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4 Careers in Clinical Mental Health Counseling

Due to the expected increase in people who have access to health insurance, clinical mental health counseling should advance considerably. For example, employment of mental health counselors and marriage and family therapists is projected to grow 19 percent by 2024, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. This figure is nearly three times the average for all occupations.

Here are four careers that professionals in clinical mental health counseling can pursue.

1.     Mental Health Counselor

A mental health counselor helps individuals, families, couples and groups with a variety of mental and emotional issues, which can range from life events such as relationship problems and death of loved ones to serious mental illnesses like bipolar disorder.

Cognitive behavioral therapy and other techniques are used by a mental health counselor to help clients manage and overcome a disorder or problem. Some mental health counselors specialize and work with a certain population, such as adolescents or the elderly. As a part of a health care team, a mental health counselor often works with doctors, nurse specialists, psychologists and social workers.

A master’s degree in clinical mental health counseling or a related field is typically required for employment. All states require licensure, which involves 2,000 to 4,000 hours of post-degree supervised clinical experience.

2.     Marriage and Family Therapist

A marriage and family therapist shares many job responsibilities with a mental health counselor. In fact, the similarities are so close that the Bureau of Labor Statistics groups the two professions together.

Like a mental health counselor, a marriage and family therapist helps individuals, couples and families face a wide range of disorders and problems. The difference is that the marriage and family therapist brings a family-centered perspective to treatment, even when treating individuals. A focus is on family roles and development and understanding how clients’ families impact their mental health.

A master’s degree in marriage and family therapy or a related field is typically required for employment. Two additional years of supervised experience is normally required for licensure, but the exact amount varies by state.

3.     Substance Abuse and Behavioral Disorder Counselor

A substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselor helps people dealing with drug addiction, alcoholism, eating disorders and other behavioral problems. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that jobs for substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors will increase 22 percent by 2024.

A substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselor provides treatment and therapy options to clients. Clients receive assistance developing the skills and behaviors they need to modify their behavior and recover from the addiction. Also, clients receive help integrating back into areas of their lives most affected by their addiction or behavioral disorder, such as work and personal relationships. A substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselor also provides outreach programs in the community to help avoid such behavior.

Education requirements depend on the employer, but most positions require a bachelor’s degree. Licensure is required for substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors in private practice, consisting of 2,000 to 4,000 hours of supervised clinical experience.

4.     Behavior Analyst

A behavior analyst provides expertise in the analysis of behavioral problems. A primary role in this field is assessing a client’s behaviors and developing a plan to help alleviate problem behaviors.

Often, a behavior analyst will work as a consultant to agencies in order to increase clients’ independence and improve their access to the community. Through interviews with clients’ parents, teachers and other caregivers, along with knowledge of how best to motivate each client, the behavior analyst is able to tackle complex problems. Many behavior analysts specialize in an area such as autism, developmental disabilities or geriatrics.

For employment, at least a master’s degree is required, in fields such as behavior analysis, psychology, special education, rehabilitation or social work. Certification is often required.


Grace College offers a CACREP-accredited online Master of Arts in Clinical Mental Health Counseling. The program includes a seven- to 10-day residency on campus.

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