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June 3, 2021

Your Guide to Clinical Mental Health Counseling

Are you ready to step up your career in mental health counseling? When it comes to psychology, you can always learn more. Which is why a master’s degree in clinical mental health counseling may be just what you need to advance your understanding of mental health.

The field of counseling is varied and multifaceted, and psychologists are not the only providers of mental health services. Clinical mental health counselors also play an important part in the mental health system, and recent changes to the health care system in the United States are leading to increased access for patients and thus, increasing demand for clinical mental health counselors. This guide will help explain both the field and the requirements to becoming a clinical mental health counselor.

What Is Clinical Mental Health Counseling?

So what is clinical mental health counseling, exactly? The American Mental Health Counselors Association defines a clinical mental health counselor as a distinct profession separate from other therapy and counseling roles. According to the group, “Clinical mental health counselors are highly skilled professionals who provide flexible, consumer-oriented therapy. They combine traditional psychotherapy with a practical, problem-solving approach that creates a dynamic and efficient path for change and problem resolution.”

The Need for Counselors

According to the National Institutes of Health, nearly one in five American adults suffered from some mental illness in 2019. Many of these people go without treatment, and their problems can have serious repercussions on their families, relationships, and lives. This large population is part of the growing need for qualified mental health counselors.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that the field of mental health counseling will grow 25 percent between 2019 and 2029 — much faster than the national average. Although the prevalence of mental illness is one reason for this growth, an even more significant factor is changes in medical policy. The Affordable Care Act requires insurance companies to insure an equal number of medical and counselor visits, making such visits more affordable.

The Impact of Clinical Mental Health Counseling

Clinical mental health counseling can improve the lives of those affected with mental illness and their loved ones. In addition, it can have a positive impact on the economy.

Costs Related to the Lack of Counseling Access

There are more consequences to untreated mental illness than just emotional; lack of access has a significant financial impact, as well. The American Counseling Association lists a few of the costs incurred from the absence of counseling:

  • In the United States, the annual economic, indirect cost of mental illnesses is estimated to be $79 billion.
  • Mental illness causes more days of work loss and work impairment than many other chronic conditions such as diabetes, asthma, and arthritis.
  • Substance abuse, including smoking, illegal drugs, and alcohol, costs the United States more than $484 billion per year. Each year approximately 40 million debilitating illnesses or injuries occur among Americans as a result of their substance abuse.

Effectiveness of Counseling

There are several ways that counseling positively impacts both the person being counseled and their surrounding friends and family. According to the American Counseling Association:

  • After patients were provided counseling “there was a significant reduction in severity of symptoms” for anxiety, depression, self-esteem, and quality of life.
  • Drug treatment has been shown to reduce drug use by 40 to 60 percent and significantly reduces criminal activity during and after treatment. The reduction in arrest rate due to treatment is about 40 percent.
  • Every $1 investment in addiction treatment programs yields a $4 to $7 return in reduced drug-related crime, criminal justice costs, and theft. When savings related to health care are taken into account, savings increase to a ratio of 12:1.

Educational Requirements

Clinical mental health counselors must meet specific education criteria before they can sit for the licensing exams.

Course Requirements

The primary certification board for CMHC professionals is the National Board for Certified Counselors, which has a listing of required content areas that all future certified counselors must complete. They include:

  • Theories of counseling psychotherapy and personality
  • Counseling and psychotherapy skills
  • Abnormal psychotherapy and psychopathology
  • Human growth and development
  • Group counseling and psychotherapy
  • Career development
  • Professional orientation to counseling
  • Research
  • Testing and appraisal
  • Social and cultural foundations

These content areas are covered in a master’s degree in clinical mental health counseling.

Clinical Residency Requirements

In addition to the course requirements, mental health counselors must complete counseling experience and supervision. The amount of experience required depends on the licensure or certification, and varies from state to state. However, the national certification requires 3,000 hours of counseling experience and 100 hours of supervision over a two year post-master’s time period. Many counseling degree programs include practicum experience that goes toward this total. However, check with certification or licensure officials to learn specifics on what is required.

Clinical Mental Health Counseling Exam

An exam, administered by the National Board for Certified Counselors, is the final step before becoming certified. There are two tests available:

  • The National Counselor Examination for Licensure and Certification (NCE), which is the more common of the two examinations. It is a traditional multiple choice test.
  • The National Clinical Mental Health Counseling Examination, which is only required in some states. It is a simulation-based test. To learn more about this exam, read our article about taking the NCMHCE.

Passing either one of these exams will earn you a full certification and licensure to practice independently and freely. After completing your licensure or certification, a variety of opportunities are available to you in several areas.

Career Opportunities

While working with the general population is a common path of mental health counselors, there are plenty of opportunities to specialize, allowing counselors to work with a specific population to focus on one type of issue.

Grief Counselors – Grief counselors work with those who have suffered a loss to help them process their emotions in a safe space. They often work alongside hospitals and other health care facilities to work with the bereaved.

Domestic Abuse Counselors –  Abusive relationships can have prolonged impacts on all involved, even years after the relationship has ended. Working with a counselor can help people who have been abused work through the pain and move on.

Suicide Intervention – When depression and mental illness reach a breaking point, counselors can help show those considering suicide a better way.

Rehabilitation and Substance Abuse Counselors – Addiction is a disease that takes enormous amounts of treatment and work to overcome. Counselors can help addicts learn how to live a sober life and avoid triggers that might cause a relapse.


Getting Started

For those who want to change the lives of others, clinical mental health counseling offers a chance to help vulnerable people in a growing field.


The Master of Clinical Mental Health Counseling Program is for you if you are serious about creating an impact in counseling and are looking to complete your graduate degree online. With a Master in Mental Health Counseling online, you will be trained to help guide and assist people with their personal troubles. Grace College’s MCMHC program is CACREP-accredited which provides recognition that the content and quality of a program meet professional standards. Grace College currently provides one of the most affordable CACREP-accredited online master’s degrees in the United States.

Apply now to get started today!