6 Step Plan to Getting a Mental Health Counsellor Job

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What is mental health counseling?

Mental health issues are known as the most widespread disability across the United States. Research conducted by the National Institute of Mental Health reveals that about a quarter of all adults go through mental health issues every year. As awareness grows, more people are beginning to realize the importance of mental well-being. Even the health insurance companies have started offering coverage for mental health services. Due to the growing volume of this field, the chances are that there will be job openings for mental health counselors in the coming years. These experts cover a wide variety of issues in their fields. For instance, counselors might advise people who are having tough times due to family, social issues, or work. They might also counsel individuals with problems such as:

  • Depression
  • Bipolar Disorder
  • Generalized Anxiety Disorder
  • Panic Disorder
  • Grief
  • Phobias
  • Eating Disorders
  • Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder
  • Addiction
  • Chronic Pain
  • Substance Abuse
  • Suicidal Impulses
  • Self-Esteem
  • Marital Distress

Becoming a mental health counselor is a challenging job. These professionals are responsible for helping couples, families, and other individuals with mental health issues through problem-solving techniques and psychotherapy. Licensed mental health counselors are responsible for interviewing clients about their medical history, observing unusual behaviors, over-seeing evaluations to identify behavior traits, and forming effective treatment plans to govern client’s problems.

Mental health practitioners use various approaches to help clients’ interpersonal skills and emotional resilience to navigate through life’s experiences. The most commonly used technique is cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), which substitutes negative or problematic thoughts or behaviors with more adaptive ones. Other treatments include emotion-focused therapies that focus on the effect of deep emotions in an individual’s life. Some counselors are more solution-focused, helping people develop problem-solving skills. 

The mental health counselor focuses on an individual’s belief systems, training, and background. Training counselors do a high level of self-exploration during their program to align with a specific counseling area. Those interested in applying for a mental health counselor position can use the following steps and learn more about what is needed. 

Step 1: Earn a Bachelor’s Degree

A good education is essential when applying for a mental health counseling career. One must have an in-depth knowledge about the human mind, how it works, and the issues that can affect it.  

Even though students are not required to major in psychology and sociology to be a graduate in counseling, several instructors have agreed that it is crucial to develop a good foundation in these areas if you want to become a mental health counselor. Franc Hudspeth, an associate dean at the SNHU’s online counseling program, states that human growth and development courses help students better understand the phases a person goes through during adolescence, adulthood, and later years.

It is vital to take courses in cultural diversity to get a mental health counselor job.  Counselors usually work with women and men coming from diverse multi-cultural and socioeconomic backgrounds. He further adds that students interested in enrolling in a graduate program must furnish their transcripts, recommendation letters, and answer questions that evaluate how well they handle conflicts.

Useful Tip:  Students can choose to volunteer at a local hospital or a health clinic to gain first-hand experience. This experience can be helpful when pursuing a master’s degree.

Step 2: Find out the strengths that best match the role 

You may have a passion for counseling related topics, but you need to enjoy working with people before becoming a certified mental health counselor. Getting good grades is just part of the equation. Flexibility and patience are two personality traits students must possess to enter this demanding field. Metoka Welch, the associate dean of counseling at SNHU, commented that soft skills and being comfortable are just as important as academic performance. Having the right mental outlook and personality is essential for becoming a mental health counselor. Once you’ve identified your strengths, outline them in your mental health counselor cover letter. This document is submitted along with your resume and can increase your chances of getting a job. In addition to your skills, you can indicate your reasons for choosing this profession or your motivation to join a particular medical institution.

Step 3: Complete a master’s degree that best aligns with national standards 

Mental health counselors must complete their master’s degrees in counseling or any other relevant field.  A master’s degree in counseling covers various counseling topics, such as the foundation of group counseling and behavioral disorders, assessment techniques, etc.  These courses are vital for a student’s clinical exposure and gaining essential skills for becoming a mental health counselor.

Step 4: Develop Interpersonal Skills 

Residencies or internships are intensive by nature. It is an opportunity for students to ask themselves whether counseling is the right profession or not. On the contrary, these residencies are an opportunity for teachers to ensure that students are not just receiving training to become a mental health counselor, but are also competent in their fields. 

While practicing, students must work with actual clients under a licensed counselor’s supervision. Each internship or placement will require students to complete 2000-4000 hours of clinical experience, practicing at approved sites under supervision. Necessary clinical expertise is attained during this crucial time.

Step 5: Understanding and full-filling state licensure requirements  

You must obtain a state-issued license if you are applying for a mental health counselor position. The license requirements could differ from state to state. Some states require students to complete their post-graduate work with-in a certain time frame. The process for state applications may also vary. For instance, the United States offers the National Clinical Mental Health Counseling Examination (NCMHCE) or National Counselor Examination for Licensure and Certification (NCE). States either require both examinations or allow students to choose between them. In most states, students are allowed to take exams after graduation. 

However, in some places, before a student can apply for a license, they must show their hours of supervised post-graduate work.  For instance, in Virginia, students must attain 3000 hours of post-degree counseling work before taking a licensing exam. 

New openings in mental health counseling are expected to grow faster than the average rate. That is because there is a high demand for counseling services available to treat prevailing mental health problems.  Hence, this is the right time for aspiring counselors to gain a professional license for the practice. A certified counselor can start making a difference in others’ lives with a clear understanding of counseling intervention techniques. 

Step 6: Become certified

To become a mental health counselor, a person may opt for various certifications. The National Board for Certified Counselors (NBCC) awards two levels of certification for mental health professionals.  For the entry-level national certified (NCC) credential, a student must complete coursework and have 3000 hours of work experience. Candidates must also take and pass the National Counselor Exam. Experienced professionals can also pursue the Certified Clinical Mental Health Counselor (CCMHC) certificate. Candidates must be certified as NCCs, meet rigorous experience and education requirements, submit recordings from clinical sessions, and pass the National Clinical Mental Health Counseling Examination (NCMHCE).

Counselors must be involved in continuing education throughout their careers. Candidates may earn credits by either completing online training or taking in-person classes. Counselors with NBCC credentials are subject to additional continuing education requirements.

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