The steps you have to take to become a mental health counselor may depend on the jurisdiction in which you want to practice. In most places, however, the requirements include a master’s degree in counseling or a related subject and clinical training. Must jurisdictions also require aspiring mental health counselors to pass an exam and meet other criteria before they can be licensed in this field. Additionally, you may choose to seek certification in a specific area of counseling.
Typically, extensive education is required for becoming a mental health counselor. In most cases, you will need to earn a master’s degree in counseling or a similar subject to qualify for this career, and this usually translates into many years of education. For example, after high school, you may have to spend four years earning a bachelor’s degree and then a couple of additional years earning a master’s degree. This is the amount of time you can expect to spend on your education if you attend college and graduate school on a full-time basis. If you opt to pursue your education on a part-time basis, it may take you longer to become a mental health counselor.
You may also choose to seek licensing or certification in a specific area of counseling when you want to become a mental health counselor. For example, you might seek licensing or certification in such areas as education or career counseling, or you may choose a specialty, such as family counseling. You could also choose to become certified in counseling people who have substance abuse problems or seek a credential in rehabilitation counseling. You do not have to become licensed or certified in a specialty to become a mental health counselor, however.
In most cases, you will also need clinical experience in order to become a mental health counselor. You can usually accomplish this by participating in an internship that allows you to gain hands-on experience in mental health counseling while also under the supervision of a licensed mental health counselor. Usually, this is accomplished while you are still is school.
Most jurisdictions require aspiring mental health counselors to gain licensing before they can practice in this field. As such, you will likely have to pass a jurisdiction-specific exam to become a mental health counselor. You may also have to meet other criteria to obtain a license to practice as a mental health counselor. For example, you may have to submit to a background check as one of the requirements.