How to Become a Mental Health Counselor

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You have an affinity for connecting with people. You empathize with their problems. You want to make a positive difference in their lives by helping them navigate life’s difficult transitions and challenges.

If you recognize these qualities in yourself, you may want to consider how to become a mental health counselor. Counseling professionals use their education and training to guide their clients through challenging periods in their lives and help them work through mental health issues. They provide therapeutic interventions for depression, anxiety, school problems, marital discord, trauma, loss of a loved one, workplace issues, and other life stressors.

The Master’s Degree in Counseling 

Becoming a mental health counselor requires a master’s degree in mental health counseling. To be accepted to the program, students should have a bachelor’s degree with the grades specified by the school they wish to attend. Many institutions also require that prospective students take the Graduate Record Examination (GRE).

The master’s degree program in counseling incorporates clinical instruction, lectures, and practical experience. Students learn how to identify issues that can negatively impact their clients. They gain competencies in developing safe and ethical interventions that employ many of the advanced tenets of consultation and counseling theory.

Internships and practical training allow them to gain skills while under the supervision of professional counselors. The master’s in counseling also prepares students for state licensure and professional certifications.

Accreditation of Master’s in Counseling Programs

The Council for Accreditation in Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP) is the accrediting agency for master’s degrees in counseling. Curriculum requirements by CACREP include professional counseling orientation and ethical practice, social and cultural diversity, human growth and development, career development, counseling and helping relationships, group counseling and group work, assessment and testing, and research and program evaluation. 

The Demand for Mental Health Counselors

With increasing awareness of the importance of mental health in the overall health and well-being of individuals, there is a rapidly growing demand for mental health counselors in a variety of settings. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, an uptick in the number of mental health jobs that began in 2016 is projected to continue through 2026, resulting in a 23 percent increase in the positions available in the counseling field. Many of these jobs are in specialized fields, such as family counseling, substance abuse counseling, stress management, career counseling, and marriage counseling.

Graduates of mental health counseling programs find opportunities to launch and advance their careers as psychotherapists, substance abuse counselors, career counselors, program directors, human resources professionals, and employee assistance managers.

Job settings include:

  • Mental health clinics
  • Social service agencies
  • Hospitals
  • Private practices
  • Schools and universities
  • Correctional facilities
  • Research institutions
  • Career services

Advancing in the Mental Health Counseling Field

Like many other professions, obtaining state licenses and certifications from professional organizations are often an important part of how to become a mental health counselor.


State licenses give permission to a qualified individual to identify as a mental health counselor and to practice counseling. Rules and licensing requirements vary by state.  Typically, they include a master’s degree from an accredited institution, a certain number of hours of supervision and counseling experience, and passing scores on the required exams.


A counseling certificate is a credential that signals to employers and clients that the counselor has met the national standards of the counseling profession. Requirements include a master’s degree in counseling from an accredited program, a stipulated number of hours of supervision and counseling experience, and passing scores on the required exams.

The National Board for Certified Counselors (NBCC) awards the following certifications:

  • National Certified Counselor (NCC)
  • Certified Clinical Mental Health Counselor (CCMHC)
  • National School Certified Counselor (NSCC) 

Take the First Step to Become a Mental Health Counselor

When considering how to become a mental health counselor, it’s important to know that a master’s degree in mental health counseling prepares graduates for possible jobs in the mental healthcare field. With your assistance, your clients might successfully navigate life’s challenges and difficult transitions, and reach their fullest potential.

Begin your journey by enrolling in the online Master’s in Counseling at Wake Forest University, a program that melds comprehensive curriculum, high-quality classroom instruction by experienced professionals, and practical training that allows students to gain real-world experience under supervision.

When you graduate from our online master’s in counseling program, you will be equipped with the knowledge and skills for fulfilling careers in clinical mental health and school counseling. The program also prepares you for certification and licensure. Our graduates often excel as community leaders, advocates, and practitioners who model compassionate service to humanity and foster the well-being of society.

Learn More

If you’re interested in making a difference in others’ lives, you are concerned for others’ wellbeing and you value relationships, a career in mental health counseling might be a good fit for you. Wake Forest University has developed an online Master of Arts in Counseling program with a specialization in mental health that’s designed for students who want to work full time while they earn their master’s degree. The flexible online platform helps students balance their academic studies with their busy lives. The program’s academic rigor and its 98 percent student pass rate on the National Counselor exam have earned Wake Forest University’s master’s of counseling program a reputation for excellence.

Recommended Reading
What Is the Difference Between a Counselor and a Psychologist?

What Is the Difference Between a Counselor and a Therapist?

Counseling vs. Psychotherapy: Choosing the Right Path


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Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs