How to Become a Licensed Mental Health Counselor

Do you have a desire to help people struggling with difficult issues? Have you always been a good listener, communicator and problem-solver? You may wish to become a licensed mental health counselor (LMHC). These professionals help people navigate tough times and achieve emotional and mental wellness. 

Jumpstart Your Career, Explore No GRE Online Mental Health Counseling Programs:

MPCAC-Accredited Online MA at NYU. GRE Not Req.

Aspiring mental health counselors are prepared to pursue licensure with NYU Steinhardt’s MPCAC-accredited online counseling master’s. Students can earn their degree in as few as 21 mos. GRE not req. 

  • Prepare to become a mental health counselor
  • Accredited by the MPCAC
  • As few as 21 months to complete
  • GRE not required 

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Earn Northwestern’s CACREP-Approved Degree

Earn a CACREP-accredited master’s in counseling online from top-10 ranked1 Northwestern University.
 

1U.S. News & World Report: 2020 Best National University Rankings 

  • CACREP Accredited
  • Earn your MA in Counseling from Northwestern in as few as 18 months
  • Accelerated full-time, traditional, or part-time tracks available

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What Is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor?

It can be confusing to try to sort through all the acronyms associated with mental health counselors, therapists, psychologists and social workers. Here’s a quick look at the various occupations and their differences. 

To become a licensed mental health counselor (LMHC), you will need to have at minimum a master’s degree, such as a master’s in mental health counseling, and experience in supervised clinical work. According to O*NET Online, a division of the Department of Labor, LMHCs typically act as counselors or therapists for people dealing with all kinds of life issues. They assess and diagnose clients and work with them to create a treatment plan and set goals. They work with patients of any age, though many specialize in certain age groups or with certain kinds of mental health issues, such as depression, anxiety, alcoholism/addiction or trauma. 

LMHC vs. LPC

Licensed professional counselors (LPC) and licensed mental health counselors (LMHC) have essentially the same level of education and the same function when it comes to the work they do; the primary difference is the state in which the counselor practices, according to the National Board for Certified Counselors. They can also be called licensed clinical professional counselors (LCPC).

LMHC vs. Psychologist

According to the American Psychological Association, psychologists generally have a higher level of education than do licensed mental health counselors, typically a doctorate rather than a master’s in psychology. They also act as counselors, but are likely to specialize in working with people who have more serious mental health disorders, such as bipolar disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder or schizophrenia. They may use different psychological and therapeutic methods for dealing with mental illness depending on the client. Psychologists are generally required to do more clinical research and have more clinical experience before they graduate. 

LMHC vs. LMFT

A licensed marriage and family therapist (LMFT) specializes in the dynamics of relationships between couples and/or families. Like LMHCs, LMFTs also have master’s degrees, such as a marriage and family therapy master’s, although their paths of study are slightly different. One primary difference with LMFTs is their expertise and experience in dealing with multiple clients at a time—i.e., both members of a couple, or multiple members of a family.

LMHC vs. LCSW

A licensed clinical social worker (LCSW), like a licensed mental health counselor, will have a master’s degree, such as a Master of Social Work, but the LMHC’s degree will be in psychology and the LCSW’s degree will be in social work. Both provide mental health support, but LCSWs also function as liaisons between their clients and resources in the community that could help. LCSWs often focus on working with those who are poor or disadvantaged.

Skills Used by Licensed Mental Health Counselors

Are you a good listener? Do you have effective communication skills? Are you a critical thinker? All are skills used by licensed mental health counselors in their work.

As a professional counselor, you will be working with people from all walks of life, many of whom are struggling with difficult or serious situations. In this role:

  • You’ll constantly draw on your base of psychology education.
  • It’s important to be empathetic and able to stand in your clients’ shoes, but it’s also important that you don’t become involved in their lives.
  • It’s recommended you stay at arm’s length while listening, questioning, responding and treating your client.
  • The job can be demanding, so effective stress-management skills are vital.
  • Good problem-solving skills, for both your clients and yourself, are an integral part of this role.

How Long Does It Take to Become an LMHC?

After you’ve earned a bachelor’s degree, it takes five to eight years to become a counselor, depending on such things as whether you attend part-time or full-time.

Licensed Mental Health Counselor Education Requirements

To become an LMHC, you must earn a bachelor’s degree (psychology or sociology degrees are preferred) and in most states, a master’s degree (this will be in counseling, school counseling, marriage and family therapy or similar).

4 Steps to Becoming a Licensed Mental Health Counselor

Below we’ve outlined four common steps to becoming an LMHC. While this can be used as a guide, keep in mind that everyone’s journey is different. 

  1. Earn a bachelor’s degree

    Typically, this takes four years, and most often this degree is in psychology or sociology.

  2. Earn a master’s degree

    If you are studying full-time, this will typically take two to three years.

  3. Get supervised mental health counseling experience

    To earn your mental health counselor license, the National Board for Certified Counselors reports that you will be required by your state to perform a certain number of hours of supervised experience. In most states, this is two years or 3,000 hours; however, it can range from one to four years, or from 1,600-4,000 hours. Make sure you check the specific requirements for the state you wish to practice in. 

  4. Pass your mental health counselor licensing exams

    This will typically be either the National Counselor Examination for Licensure and Certification (NCE)or the National Clinical Mental Health Counseling Exam (NCMHCE). You may be required to take a state law and ethics exam as well, which often pertains to issues that may vary from state to state, such as child-abuse reporting requirements. This can take six months to a year, depending on how much time you need to prepare.

Is Mental Health Counselor Licensure Important?

Not only is LMHC certification important, it is required. Licensing shows that you have met state or national standards in your base of knowledge and ethics. Mental health counselor licensure is evidence to potential clients that you have the proper education and experience to diagnose and treat them.

Why Become a Licensed Mental Health Counselor?

Imagine that you have been injured in a car accident. You are hurt, your car is damaged and traffic is stalled. Then a police officer and a paramedic arrives—people who know what you need and how to get it done. Soon, you are getting medical help, the car is being towed and traffic is being directed safely.

While the comparison may seem a bit dramatic, it’s also accurate. Licensed medical health counselors understand your situation and are trained to know how to guide you through it.

If helping people through difficult times appeals to you, you may wish to become a licensed mental health counselor. You will be helping people who are struggling with mental health issues live healthier and more fulfilling lives.

To learn more—or to launch your career as an LMHC—visit the mental health career and salary page.

Jumpstart Your Career, Explore No GRE Online Mental Health Counseling Programs:

MPCAC-Accredited Online MA at NYU. GRE Not Req.

Aspiring mental health counselors are prepared to pursue licensure with NYU Steinhardt’s MPCAC-accredited online counseling master’s. Students can earn their degree in as few as 21 mos. GRE not req. 

  • Prepare to become a mental health counselor
  • Accredited by the MPCAC
  • As few as 21 months to complete
  • GRE not required 

info SPONSORED

Earn Northwestern’s CACREP-Approved Degree

Earn a CACREP-accredited master’s in counseling online from top-10 ranked1 Northwestern University.
 

1U.S. News & World Report: 2020 Best National University Rankings 

  • CACREP Accredited
  • Earn your MA in Counseling from Northwestern in as few as 18 months
  • Accelerated full-time, traditional, or part-time tracks available

info SPONSORED

Last Updated August 2020