How to Become a Licensed Mental Health Counselor

Some mental health counselors specialize in working with children.

Some mental health counselors specialize in working with children.

Nearly one in four American adults will suffer a mental health disorder in any given year, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness. Almost everyone has had experience with a friend or a family member dealing with a mental health issue. Mental health counselors help people come to terms with depression or other emotional and mental health problems. Counselors or therapists typically have an academic background in psychology and therapy, including at least a master's degree, and you must be licensed by your state to practice as a counselor.

Earn a bachelor's degree in psychology, social work or a related field. You need an undergraduate degree to be admitted to a master's program in counseling or family therapy.

Complete your master's degree program. Master's programs in counseling typically require 60 credit hours and cover subjects including child and adolescent counseling, marriage and family therapy, group counseling, drug and alcohol abuse therapy, assessment techniques, and career development and planning.

Undertake a clinical internship or volunteer in a supervised therapy practice setting for 2,000 to 4,000 hours as required by your state to qualify to take the exam for LPC or LMHC licensure. Many students undertake internships at domestic shelters, nursing homes and hospitals, where they get experience working with licensed professional counselors.

Take and pass the licensing exam in your state in order to become a licensed professional counselor (LPC) or licensed mental health counselor (LMHC). When you are licensed you can offer individual or group counseling without supervision.


  • Take advantage of your internship not only as an opportunity to learn the ropes of counseling in different settings, but also as a chance to observe how a range of mental health professionals approach their practices.

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About the Author

Clayton Browne has been writing professionally since 1994. He has written and edited everything from science fiction to semiconductor patents to dissertations in linguistics, having worked for Holt, Rinehart & Winston, Steck-Vaughn and The Psychological Corp. Browne has a Master of Science in linguistic anthropology from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

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