Whether you are thinking about becoming a therapist or are considering a shift in your current therapeutic focus, an array of options are available to you when deciding on which direction to take your career in mental health counseling.
Mental health counselor career paths include the following specialties:
The many specialties available for mental health counselors to choose from are indicative of the seemingly boundless selections these empathetic professionals can make when choosing which populations to work with. Because they treat a variety of conditions, including depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, and trauma, mental health counselors are exposed to working in all kinds of settings (e.g., community agencies, hospitals, assisted living facilities, schools, and telephonic environments).
Your specialty is the biggest determining factor in getting the type of job you want as a mental health worker. Considering the various options available, jobs for mental health workers can be equally varied. For instance, psychologists, in-home therapists, residential counselors, case managers, substance abuse counselors, and school adjustment counselors are all mental health worker jobs.
Clinical mental health counselors, or therapists, diagnose mental and emotional disorders, evaluate treatment readiness, and treat cognitive and behavioral issues. Providing mental health therapy is one of the more popular mental health worker jobs. Becoming a therapist requires a strict code of professionalism, ethics, and client confidentiality. Clinical mental health worker jobs often require formal academic training and specialization. Schools that prepare students to become mental health counselors offer specialties in marriage and family therapy, substance abuse and addictions counseling, school and vocational counseling, and rehabilitation counseling, among others.
In most states, in order to become a therapist, you will first need to obtain a bachelor’s degree with a major in counseling, psychology, or similar concentration. You will then need to complete an advanced degree. Afterward, you will be required to receive between 2,000–4,000 hours of supervision under another licensed mental health counselor before being approved to take the state licensure exam.
After receiving your license you may periodically be required to obtain and maintain other certifications like those from the National Board of Certified Counselors which can vary by specialty (e.g., national certified counselor, certified clinical mental health counselor, or national school-certified counselor).
The type of license you need in order to practice therapy is often dictated by the specialty you select. For instance, mental health counselors who specialize in marriage and family therapy might be required to become a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (LMFT) before beginning to work independently in the field. Likewise, if you are a mental health counselor who specialized in social work, you may be required to obtain a license as a Licensed Independent Clinical Social Worker (LICSW).
There are also more generalized licenses, like that of a Licensed Mental Health Counselor (LMHC) who is equipped to treat a broad range of people and conditions.
How much you make as a mental health counselor can directly depend on the specialty you choose and the license you possess. The median salary for mental health counselors is $44,630. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median income for mental health counselors specializing in social work is $52,400, substance abuse counselors have a median income of $41,370, and career and school counselors have a median income of $49,770. A mental health counselor who falls under the broad category of “therapist” has a median income of $77,070. Licensed mental health counselors can earn on average $61,232 per year.
Regardless of where you are in your career, whether a college student studying psychology or sociology or you are already an experienced therapist, the field of mental health counseling offers you an impressive assortment of specialties from which to choose. Your therapeutic specialty then plays a substantial role in determining the population of people you treat, your work setting, and your available options for licensure – which can, in turn, impact your salary.