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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.

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Online Mental Health Counseling Education in Arkansas

The Arkansas Board of Examiners on Counseling 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 Arkansas. 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 gain licensure.

Mental health counselors in Arkansas need to earn at least a master’s degree to engage in private practice and conduct psychotherapy. The state board requires a certain number of graduate semester hours or quarter hours to qualify for licensure, as well as 3,000 client contact hours. 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 Arkansas 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.

Online 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 a career, though this isn’t enough to get you into a counseling or addiction counseling role. Addiction counselors need at least a bachelor’s degree and other counseling roles require at least a master’s degree. With an associate degree, you may be able to work as a psychiatric aide or technician, but you will not be able to perform psychotherapy with individual clients, work in private practice, or find roles as substance abuse counselors. However, these degrees can benefit you if you decide you wish to advance. An associate degree can help you choose whether or not to continue into a higher-level counseling degree and help you get on the right path to your chosen specialty early on, when it can make the most difference.

The coursework for your associate degree will provide a foundation for future learning. 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 resume your academic work in a bachelor’s program. 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.

Online Bachelor's Degree in Mental Health Counseling (BS)

bachelor’s in mental health counseling degree can certainly help you launch a successful career in addiction counseling, though you will not have access to other fields in Arkansas. You can begin with a position in addictions counseling or pursue a position as a psychiatric technician in order to gain some experience and insight into the field in general. You'll need three years of experience in the field to attain full certification as an addiction counselor, but this career is fulfilling and can certainly lead to great things. Later, if 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.

Online 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 an 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 Arkansas, you will need to complete a period of supervised practice under a licensed mental health counselor. LAC or LPC licensure typically requires the completion of a mental health counseling master's degree or doctoral (PhD) degree from an accredited university or college.

Online 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 Arkansas

If you want to become a mental health counselor in Arkansas, 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. You can also complete internships with psychiatric hospitals, mental health clinics, and more during your school years that can aid you in your career for years to come.

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 might solidify your decision to become a mental health counselor or decide that another field is for you. 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 Arkansas 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 Research and Evaluation, Professional Orientation, and a Practicum. 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, which is a period of supervised experience. In order to complete the total amount of supervised hours required to become a Licensed Professional Counselor in Arkansas, 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 working toward a PhD, for instance.

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 Arkansas State license to work as a mental health counselor.

Top College Programs in Arkansas for Mental Health Counseling

Many Arkansas’ schools offer students the opportunity to specialize in counseling, including mental health counseling through their bachelor’s or master’s degree programs. Some of the leading programs in the state can be seen below.

  • Arkansas Tech University:
    Arkansas Tech University is a mid-size to large, public school in Russellville, Arkansas with both bachelor’s and master’s psychology degrees and a focused program in school counseling. In 2021, 75 students graduated with a bachelor’s degree in psychology and 3 students earned master’s. Of the school counseling options, 65 degrees and certificates were awarded in the same year.
  • University of Central Arkansas:
    The University of Central Arkansas is a mid-size to large, public university located in Conway, Arkansas that awarded degrees in school counseling, community counseling, mental health counseling, addiction counseling, and counseling psychology in 2021. This university only offers a master’s degree in mental health counseling specifically but, as you can see, there are many other options in psychology and counseling offered.
  • Henderson State University:
    Henderson State University is a small public university situated in Arkadelphia, Arkansas with a modest-sized mental health counseling major that awarded 16 master’s degrees in 2021. The school does not offer any other certificates or degrees in this exact field, but they do have options in addiction counseling, psychology, and school counseling.
  • University of Arkansas:
    This huge, public university located in Fayetteville, Arkansas offers a robust psychology major that graduated over 200 graduates in 2021. However, there are also other options in rehabilitation counseling and school counseling. All of these majors can help you earn a position as a mental health counselor.

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 Arkansas 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, Arkansas counselors can expect to earn on average $50,270. The careers above may have slightly different educational requirements and average salary earning potential.

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