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Jonathan Golding, Ph.D. and Anne Lippert, PhD
Jonathan Golding, Ph.D. and Anne Lippert, PhD

Considering a Career in Mental Health Counseling?

Get informed about the programs, careers, and the field's potential.

Post contributed by Eric Lavalle, MSEd, NCC
Doctoral Candidate in Educational Psychology, University of Memphis

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Is the Mental Health Profession Right for You?

In deciding to pursue the field of mental health, a major factor for me was that when growing up, I was someone that people trusted and discussed their pressing issues with. As I hit college, I wanted to translate those experiences into skills that could make a difference in other’s lives. My school didn’t have a counseling bachelor’s program, as most universities do not, but there were a few classes in the psychology department that allowed me to explore some basic concepts of counseling. In order to pursue a career in the field of counseling, I had to do some research to see if it was what I wanted to do. Pursuing a career in this field takes knowledge of the field, the program, and career outcomes.

Choosing a Counseling Degree

Why choose a degree in counseling? Why not a master’s of social work or psychology? Though similar, there are many differences that can help you decide which career path is right for you. Counselors focus more on therapeutic interventions and techniques that allow individuals to work through different challenges and establish coping skills. Social workers typically are more prepared to work as case managers or caseworkers than provide counseling but some social work careers will be expected to provide counseling. A Masters in psychology could lead to a career in counseling but this varies by state. A master’s in psychology can also prepare you for careers in research or teaching at certain levels. As you can see, counseling is a separate field from social work and psychology though some of the skills are translatable from counseling, psychology, and social work.

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Degree Types

A degree in Counseling provides the opportunity to work in a wide variety of different areas while providing therapeutic interventions to those in need. With a Master’s in Counseling, you will be able to provide services in the field of mental health, substance abuse, vocational counseling, marriage, and family, schools, military, rehabilitation, private practice, and more. Many universities categorize the counseling programs into different majors like Clinical Mental Health Counseling (or Community Counseling), School Counseling, Marriage and Family, etc. The program can be completed on a full-time basis within 2 years depending on the structure of the program at the university. Courses are varied and include a wide variety of topics such as human development, ethics, multicultural courses, therapeutic techniques, child and adolescent counseling and addictions counseling. Since these are graduate-level courses, the amount of coursework can be intense at times. Most programs also require you to participate in an internship where you apply your skills and work in the field for an internship that is supervised by licensed professionals who provide feedback and help you grow as a counselor.


Graduate programs in counseling vary from school to school in different ways. One of the main things to consider when applying to a Master’s or Doctorate in Counseling is whether or not the program is accredited by the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Education Programs (CACREP). The most important reason for considering CACREP accredited programs is they allow you to take a certification exam, like the National Counselor Exam (NCE) or Clinical Mental Health Counselor Exam (CMHCE) during the program. Schools that are not accredited do not offer the exam and you have to wait until after you’ve graduated to take the exam. These exams lead to certification as a National Certified Counselor (NCC) by the National Board for Certified Counselors (NBCC) or the appropriate certification board for your state.


After graduating, you can choose to work in the field using your degree or you can pursue a license, like a Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC). These licenses, in many states, require a specific number of hours post-graduate that are supervised by a licensed professional. The number of hours required varies by state, and some states don’t require any supervised hours. Also, some states may require an additional exam. Licensed professionals can set up their own practice and work in agencies that require a LPC including state and government agencies.

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Salaries and Job Outlook

There continues to be a growing trend in the United States for counselors. According to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics, this growth can be attributed to an increased need for substance abuse and mental health counselors. Another contributing factor is insurance companies are covering counseling services more frequently. The Bureau also states a projected job growth of 22 percent. They also state the average salary for therapists is around $43,000 a year.

A career in counseling provides many different opportunities in the human services field. Any career in this field can be challenging but rewarding. You have to decide yourself if counseling is the right career path for you.

About the Author
Jonathan Golding, Ph.D. and Anne Lippert, PhD

Jonathan Golding, Ph.D., is a professor of psychology at the University of Kentucky. Anne Lippert, Ph.D., is a post-doctoral fellow at the University of Kentucky.

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