Mental Health Counselors
Education & Training
To work as a mental health counselor, you typically need to:
- have a high school diploma or GED;
- complete a bachelor's degree or significant course work in psychology, sociology, or social work;
- complete a master's degree in mental health counseling or social work;
- complete an internship; and
- have a license.
Education after high school
You must have a master's degree in mental health counseling or social work to work in this field. Several colleges and universities offer graduate programs in these fields. For your bachelor's degree, you should take courses in social work, psychology, sociology, and statistics. Majoring in one of these fields, especially psychology, is a good idea.
In mental health counseling and some social work programs, you take courses in therapy techniques, human psychological development, social research methods, and statistics. You also learn how to counsel individuals and groups and how to identify specific mental disorders. Master's degree programs take two years to complete. These programs typically require a period of supervised experience, such as an internship.
Part-time or volunteer work at a social service agency is good background for this occupation.
Employers often provide training to new mental health counselors. You often work with an experienced counselor for a period of time before receiving your own caseload. You learn agency procedures, forms, and patient management. Training may last up to six months.
The military trains people to work as caseworkers and counselors. This training lasts from eight to ten weeks. Further training occurs on the job and through advanced courses.
Related Programs (Current training programs available)
- Substance Abuse/Addiction Counseling
- Clinical/Medical Social Work
- Clinical Pastoral Counseling/Patient Counseling
- Mental Health Counseling/Counselor
- Mental & Social Health Services & Allied Professions, Other
Fields of Study (What to study to prepare for this career)
Click on any of the Fields of Study listed below to find out more about preparing for this career.
Level of Education
The table below lists the level of education attained by a subset of workers in this occupation. The workers surveyed were between age 25 and 44.
|Education level attained||Percentage of workers in this occupation*|
|Less than high school diploma||1|
|High school diploma or equivalent||7|
|Some college, no degree||11|
|Doctoral (Ph.D.) or professional degree||5|
* National data for mental health counselors (SOC 21-1014).
Helpful High School Courses
In high school, take classes that prepare you for college. A college preparatory curriculum may be different from your state's graduation requirements.
You should also consider taking some advanced courses in high school. This includes Advanced Placement (AP) and International Baccalaureate (IB) courses if they are available in your school. If you do well in these courses, you may receive college credit for them. Advanced courses can also strengthen your college application.
Helpful electives to take in high school that prepare you for this occupation include:
- Child Development
- Ethnic and Gender Studies
The courses listed above are meant to help you create your high school plan. If you have not already done so, talk to a school counselor or parent about the courses you are considering taking.
You should also check with a teacher or counselor to see if work-based learning opportunities are available in your school and community. These might include field trips, job shadowing, internships, and actual work experience. The goal of these activities is to help you connect your school experiences with real-life work.
Join some groups, try some hobbies, or volunteer with an organization that interests you. By participating in activities you can have fun, make new friends, and learn about yourself. Maybe one of them will help direct you to a future career.
Source: Minnesota Department of Education.