What degree do most mental health counselors have?

Like many other health professions, mental health counseling requires a four-year college degree as a foundation. This degree is usually in counseling, psychology, or a related field. To work as a licensed professional mental health counselor, you'll likely need a master's degree. Clinical mental health counselors distinguish themselves among helping disciplines because of their balanced approach to well-being and psychopathology.

Their professional preparation and practice emphasize the needs for prevention, promotion and positive social change in communities, in addition to counseling intervention with individuals, groups and families. Clinical mental health counselors are often the first and critical point of contact between community members with problems and the help services they need. In most states, therapists must have graduate degrees and a license. Counselors with a bachelor's degree can practice without a license, but must obtain a master's degree to become licensed professional clinical counselors.

A mental health counselor is not the same as a psychiatrist, who is a medical professional licensed to prescribe medications for diagnosed disorders. Mental health counselors work in the public and private sectors in a variety of settings, including community centers, hospitals, public schools, universities, health agencies for veterans, outpatient centers, recovery centers, career centers, religious institutions and private practices, according to the American Counseling Association. A mental health counselor is a licensed professional (commonly known as an LPC or LMHC) who provides care for clients with emotional and behavioral problems. Earning a degree in mental health counseling from an institution accredited by the Accreditation Council for Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP) indicates that the content and quality of the program meet the high standards set by the mental health profession.

The requirements for obtaining a counseling license vary by state, but generally include completing a master's degree program in counseling from an accredited university, 3,000 to 5,000 hours of supervised graduate clinical experience with an initial license, and passing a state-recognized licensing exam, all that must be completed before obtaining an independent practice license. Mental health counselors combine psychotherapy with problem solving to help individuals, couples, families and groups deal with a variety of mental health problems, according to the American Counseling Association (ACA). Also known as psychotherapists, mental health therapists treat patients who have behavioral disorders and mental health problems. in counseling with a school counseling pathway and a clinical mental health counseling pathway with an optional focus on counseling for military and veterans.

The degree is comprised of 60 credits and prepares students to work in both vocational rehabilitation and mental health counseling settings. In addition, all Virginia schools that offer counseling degrees offer them at the master's and doctoral levels, since most types of counseling licenses require a graduate degree. However, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) provides guidance in its statistics for substance abuse, behavioral disorders and mental health counselors. In the clinical mental health counseling program, students take 60 credits and learn to provide a variety of counseling services, such as individual, group and family counseling.

Counselors in the field of mental health take a holistic, client-centered approach to providing care to their clients. The Master's Degree in Clinical Mental Health Counseling is comprised of 60 credits and prepares program graduates to provide professional counseling services in a variety of mental health settings, such as state hospitals, private facilities, and private practices. VCU offers a graduate certificate in online professional counseling designed for applicants who already have a master's degree in counseling, but who need to complete additional courses for the LPC and several substance abuse counseling credentials in the state. Mental health counselors may also specialize in grief, pastoral or school counseling about mental health, or other mental health problems, concerns, or disorders.

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Steve Darity
Steve Darity

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