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A mental health counselor is a specialized form of counselor trained to help individuals with mental disorder or emotional problems. Some treat individuals in a one-on-one environment, while others perform group therapy or family counseling. The techniques employed in mental health counseling vary greatly based on both the training of the counselor and the mental health issues being treated. Counselors may deal with a variety of mental health issues, including substance abuse, stress, age-related problems, depression, career problems, family issues, marital difficulties, and many others. Mental health counselors most often rely on other mental health professionals such as psychologists, psychiatrists, social workers, and nurses.
The job of mental health counseling requires both special training and certain personal traits. The work of counseling requires a desire to help others through their difficulties, and an ability to attain a rapport and sense of trust with clients. Being a counselor also requires a high degree of accountability, complying with strict ethical guidelines and working with little or no supervision from others.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median yearly salary for mental health counselors was $36,810 in 2008. The top ten percent earned over $63,000 in 2008.
Training and Education
The requirements for becoming a mental health counselor vary from state to state, but in general, a master's degree is required. Course-work can include a range of subjects including marriage and family counseling, substance abuse counseling, clinical mental health counseling, rehabilitation counseling, gerontological counseling, career counseling, and many other related topics. Degrees appropriate for counseling are available from many institutions across the U.S. Based on state specific guidelines, a mental health counselor may also require a license or certificate. One commonly respected certifying authority is the National Board for Certified Counselors, Inc., which provides the credential titled "National Certified Counselor." There are other certification agencies as well, such as the Commission on Rehabilitation Counselor Certification. Based on their education, some counselors use their skills to move into supervisory positions or work in research.
In 2006, there were approximately 100,000 mental health counselors working in the United States. Some work with hospitals, clinics, or social services organizations, but more and more counselors are choosing to be self-employed.
The job outlook for mental health counselors is currently very good. The job field is expected to grow rapidly in the next few years as insurance companies find counselors to be an appropriate but less expensive alternative to psychologists and psychiatrists. Recently, there have been too few individuals graduating from mental health counseling programs to meet the number of positions available, creating a demand that should make this field a very good one in years to come.