Working with people who are struggling with their mental health is both challenging and rewarding. It requires patience, the ability to listen, and compassion for others.
It also requires a wide range of skills and the willingness to get an extensive education in the field of psychology.
You might be suited to mental health counseling if you’re the person everyone seems to seek out when they’re going through a tough time. If you can lend a sympathetic ear and good advice, then you might be well on your way to a career as a counselor.
There’s so much more to becoming a mental health counselor than just being the family confidante, of course. You need to earn a degree and certification and gain experience before you can work with people and help them cope with their mental health challenges.
Here are some steps you’ll need to take before you can become a mental health counselor and work with patients:
1. Educate Yourself on Current Mental Health & Social Work Issues
Empathy and knowledge are two attributes that every mental health counselor needs. You have to understand what your patients are going through in order to help them.
Start to read up on the most common mental health concerns and learn more about what people in your area are going through.
You should also understand what social workers are doing on a daily basis.
What are the needs of people in your area? Where do inequalities exist in society? How can mental health counselors help to ensure that people have the support they need?
Get curious and start to seek out information. This will serve you well as you continue your education.
2. Earn a Degree From a Mental Health Counseling Program
To become a mental health counselor, you need to get your degree from a reputable university program.
Generally, you will need to earn a Master’s degree to see patients and practice autonomously, so be prepared for many years of schooling.
There aren’t many Associate’s or Bachelor’s programs in mental health counseling, so you will probably need to begin your education with a degree in psychology or a related field.
Learning as much as you can about mental health before you apply to Master’s programs will serve you well.
3. Volunteer & Gain Experience
You don’t have to be a licensed mental health counselor before you can start gaining experience. In fact, it’s important to get experience in the real world long before you sit down with your first official patient. The best way to get experience in the field is to volunteer.
Volunteering can be very simple. You could volunteer to lead meditation sessions at addiction centers, for example, or reach out to senior care facilities and see how you can help the residents. There are so many opportunities and organizations that would be grateful to have your help.
Not only will volunteering help you get experience, but it will also help you make sure that this is the kind of work you want to do. Best of all, you’ll be helping people in the process!
4. Obtain Necessary Credentials for Your State
The final step in the process of becoming a mental health counselor is to get licensed according to your state’s requirements.
Each state has its own standards, but most states require at least a master’s degree in a relevant field and around 3000 hours or two years of experience gained beyond their educational program.
Before you start working toward your mental health counseling degree, it’s important to understand the licensure requirements for the state you’ll be working in. You don’t want to put in all that time and effort, only to realize that you have unfulfilled requirements.
Check and recheck the requirements and create a plan for satisfying them so you can pursue your career.
Make a Difference in the World
Mental health counselors don’t have an easy job, but they do have an important one. Just about everyone struggles with their mental health at some point during their lives.
If you can help people feel better about themselves and coach them toward taking control of their lives, you’ll be doing something good in the world.
As you work toward your degree, let that motivate you so you can keep going when things get tough!