their behavior so that they will recognize when they are falling into bad behavioral habits and make better choices. You will also teach better coping mechanisms for dealing with such emotions to avoid criminal behavior patterns, for example, anger management techniques to reduce aggressive behavior. As a counselor in a correctional facility, you will have the sense of satisfaction that you are making a real difference in inmates’ lives, providing them with the skills and knowledge necessary for them to live a productive life after leaving prison, helping them to avoid falling back into a life of crime.
Military counseling is a specialized field of counseling that expertly addresses the needs of members of the military and their families. Military personnel experience a specific set of psychological pressures that are not otherwise experienced by the general population, such as the experiences of armed combat and making quick life-or-death decisions. As such, it is estimated that most military personnel are discharged with some degree of psychological damage, often manifesting in the form of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). As a military counselor, you will work with members of the military to help them process their traumatic experiences to help them heal and adjust to life outside the military. You will also provide counseling to those who have sustained life-changing injuries during their service and grieving families who have lost a beloved family member as a result of military action. To become a military counselor, in addition to becoming a licensed mental health counselor, you will have to enlist in the military and receive specialized military training.
These are just a few of the career paths you can go down as a licensed counselor. There are many more, each providing you with the satisfaction of helping people to overcome their traumas and go on to lead happy, healthy lives.
As you can see, becoming a mental health counselor requires a lot of hard work and dedication – a high level of postgraduate education, such as a masters in mental health counseling, along with work experience, is a prerequisite to passing the NCE and CCMHC in order to become a licensed practitioner. However, there are many different counseling fields that you could go into, such as addiction recovery or working for the military, to ensure that you remain enthusiastic about helping clients in your fulfilling career as a counselor.