Career as a Mental Health Counselor

Advice and Resources for Mental Health Counselors

It comes as no surprise that professionals whose careers focus so much on fostering good choices would give excellent advice.

It also comes as no surprise that their advice can be as individual as their experiences, personalities, and the clients they serve. Here, we’ll share some words of wisdom from the counselors whose contributions shaped this five-part career profile series. We’ll also share some helpful online resources and a calendar. If you see something we’ve missed, or have ideas on how to make our guide more useful and complete, please click through to contribute.

Advice for Aspiring Mental Health Counselors

Of working professionals, ValuePenguin asked, "What would you tell someone who is considering joining your field?" Here are their answers.

Monique Prince MSW Make sure you know that it doesn't pay as much as other careers, considering the investment in money and time. It is hard to support yourself solo if you live in areas with a high cost of living.
La Shawn M. Paul LCSW-R, ACSW

Get to know yourself. Through this process, you can figure out if the career is something that you are willing and capable of taking on. This career is fulfilling and challenging. If you have difficulty with self care, you have to learn to work on yourself before you can help others.

Melanie Wells

MS

LPC, LMFT

Don’t rely on insurance companies to help you make a good living. Insurance companies pay clinicians less to work more. An insurance-based practice dooms the clinician to too many hours of clinical time and leaves them financially dependent on a system that is designed to deprive them of the full value of their services. This is an essential flaw in our healthcare system, I believe. 

Eric Strom PhD, MA, JD

Resist external limitations on where you can take your career. Always stay open to a new career trajectory. For example, I have been fortunate enough to be able to pursue a very unique career path that combines my years of experience as an attorney and as a licensed mental health counselor. My current career is focused on the intersection of clinical and ethical aspects of counseling practice.

Bart Rossi PhD, MA Think hard about a doctorate in psychology and then being licensed. It is beyond five years past your BA. Long and arduous. But what is learned is far beyond counseling in general.  
Stacy Haynes

Ed.D

LPC, ACS

Make sure to really review your programs versus license to practice in your state. Many programs meet educational requirements but not state license requirements.
Luis Maimoni MFT Intern

Choose it because you love it, not because you'll get rich.  Know up front that counseling isn't telling someone what to do. It's joining with them and supporting them so that they can figure it out for themselves.

Nicki Nance

PhD

LMHC

Find out what counseling really is. It isn’t just listening, just talking, just common sense or advice giving.

Talk to as many counselors in as many settings as you can. Counseling is a broad field that includes specialties, such as crisis counseling, substance abuse counseling, vocational counseling, grief counseling, life coaching and dozens of other niche markets.

Larry Shushansky MA

Get as much education as possible. This will expand your options in terms of how and where you practice.

Get a good and realistic mentor to guide you along. Do not be afraid of supervision or putting in your time in some challenging situations, especially when learning and beginning your career.

Be open to learn about yourself: your strengths, weaknesses and what you need to develop to grow into becoming the clinician you want to be.

Orly Katz PCLC, RN, IBCLC Learn from the experts. Interview some counselors from different schools, different ages, some that are on their second or third career; shadow them, or intern. Look up salaries, look up specialties.
Tammy Tkachuk MA Be prepared for the mental toll that it can take on you, and as a result, be sure to work on your own work-life balance.
Duane K. L. France MA The best advice that I can give, which was given to me by my mentors as I was searching for my path, is to evaluate the various programs available and ensure that you pursue a CACREP accredited program. For mental health counselors, a CACREP program is emerging as the national standard for educational programs. As one of my mentors told me, “if I had an applicant who had a master’s degree from a CACREP program, and an applicant who had a PhD or PsyD from an unaccredited program, I would hire the one with the master’s degree."
Suzanne Walker

MS

LPC

Go to an accredited school -- CACREP is the accrediting body for counseling and rehab education -- because not all counseling programs right now at the graduate level are accredited. So that would make a big difference… Do your homework well and learn about what we call evidence-based practices… Make sure, if you have issues that you need to work on, that you work on them first. Everybody’s got issues, one way or the other, but you can’t fix yourself through somebody else; you’ve got to do your work first.
A. Keith Mobley

PhD, MEd, BS

NCC, LPCS, ACS

Information-seeking, not only on world of work, but the range of possibilities within clinical mental health counseling practice. It can go well beyond the practitioner level, and there are all sorts of opportunities to grow. I think that information-seeking is an essential behavior for us within the profession. So I would really encourage to do that on the front end, and make sure that not only are you effective at seeking information and understanding it, but that that is something you feel comfortable with. Every client is unique; every setting is unique. Contextualizing information is just critical to our work.

Your Turn

Staying up to date on your profession is an important task when looking for a job. And while ValuePenguin is your definitive source for everything counselors-related, even we can't stay current on every news happening within the world. Here is our own curated Twitter feed.

Let us know how else we can be of assistance by using the #CounselorQA hashtag on Twitter. If we don't know the answer to your question, we'll ask one of our experts.


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