What is a Mental Health Counselor?
Mental health counselors are professionals who work with clients to help solve personal matters related to mental health. Counselors as a whole address a wide variety of mental health issues including severe disorders like schizophrenia, narcissism, and substance use disorder. They may also work with families and couples to help heal problems in those relationships.
Mental health counselors usually need to hold state licensure to practice psychotherapy. However, there are non-licensed professionals who offer advice and assistance in a manner similar to their licensed mental health peers. There are a variety of licenses and degrees for mental health professionals to pursue. Additionally, these counselors can add other credentials in the form of certifications to prove their expertise in specific specialty areas.
The decision to pursue a career in counseling is a very noble one. Counselors help people overcome traumas, addictions, and mental health problems. To become a counselor however, every professional must first complete graduate school and satisfy their state's licensing board's requirements. Though there are many similarities, every state has its own set of criteria for licensed counselors.
The Alabama state board has similar requirements to many other states. However, it's of vital importance to review their rules so that you meet their standards and get to work as soon as possible. We have also included here information on some of the very best, accredited mental health counseling programs in Alabama. Each is staffed by top faculty and the curricula are all designed to prepare you for the state board's application. All you have to do is study hard, pass your exam, and be the best counselor in Alabama.
Mental Health Counseling Education in Alabama
Mental health counselors in Alabama need to earn at least a master’s degree to engage in private practice and conduct psychotherapy. The state board requires a minimum of 48 graduate semester hours or 72 graduate quarter hours to qualify for licensure. Students should confirm that their programs are accredited by either the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP) or the Commission on Rehabilitation and Education (CORE.) The Alabama Board of Examiners in Counseling will only accept degrees from schools with these credentials.
Your coursework should include topics such as Counseling Theory, Human Growth and Development, Group Dynamics, and Appraisal of Individuals, among others. You’ll also need to complete an internship that spans at least 600 work hours. Of those 600 hours, the Alabama Board of Examiners in Counseling requires that 240 be comprised of direct service work with clients. At least 3.5 hours per week during the internship should be supervised by an already licensed mental health counselor.
Associate Degree in Mental Health Counseling (AS)
With a two-year associate degree in counseling, whether focused on a specialty like addictions counseling or not, you can launch your counseling career. A degree from a community college will qualify you to work as an addiction recovery support specialist. You may not be able to perform psychotherapy with individual clients and you won't be able to work in private practice, but this experience will not only help loads of people suffering with substance use disorder but it will benefit you if you decide you wish to advance.
The coursework for your associate degree will provide a foundation for future learning, too. Most two-year mental health counseling degrees cover the core curriculum required for a bachelor’s degree. Thus, you can study for two-years on a full-time basis and then practice in your field until you're ready to resume your academic work. When you resume your college coursework, you'll be able to focus clearly on psychology and counseling and you'll have a clear idea of any specialties you'd like to pursue.
Bachelor's Degree in Mental Health Counseling (BS)
A bachelor’s in mental health counseling degree can certainly help you launch a successful career in counseling. You can begin with a position in addictions counseling or you might pursue a position as a psychiatric technician. You'll need three years of experience in the field to attain full certification, but this career is fulfilling and can certainly lead to great things. Later, when you decide to complete a graduate degree, you'll have a lot of insight into the field. In fact, psychiatric technicians work directly with people who suffer with mental disorders and help them move forward in their treatment.
Master's Degree in Mental Health Counseling (MS or MC)
With an MA in Mental Health Counseling, you can attain full state licensure and conduct therapy in private practice. You can also earn a MA in school counseling if you would prefer to work in schools to help students deal with issues disrupting their childhood and adolescence. To earn full licensure in Alabama, you will need to complete a period of supervised practice under a licensed mental health counselor (LMHC). LPC licensure typically requires the completion of a master's degree or doctoral (PhD) degree in counseling from an accredited university or college.
PhD Degree in Mental Health Counseling (PhD)
With a doctoral degree, you can pursue your career in a few ways. You could remain in private practice where your doctoral degree will make you an expert able to earn a high salary. You might also be able to take a top administrative position in a mental healthcare facility such as a drug rehab or a psychiatric hospital. Another option is to pursue psychological research. Some work in the sub-field of educational research or you could conduct psychological research. Furthermore, a PhD will allow you to teach at the university level if you choose. You could even teach part-time and still conduct therapy in private practice.
Become a Mental Health Counselor in Alabama
If you want to become a mental health counselor in Alabama, you'll need to start with a college degree. Whether your first degree is an associate or a bachelor’s degree in psychology, you should try to take as many counseling courses as possible. Barring that, you can complete internships with psychiatric hospitals, mental health clinics, and more.
It can work to your advantage to take your education in stages. You can seek out experience in the field as an undergraduate student before you seek out a full-time job in the field upon graduation. You could pursue a position as a psychiatric technician or as a social worker. When you are able to gain experience in social services you will solidify your decision to become a mental health counselor. After all, this is a very demanding career and it's vital to fully understand it before you take the plunge into a master’s degree.
When you do apply to graduate school for counseling psychology, you will first want to ensure that your program is accredited by either the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP) or the Commission on Rehabilitation and Education (CORE). The Alabama Board of Examiners in Counseling requires that all degrees come from schools that meet their standards. The Board will also need to review your transcripts to ensure that you have not only graduated, but that your academic career covered certain, required bases. In particular, your degree should cover topics such as Lifestyle and Career Development, Research and Evaluation, Professional Orientation, a Practicum, and an Internship. You will also have to pass the National Counselor Examination for Licensure and Certification (NCE).
Upon graduation, you will need to satisfy the Board's final requirement that involves a period of supervised experience. In order to complete the total amount of supervised hours required to become a Licensed Professional Counselor in Alabama, you will need to document up to 3,000 hours with at least 2,250 of those hours in the conduct of counseling services. However, you can reduce this time by taking additional courses. You might start work towards a PhD, for instance. The board will reduce your hours by 1,000 hours for 15 graduate-level coursework. However, you can only reduce the load by 2,000 hours.
Once you have completed your supervised hours, your graduate degree, and satisfied other requirements such as a background check, references, examinations, and fingerprinting, you can receive your Alabama State license to work as a mental health counselor.
Top College Programs in Alabama for Mental Health Counseling
- University of Alabama:
The University of Alabama is fully accredited by the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP). Their program is among the best in the state and students are all well-prepared for life as a counselor upon graduation. To apply, make sure your undergraduate GPA is 3.0 or better and that you have at least a 300 on the Graduate Record Examination (GRE).
- Faulkner University:
Students in Faulkner University's Clinical Mental Health Counseling program take courses that cover topics such as Diagnosis, Substance Abuse Counseling, Crisis Intervention, and Group Counseling, among others. Faulkner's literature also indicates an emphasis on spirituality in the counseling process. Faulkner offers a Master of Science in Clinical Mental Health Counseling that prepares students for success achieving their Alabama state licensure.
- South University, Montgomery:
SU's Clinical Mental Health Counseling program is fully accredited by the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP). South University, Montgomery's Counseling program is tailored to prepare students for their Alabama state license.
- University of Alabama at Birmingham:
UAB has three tracks for counseling students to choose from: Clinical Mental Health Counseling; Marriage, Couples, and Family Counseling; and School Counseling. You can also return to graduate school to complete a graduate certificate in either Clinical Mental Health Counseling or Marriage, Couples, and Family Counseling.
- Auburn University:
If you have a bachelor’s degree in a field such as: psychology, counseling, education, social work, or criminal justice, you should consider applying to Auburn University's Clinical Mental Health Counseling graduate program. AU's counseling program is part of the school of education, so graduates will earn an MEd that will lead to Alabama state licensure.
Careers for Mental Health Counseling Graduates
- College Counselor:
If you love helping young adults navigate their way through this crucial part of their development, you should consider becoming a school counselor or college counselor. While you are sure to help students cope with their romantic lives and other vagaries of college life, you may also help them with possible substance abuse issues, scholastic performance, and the struggles that come with entering adulthood.
- Pastoral Counselor:
You don't need any specific license to practice as a pastoral counselor, but you will surely be better able to help your parishioners if you at least have a certification. The primary requirement for certification as a pastoral counselor is a divinity degree, which should include some academic training in counseling.
- Residential Counselor:
This position is more akin to a social worker, but it can certainly involve working with mental health issues. Residential counselors work with people who are living in group homes. This can include a halfway house for recovering alcohol addicts, homes for developmentally delayed people, and even nursing home environments.
- Mental Health Counselor:
When you become a licensed mental health counselor, you can work in private practice, through a mental hospital, or in a group practice of your own making. To fulfill the Alabama state Board's requirements, you will need a master’s degree and significant experience in the field.
- Military Counselor:
This form of counseling aims specifically at the issue faced by active and former soldiers. You might work with a lot of infantrymen and women who are recovering from their time in combat. Military counselors also help their clients deal with many issues faced by their civilian peers, though within the context of military life.
- Behavioral Therapist:
Where most psychotherapists focus on deep psychological issues that may be thought to stem back to childhood or some traumatic event, a behavioral therapist seeks to correct behaviors themselves. You might help people break bad habits such as smoking and other substance abuse. Behavioral therapists also help people overcome depression, anxiety, phobias, and more.
- Career Salaries:
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Alabama counselors can expect to earn on average $50,270. The careers above may have slightly different educational requirements and average salary earning potential.