Mental Health Licensure & Career Overview

Engage in Mental Health: An Important Role in the Public Health Field


There are many jobs within the Mental Health field and for those who enjoy the role of mentor, confidant and counselor, becoming a Mental Health Counselor can be very rewarding. Working with those suffering from mental health issues whether chronic or crisis related can be deeply fulfilling for those who have a pull to help their community. Currently there is a great need nationwide to combat the increasing mental health challenges we face as a country. Deciding which career path to take can be a daunting challenge. This article was written with you in mind and we hope to assist you in making a well informed decision on whether this job is a good fit for you.

Required Licensure

To work as a mental health counselor and become licensed, you will need to meet the criteria outlined by your state’s certification board based on what specific job title you wish to hold. Most states require that you earn a minimum of a Master’s in a mental health related field such as Psychology, Counseling or Social Work. It’s important to note however that a Doctorate is required to become a Psychologist or Psychiatrist as well as certain high level job titles within Social Work. Most states require those seeking licensure to have earned their required degree from a CACREP accredited program. You will then be required to pass the National Board for Certified Counselors (NBCC) exam, Association of Social Work Boards (ASWB) or other exam. In addition, you will need to earn 1500 – 4000 practical supervised hours in a clinical setting to earn certification. Again this will vary greatly depending on the job title you wish to pursue. You can find information about all of these job titles on our website.

The Steps to Take Towards Licensure

  • Earn your Master’s or Doctoral degree in Counseling, Social Work, Psychology or a closely related field from an accredited school, with preference given or some states require CACREP , CSWE or similar accreditation depending on the job title you are pursuing.
  • Completion of a practical internship with supervised clinical hours which varies depending on job title but can range from 1500 to 4000 or more clinical hours.
  • Completing and passing the National Counselor Examination (NCE) Association of Social Work Boards (ASWB), or similar exam depending on job title.
  • Accumulating the required post-graduate supervised clinical hours for your job title in the state in which you wish to practice. The amount of hours required varies depending on the job title and ranges from 2000 to 3000+ hours.
  • Apply for Licensure with your state board.

Required Education

Mental health counselors will require different degrees to practice in different job titles. Most states require a Master’s Degree in a relevant field such as Social Work, Psychology or Counseling to become a licensed counselor. Some states allow limited practice with a Bachelor’s Degree in a closely related field. In most states allowing those with Bachelor’s degrees to practice, this is usually highly limited and can only be done under the direct supervision of a licensed mental health counselor such as a Licensed Clinical Social Worker. Usually those with Bachelor’s degrees are allowed to practice to gain experience towards licensure. Mental Health Counseling is a field that will require practitioners to have continuing education credits in order to stay up to date with the latest research and best practices. To begin your journey towards becoming a Mental Health Counselor you will need to plan out your educational path.

    Bachelor’s Degree

    Before one can go on to get their Master’s or Doctoral Degree in a mental health counseling field you will need to earn a Bachelor’s Degree in a related field such as Counseling, Psychology, or Social Work. Many fields will require a very specific educational background, for example you will need to get a Psychology degree if you wish to become a psychologist. While some Master’s programs will accept candidates with degrees in related fields it is wise to deeply consider what your eventual career goal is to ensure you start off with the right background. While you have some latitude with your Bachelor’s you will have to narrow your focus when you get your Master’s degree and having the correct Bachelor’s will give you a leg up both in being considered for a Master’s program as well as having the baseline education including technical terms and theory to give you the necessary educational foundation to go on to a Master’s Program in the field of your choice. It’s also wise to volunteer in a clinical setting so you begin to gain practical experience. This will also help you to get accepted into a Master’s program.

    Master’s Degree

    Some states allow certain job titles to hold only a Bachelor’s Degree for example being a Certified Social Worker in certain states. These are understood to be entry level positions with an emphasis on gaining relevant experience in the field with the most common career path being to go on to get your Master’s Degree in Counseling, Psychology or Social Work. It’s extremely important that you find a Master’s Degree program that suits your long term career goal. You will also want to consider what if any specialization you might wish to pursue in your given field. Understanding what specialization you most resonate with can make a huge difference in career satisfaction as well as financial rewards. Some find they prefer to be a generalist in the field and if you aren’t sure what to specialize in, you can always be a generalist and then narrow your focus later. You will want to be sure that you choose an accredited program such as Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) if you are planning on pursuing a career in Social Work for example. Many states require specific accreditation for Master’s programs and beyond.

    Doctoral Degrees

    Perhaps you have the desire to be a true specialist in your field. For some, research in a clinical setting is what calls to them. At the level of Doctoral studies you can begin to plan out how you might advance understanding and knowledge within your field. By studying at the highest level of academic rigor and learning the latest research and best practices you can find ways to become influential within your field. Holding the title of Psychologist or Psychiatrist requires a doctoral degree as does being an Advanced Practice Clinical Social Worker. With a Doctoral degree in your field, you will be able to choose from the widest variety of potential career paths as well as the highest levels of income.

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Ongoing Education and Certifications to Complete Your Resume

You can find ongoing education opportunities and additional certifications by going to websites like the American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA) or Council on Social Work Education (CSWE). These additional certifications can help you to sharpen your focus and advance your chosen specialization. AOTA is just one of several organizations that can offer advanced training and certification depending on your Mental Health practitioner job title. You can also look at the Association of Social Work Boards (ASWB) website for approved ongoing education for Clinical Social Work. After you’ve become licensed with your state having completed your Master’s or Doctoral degree and you have completed all licensure requirements, your state board will require additional ongoing education credits. Obtaining the additional certifications offered by AOTA, ASWB or your job title affiliated certification board, will help you to meet these requirements. Completing your ongoing education requirements will also ensure you stay up to date with the current best practice models as well as standardized protocols for research and practice within your field.

Mental Health Roles Within the Community

Our country faces a growing challenge in the form of mental health. In fact, nearly one in five adults suffer from some form of mental illness in the United States. To put that in perspective, that is approximately seventy million people! The opportunity for mental health counselors is as great as the need for their services. For people in need, few make as big an impact on their lives as dedicated and skilled mental health counselors. This can take many different forms in terms of specific career paths. Some potential job titles to explore are Licensed Clinical Social worker, Psychologist, psychiatrist and community mental health practitioner.

What Job Titles Are Part of The Mental Health Field?

The field of mental health is very broad and allows for a great number of educational and specialization paths you might wish to pursue. Some examples include, but are not limited to:

  • Certified Social Worker
  • Licensed Clinical Social Worker
  • Social Work Administrator
  • Psychiatrist
  • Psychologist
  • Licensed Mental Health Counselor
  • Licensed Professional Counselor
  • Community Mental Health Practitioner
  • Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner
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There are a number of other mental health counseling related fields beyond this list. While there are many sub-specializations such as Geriatric, Substance Abuse, School, or Pediatric focuses for mental health, all perform a critical service in their community. Helping your community become more healthy and happy pays dividends not just for individuals whose lives are forever changed, but also for society itself. Becoming a Mental Health Counselor is a truly noble career path to take.