Mental Health Therapist Certification and Education Program Overviews

Read on to learn about the various levels of education for the mental health therapist. Licensing information, prerequisites, coursework and career options are described below.

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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. Read on to learn about certification and degree requirements.


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.

Educational Prerequisites

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.

Program Coursework

Candidates seeking licensure as a mental health therapist must complete government mandated courses in the following areas:

  • Child abuse identification
  • Drug abuse
  • Professional ethics

Popular Career Options

Careers available to mental health counselors include the following:

  • Rehabilitation counselor
  • Mental health therapist
  • School counselor

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.

Educational Prerequisites

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).

Program Coursework

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

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 36% between 2010 and 2020. The median salary for mental health counselors was $40,080 in May 2012, 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.

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.

Educational Prerequisites

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.

Program Coursework

A master's degree is designed to prepare students to practice psychology. Courses typically include the following:

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

Popular Career Options

Most careers in mental health counseling require a master's degree in addition to certification from a state level agency.

  • Mental health counselor
  • Career Counselor
  • School psychologist
  • Family therapist
  • Rehabilitation counselor

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.

Educational Prerequisites

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.

Program Coursework

Students earning a doctoral degree must conduct their own research. Courses might include:

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

Popular Career Options

Graduates with doctoral degrees in mental health counseling work in various areas of psychology.

  • Professor
  • Researcher
  • Rehabilitation counselor
  • Career Counselor
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