Mental Health Counselor: What They Do, How to Become One, and More

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Mental health counselors provide counseling and therapy services to individuals, couples, families, and groups. They help their clients deal with mental and emotional disorders, life changes, and other issues.Mental health counselors typically have a master’s degree in counseling or a related field. Most states require mental health counselors to be licensed or certified.

Job Outlook

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Employment of mental health counselors is projected to grow 20 percent from 2019 to 2029, much faster than the average for all occupations. Job prospects should be best for those who have a license or certification to practise.Mental health counselors help people deal with mental and emotional disorders and problems with daily life. Counselors also work with families, couples, and groups.

Mental health counselors typically do the following:

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1.Listen to clients and ask questions to help them understand their feelings and experiences

2.Develop treatment plans, set goals, and provide guidance on how to make changes in their lives

3.Use techniques such as role-playing and crisis intervention to help clients overcome or manage their symptoms or problems

4.Refer clients to other resources, such as support groups or community services, if necessary

5.Document client progress and prepare reports for therapists, physicians, or other professionals involved in the client’s care


Mental health counselors need at least a master’s degree from an accredited institution. Programs typically take 2 to 3 years to complete and include coursework in psychology, human development, and counseling theories and practices. Students also complete a supervised internship or practicum.

Master’s degree programs in mental health counseling are accredited by the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs. To be eligible for accreditation, programs must meet strict standards related to faculty, curriculum, and clinical training.

Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations

Most states require mental health counselors to be licensed or certified. To be eligible for licensure or certification, candidates must graduate from an accredited mental health counseling program and complete a period of supervised clinical experience. Candidates must also pass a state-recognized exam.

Several states have reciprocity agreements that allow counselors who are licensed in one state to obtain a license in another state without completing additional education or training requirements. Counselors should contact their state licensing board for more information on licensure reciprocity.

A few states require mental health counselors to be registered with the state. Registration requirements vary by state and may include completing an accredited mental health counseling program, passing a state-recognized exam, and completing a period of supervised clinical experience.

Some employers prefer to hire counselors who are certified by the National Board for Certified Counselors (NBCC). To earn NBCC certification, candidates must have a master’s or doctoral degree in counseling from an accredited institution, complete at least 3,000 hours of post-degree professional counseling experience, and pass the National Counselor Examination for Licensure and Certification (NCE) or the Counselor Preparation Comprehensive Examination (CPCE). Candidates must also submit transcripts and letters of recommendation.


For more information on mental health counseling, including state-by-state licensure information, visit the National Board for Certified Counselors website.

The American Counseling Association also provides resources and information on mental health counseling.

The National Association for Mental Health Counselors provides resources and advocacy for mental health counselors.

The National Alliance on Mental Illness offers support and resources for individuals with mental illness and their families.


If you are looking for a career that will allow you to help others, consider becoming a mental health counselor. This profession is full of rewarding opportunities to make a difference in people’s lives. The steps to becoming a mental health counselor are not difficult, but it does require some training and certification. 

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