Career Spotlight: Mental Health Counselor

If there’s one thing pandemic isolation has taught us, it is the importance of mental health professionals in today’s world. With the rates of mental illnesses skyrocketing in the U.S. (particularly among young adults and underrepresented populations), mental health counselors are providing vital resources to our communities [read CDC statistics on U.S. mental health and the pandemic here]Are you interested in exploring a career as a mental health counselor? Read on to learn what this career could look like! 

What do mental health counselors do? 

Mental health counselors meet with individuals one-on-one or in groups to help clients improve their mental and emotional health. Often, mental health counselors work with clients who have diagnosable mental disorders, but counselors may also work with individuals experiencing emotional distress as part of daily life and expected transitions. This job often requires completing an initial psychological assessment with a client, developing a treatment plan with the client, and meeting regularly for some length of time. It may also include communication with people besides the client, such as parents, schools, and doctors. If you enjoy listening, empathizing, and problem-solving, this might be a good career for you! 

Where do they work? 

Some mental health counselors are self-employed and work in private practice, while others are employed by agencies such as nonprofits, schools, and companies. Some may work as part of a treatment team in intensive outpatient and hospital settings as well. 

Who do they work with? 

Mental health counselors can see clients of any age. Many counselors specialize in certain populations, such as an age group or a particular mental health issue. Some counselors also specialize in a certain method of counseling, such as cognitive behavioral therapy, acceptance and commitment therapy, or psychoanalysis. Each specialization will involve slightly different duties, and there are many opportunities for further training after becoming licensed. 

What training do they need? 

Practicing as a mental health counselor requires a license, such as an LPC (Licensed Professional Counselor) or LMHC (Licensed Mental Health Counselor) – the name varies by state. To get licensed, a counselor must complete a training program, usually a two-year master’s program in counseling or mental health counseling. Browse a list of CACREP-accredited masters programs here. The licensing requirements vary by state, and usually include some hours of internship and work experience after completing the master’s program. 

What is their pay and job outlook? 

Demand for mental health counselors is very high, and is growing. This may be due to an increased need of counseling services, and is likely also influenced by the fact that health insurances are covering increasingly more mental health services. The mental health counseling occupation is projected to grow 23% in the next 10 years, compared to the average of 8%. While salaries vary widely depending on experience, location, and employer, the median salary for mental health counselors was around $47,660 per year in 2020. Counselors in urban areas tend to earn more (although the cost of living is also typically higher), while counselors in more rural areas tend to earn less. 

Where can I go to find out more? Professional organizations and resources: 

Connecting with mental health organizations is a great way to meet people in the field and stay informed of upcoming events and resources. Here are some organizations you might like to take a look at:

Lawrence Connections: Alumni in the mental health counseling field!  

Do you think you might be interested, but still have some questions? Or are you sure this is the job for you, and want some guidance along the winding path that leads there? At any stage of the process, no one can tell you the lay of the land better than a mental health counselor themselves. And one with a Lawrence background will understand where you are coming from as well as where you might be headed. Here are a few alumni in the mental health counseling field: Cynthia Stocum, Ariana Thelen, Sally Burns. Check out Lawrence’s alumni platform, Viking Connect, to find more alumni! 

Whether your journey ends in mental health counseling or somewhere else, thanks for taking a few minutes to learn more about this career track that’s meeting a critical need in our communities!