Mental Health Therapist Certification and Education Program Overviews

Oct 20, 2021

Essential Information

Mental health therapists council, diagnose, and assess patients for various emotional and mental disorders. Their work might involve individuals, families, or groups. Extensive education is generally required to become a fully licensed mental health therapy professional.

The different program levels in mental health therapy includes graduate certificates, Master's degrees, and Ph.D. degrees. The master's degree's and graduate certificates require a bachelor's degree while the Ph. D. programs require a master's degree. Students will have to do a criminal background check and pass the GRE exam in order to get into these programs. Clinical hours and a dissertation may be required of the student.

Certification in Mental Health Counseling

In order to legally practice, mental health therapists must become certified as Licensed Professional Counselors (LPC) through a state board of examiners. Licenses in mental health are intended to designate a specific standard of excellence among practicing professionals. Applicants are required to pass examinations and participate in continuing education programs. Most states require mental health therapists to possess at least a master's degree. A minimum number of hours in a clinical setting with patients may be required. Applicants are usually subjected to a criminal background check to complete the certification process. A processing fee must also be paid. Candidates seeking licensure as a mental health therapist must complete government mandated courses in the following areas:

  • Child abuse identification
  • Drug abuse
  • Professional ethics

Master of Arts Degree in Mental Health Counseling

The Master of Arts in mental health counseling prepares students for advanced practice in psychology. Students learn about clinical procedures, professional ethics, and patient management. After graduation, students can work in mental health clinics, rehabilitation facilities, and psychiatric hospitals. Any student seeking a mental health master's degree must already hold a bachelor's degree from an institution of higher education with accreditation from the U.S. Department of Education. International students must prove sufficient competence with the English language. All graduate school applicants must submit scores from the Graduate Record Examination (GRE). Students pursuing a master's degree in mental health counseling generally complete psychology courses in assessment, counseling and testing.

  • Family counseling
  • Developmental psychology
  • Couples therapy
  • Adolescent psychology
  • Clinical testing

Master of Science Degree in Mental Health Counseling

The Mental Health Counseling Master of Science degree gives students an educational foundation in psychology and therapy. After graduation, students usually seek professional licensure to practice as a mental health counselor. Candidates learn advanced concepts in counseling, assessment procedures and psychological research. Students pursuing master's degrees are required to possess a bachelor's degree. Many programs require a minimum GPA score for admission. In addition to GRE scores, applicants also submit personal essays. Most graduate schools have a processing fee for applications. A master's degree is designed to prepare students to practice psychology. Common courses include the following:

  • Counseling theory
  • Psychopathology
  • Group counseling
  • Community mental health
  • Mental health counseling

Ph.D. in Mental Health Counseling

Doctoral students earning degrees in mental health counseling learn advanced topics in psychological research, drug counseling and patient therapy. Candidates for doctoral degrees engage in intensive research involving psychology, health and diagnostics. Students seeking a doctoral degree must prepare and orally defend a research-based dissertation. Potential doctoral candidates must possess a bachelor's degree before starting graduate coursework. Successful applicants often have a master's degree in psychology or field related to mental health counseling. Interested mental health therapy students must submit scores from the GRE for admission. Students earning a doctoral degree must conduct their own research. Courses may include:

  • Developmental psychology
  • Research methodology
  • School counseling
  • Counselor education

Employment Outlook and Salary Info

The employment outlook is good for individuals interested in mental health careers. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicts employment of mental health counselors will increase 25% between 2019 and 2029. The mean salary for mental health counselors was $51,550 in May 2020, according to the BLS.

Continuing Education Information

Mental health counselors can advance their careers significantly by earning a Ph.D. Graduates with a doctoral degree can assume administrative positions in hospitals, schools and clinics. Individuals with doctorates also engage in research and education at the university level.

Students who want to be mental health therapists have various options such as certificates and graduate level degrees that cover topics such as developmental psychology, family counseling, and group counseling. All students should prepare to complete residency hours as part of their program.

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