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All About Becoming a Mental Health Counselor


Who are Mental Health Counselors?

Mental Counselors work in mental heatlh settings or private practice. They assist their clients to address a myriad of emotional, behavioral and interpersonal issues. They utilize evidenced based practices so as to be fully accountable to their clients reassuring them that the procedures, exercises and homework used in their counseling sessions are supported by research as being effective, efficient and life changing. Mental Health Counselor interface with their client's primary care physicians to insure that their physical health is not contributing to their emotional or mental health issues. Mental Health Counselors work along side psychiatrists if their clients should need psychopharmacological assistance in dealing with their mental health conditions. For this reason Mental Health Counselors are knowledgeable about the neuroscience of emotional well being and the most impactful findings of behavioral medicine. Mental Health Counselors work hard to be very cognizant of the cultural, vocational, familial, and social issue which their clients bring with them in facing their targeted mental health counseling issues. 

The American Mental Health Counselor's Association states in their 2011 Standards that: Since the founding of the profession in 1976 the definiton of Mental Health Counseling was: 
“an interdisciplinary, multifaceted, holistic process of: 1)The promotion of healthy lifestyles; 2) Identification of individual stressors and personal levels of functioning; and 3) The preservation or restoration of mental health” (Seiler & Messina, 1979).
Then in 1986, The AMHCA Board of Directors adopted a more formal, comprehensive definition: “Clinical Mental Health Counseling is the provision of professional counseling services involving the application of principles of psychotherapy, human development, learning theory, group dynamics, and the etiology of mental illness and dysfunctional behavior to individuals, couples, families and groups, for the purpose of promoting optimal mental health, dealing with normal problems of living and treating psychopathology. The practice of clinical mental health counseling includes, but is not limited to, diagnosis and treatment of mental and emotional disorders, psycho-educational techniques aimed at the prevention of mental and emotional disorders, consultations to individuals, couples, families, groups, organizations and communities, and clinical research into more effective psychotherapeutic treatment modalities.

What do Mental Health Counselors Do?

Mental Health Counselors offer a full range of services:

  • Assessment & diagnosis
  • Treatment planning and utilization review
  • Psychotherapy
  • Brief and solution-focused therapy
  • Alcoholism and substance abuse treatment
  • Psycho-educational & prevention programs
  • Crisis management
  • Trauma Intervention

What Skills Do Mental Health Counselors Need?
Mental Health Counselors need the following skills to do their work well:

Ability to understand the dynamics of Human Development to capture a good psychosocial history of clients

Ability to diagnosis and treat a variety of conditions within range of all human behavioral pathology

Knowledge and ability to provide evidenced based practices in psychotherapy thus providing credible treatments to clients

Understanding of basic neuroscience of the brain and nervous system to understand the roots of humans' emotional responses to life’s stressors

Understanding of psychopharmacological treatments of psychopathology

History and Timeline of the Mental Health Counseling Profession

1976 – Coining of term "Mental Health Counselor" and formation of American Mental Health Counselor’s Association (AMHCA) as a Division of ACA

1979 – Creation of the National Academy of Certified Clinical Mental Health Counselors (NACCMHC) which eventually become a component of the National Board of Certified Counselors (NBCC)

1981 – First State Law to license Mental Health Counselors put into effect in Florida and is now under the State of Florida's Health Administration's 491 Board

2011 – AMHCA put out its newest Standards of Practice in Mental Health Counseling

What are the Hallmarks of a Profession which Mental Health Counselors Possess?

1. Professional Association: The American Mental Health Counselors Association with 6,000 members

2. Code of Ethics: The First Code of Ethics for AMHCA was written in 1976 and has been updated regularly and the latest edition was done in 2010

3. Research in the Effectiveness of Service Delivery System: The Journal of Mental Health Counseling published its first volume in 1979 and today it is in its 34th volume

4. Certification and Licensure: National Academy of Certified Clinical Mental Health Counselors was founded in 1979 and the first Licensed Mental Heatlh Counselor Law was passed in Florida in 1981.

5. Accreditation of Training Programs: The Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Education Programs enacted its Standards for Mental Health Counseling in 2009

Professional Associations Related to Mental Health Counselors

American Mental Health Counselors Association (AMHCA)
is the Professional Association for Mental Health Counselors and it is affiliated with the

American Counseling Association (ACA)
In each State there are state and regional branches of both ACA and AMHCA

Certification and Licensure for Mental Health Counselors

National Board of Certified Counselors (NBCC) has over 48,000 National Certified Counselors (NCC)

National Academy of Clinical Mental Health Counselors has over 1000 Certified Clinical Mental Health Counselors (CCMHC)

State Licensure: 50 States in the United States of America license over 120,000 Licensed Professional Counselors and 15 of these States have specific licenses for Licensed Mental Health Counselor (LMHC) and Florida has the largest number of LMHC with close to 8,000 license by their 491 Board.

What Training and Experience is Needed to become a Licensed Mental Health Counselor

Currently CACREP has accredited 79 Graduate Programs to award Degrees in Mental Health Counseling which requires:

Masters in Mental Health Counseling – 60 graduate hours including courses in all aspects of the field, plus a practicum and Internship

Most States like Florida then require the following for Graduates of these program to become Licensed Mental Health Counselors: 2 years post Master's degree Internship under supervision of a LMHC or registered supervisor prior to becoming licensed and passing a Licensing Exam

How does one go about to get the MHC Training?

  1. Graduate from an accredited Undergraduate Program
  2. Take the GRE or MAT
  3. Apply to CACREP accredited Masters Degree Programs in Mental Health Counseling
  4. Get accepted
  5. Enjoy the ride to becoming a Recognized Mental Health Professional as a Mental Health Counselor!