Career Pathway: Mental Health Counseling

Mental health counseling, also referred to as clinical counseling or clinical mental health counseling, is one of the broadest fields within the counseling field. What sets mental health counselors apart, however, is that they can diagnose mental illnesses, whereas not all other professional counselors are licensed to do so. While counseling licensure and scope of practice depend on state licensing boards, this general differentiation between mental health and other counselors applies to the majority of states within the U.S.  

What can I do with mental health counseling skills?

Mental health counselors offer psychotherapy in clinics, public agencies, medical facilities, and private practices to help clients with mental health issues. Counselors provide assessments and diagnoses, treatment planning, evidence-based therapeutic modalities, and crisis management or intervention.

Licensed professional counseling (LPCs) is an expanding field that draws a large pool of prospective job seekers since it intersects with many other industries (healthcare, education, corrections, etc.). There are many career pathways a counselor can explore. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the job outlook for counselors is expected to grow 25% from 2019 to 2029, much faster than average. Counselors are particularly well positioned for job stability and future growth based on their ability to provide specialized treatment services to both individuals and organizations.

Clinical mental health counselors can focus on specific areas, but their broad educational background allows them great flexibility to work with a variety of populations on a variety of mental health issues.

Types of organizations where mental health counselors may work include:

  • Private practices
  • Mental health outpatient centers
  • Private nonprofit agencies
  • Hospital / medical centers
  • Prison / correctional settings

Job title examples with license: Mental Health Counselor, Mental Health Clinician, Staff Therapist 

Future roles: Program Supervisor, Clinical Supervisor, Director of Counseling

Relevant licenses: LMHC, LCMHC, LCPC, or LPCC

Relevant professional associations: American Counseling Association (ACA), American Mental Health Counselors Association (AMHCA)

Pro tip:
The license required to conduct clinical mental health counseling varies by state. For all states, licensed mental health counselors must obtain a master’s degree in counseling and complete the required counseling fieldwork hours. Number of credits and hours vary by state.

How can I acquire mental health counseling skills and turn them into a career?

To excel in the field of mental health counseling, you must develop a diverse set of skills that will enable you to support individuals in need. These skills encompass effective communication, active listening, empathy, and the ability to build strong therapeutic relationships. In addition, a sound understanding of psychological theories and treatment methods is crucial. A mental health counselor should also be skilled in problem-solving, assessment, and treatment planning, all while maintaining the highest ethical standards and cultural sensitivity.

Clinical Skills (Field-Specific)

  • Mental illness diagnosis
  • Counseling/therapy techniques 
  • Mental health treatment plans
  • Behavioral health
  • Crisis intervention
  • Case management
  • Rapport building 
  • Group facilitation
  • Counseling ethics 
  • Self-care
  • Multicultural awareness
  • Research

Transferable Skills and Qualities

  • Communicative
  • Attentive
  • Empathetic
  • Solution-focused
  • Objective
  • Collaborative
  • Evaluative
  • Diplomatic
  • Flexible
  • Conflict-resolution oriented
  • Time-management focused

What could my career look like with a mental health counseling skill set?

With a skill set tailored for government work, your career prospects can be quite promising. Government agencies at various levels, from local to federal, require individuals with expertise in areas such as policy analysis, public administration, and public affairs. Your career could involve shaping public policy, managing government programs, or working on critical issues that impact society. Government careers also often offer stability, competitive benefits, and opportunities for professional growth. Whether you choose to work in public service, as a government consultant, or in a related field, a government skill set can open doors to a rewarding and impactful career.

What are my next steps?

Learn more about mental health counseling:

Register for a course on edX to learn about a variety of topics within the field of mental health counseling.

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Watch a relevant session on our Events page to learn more about the industry and other professionals’ experiences within it.

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