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What is a Mental Health Counselor?

California is an impressive state. Not only is it the largest economy in the United States, but its GDP rivals that of many small nation-states. It's home to some industries that hardly exist anywhere else, such as the film industry, and its Central Valley is a core part of the nation's food supply. Meanwhile, another Californian valley, Silicon Valley, is the leading hub of technological innovation, perhaps in the world.

A mental health counselor is a licensed healthcare professional who specializes in psychotherapy with clients who suffer from psychological difficulties. Clients often have emotional and behavioral problems that are causing them difficulty in their personal and professional lives. The mental health counselor helps them discover the root of these problems and then guides them through solutions.

Mental health counseling professionals hold a license from the state of California to practice individual therapy. Because of this, they can work as independent practitioners with individual clients. This independence is a draw for many counselors, who may convert a garage or spare room into a counseling office. There are also counselors who work in a collective practice that shares administrative costs. These days, there are counselors who use video conferencing software to conduct therapy sessions. Often, mental health counselors employ a variety of approaches in their practice, though their practice itself may be specialized. Many mental health counselors specialize in particular problems such as addiction, depression, or workplace burnout.

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Online Mental Health Counseling Education in California

When researchers look at the numbers, they find that California's top industry is real estate, producing over $500 billion in revenue that leads the nation. California's coastal cities are home to very high-value properties that only seem to increase in value. The number two industry in the Golden State is its professional and business services sector, which brings in just under $400 billion, making it #1 in the US. Manufacturing and information occupy the #3 and #4 spots, bringing in a combined sum in excess of $600 billion. The #5 position is held by California's social, educational, and healthcare industries, which lead the nation with over $200 billion in revenues.

Given that mental health is a big part of any healthcare system, the state's mental health counseling professionals are a vital part of what makes California so great. When Silicon Valley's tech geniuses encounter burnout or general stress, It’s mental health counseling professionals they seek to find therapy and solutions to their problems.

To ensure that the state's mental health counseling profession remains strong and growing, the state fully supports the mental health counseling degree programs that make it all possible. California's clinical psychology programs aim to recruit the best instructors from both inside and outside the academic realm to aid the best colleges in California. Thus, students are able to work with instructors who are practicing in the field as well as researchers who are at the vanguard of psychotherapeutic methods.

Online Associate Degree in Mental Health Counseling (AS)

Though California only offers the top-level counseling licenses to those with a master’s counseling degree, a two-year degree is a great start. In fact, California licenses qualifying professionals with an associate degree to work as addiction counselors. While still unable to conduct independent counseling with individuals, working in a drug rehab with this licensure level can be very enlightening.

An associate degree is a good idea for other reasons, as well. California's community colleges charge very little per credit hour, which makes a two-year community college degree a financially attractive option. Further, if students choose to use their degrees to work in an alcohol and drug rehabilitation center, they can gain insights into how psychological treatments work and make a more informed decision as to whether or not they should continue their quest to earn a master’s mental health counseling degree and work as a licensed California provider.

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

Much like an associate mental health counseling degree, a bachelor’s degree won't qualify the holder for a full counseling license. However, a bachelor’s degree in mental health counseling does qualify the holder to earn a CATC III license, which will enable them to work as an addiction counselor. This experience will not only prepare them for later work in mental health but may help them gain admission to their first choice of master’s mental health counseling program.

Bachelor’s degree students can also broaden their education with experiential learning. Many four-year degree programs in this field help students land internships so that they can see how their academic work applies in the working world. Internships can take many different forms and might be with any number of social services or mental healthcare organizations or agencies. Regardless of where a student chooses to conduct their internship, the experience will help them solidify their choice to become a counselor. It may even help them find a position in addiction counseling or to gain admission to their preferred graduate school.

Online Master's Degree in Mental Health Counseling (MS or MC)

Most students who are interested in working as counselors envision earning a master’s mental health counseling degree.California, and every other state, requires a master’s counseling degree for licensure to practice. Most students will earn a master’s clinical psychology degree, but others may earn a Master of Social Work and become licensed clinical social workers. Yet another option is a school counseling degree, which is aimed toward those who wish to work with primary and secondary school students.

With a master’s mental health counseling degree, professionals can also choose to enter private practice. Alternatively, they might choose to work in a clinic, such as a drug and alcohol rehabilitation center. They can also choose to specialize in certain populations such as children, adolescents, couples and families, or senior citizens. Other specialties can include certain disorders or individuals who have suffered specific sorts of problems, such as childhood or domestic abuse.

Online PhD Degree in Mental Health Counseling (PhD)

A PhD in counseling psychology represents the peak academic achievement in the profession. With a doctorate, counselors can call themselves psychologists. This title earns them heightened status in their profession and various other benefits. The chief benefit of this status is the ability to charge more per hour than those with a master’s counseling degree. Insurance companies value those with more training and pay accordingly.

A doctorate can open other opportunities for you, as well. The chief benefit of a PhD is a career in academia. Psychologists who have their PhD can land tenure track positions in California's colleges and universities. They might also find it easier to publish articles and books. In fact, those publications may help them complete their CEU requirements for license renewal. Another possible benefit that stems from a PhD and publications is the opportunity to conduct paid speaking engagements, including educational seminars.

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Become a Mental Health Counselor in California

Human behavior is an interesting topic for most everyone. Even the most scientific career can hinge on the ability to communicate with other humans, taking into consideration their particular psychological make-up. However, only a counseling professional works specifically in this area and has the knowledge and skills necessary to help people achieve a higher understanding of themselves and their fellows. Despite the popularity of human behavior as a subject of interest, only a few will do what's necessary to become a mental health counselor in California.

Once a student decides to become a counseling professional in California, they need to start making preparations. Those who are still in high school might start with reading magazines and websites that focus on psychology. These days, there are even high school courses that introduce psychology to students as an elective option. Third and fourth-year students may have the opportunity to take psychology courses at their local community college.

When high school graduation nears, students need to find the best college degree program for them. They might first determine what they want their counseling career to look like. Some may want to focus on kids in schools, and they can look for the best education program possible. Others might have more of a social justice view and might look for an undergraduate program that prepares them for social work. Many will seek the best psychology department for them.

Once in an undergraduate degree program, students should follow the curriculum prescribed by their department. They should also discuss the possibility of an internship. Their academic adviser can help them discover opportunities with local mental health clinics or social services agencies. While students will not be able to conduct one-on-one counseling, their internships can help them gain deeper insights into human behavior and the realities they might face as counselors.

Toward the end of their undergraduate studies, students should look for the best master’s counseling psychology degree program. After all, they must have a master’s degree to earn a license from the state of California. Each program is sure to have its own specific approach to counseling and psychology, but students in their fourth year of college should have a clear idea of which approach resonates best with them, and they can choose their degree program accordingly.

Careers for Mental Health Counseling Graduates

  • Psychiatric Aides:
    California licenses these assistants to work alongside psychiatrists and psychiatric nurses. Their duties are usually focused on the daily lives of psychiatric patients. Aides may distribute medications, monitor patient movements, and even restrain those who are suffering a disturbance. This work is typically exclusive to mental health hospitals or clinics.
  • Mental Health Counselor:
    To earn this title, professionals need to complete a master’s counseling degree and other state licensure requirements. The requirements include a protracted stint of supervised practice, a background check, and successful passage of a professional examination. Mental health counselors, once licensed, can work in private practice or in practice with other counselors.
  • Clinical Supervisor:
    These professionals must earn a special credential from the state of California. Once qualified, supervisors oversee other counseling professionals, most often in their pursuit of a counseling license. When not overseeing aspiring counselors, clinical supervisors may see patients of their own.
  • Social Worker (LCSW):
    Social workers with a Master of Social Work degree (MSW) are qualified to pursue state licensure. Licensed clinical social workers are able to conduct individual psychotherapeutic sessions with patients in their private practice. This work is identical to their peers who work with a Master of Clinical Psychology, but an LCSW can also easily work as a social worker for a state agency.
  • Certified Nurse Assistant (CNA):
    These healthcare professionals work to assist licensed practical and registered nurses. CNAs are entry-level nurses who must perform tasks such as changing bedpans, feeding patients, and transporting patients to appointments within a hospital. The requirements for a CNA credential are few, but this is a terrific way to enter the nursing profession.
  • Director of Outpatient Services:
    This is an administrative position that often does not require any particular degree or license. However, outpatient counselors in a drug and alcohol rehabilitation program are great candidates for this work. Counselors with strong administrative skills as well as experience in outpatient care may be particularly good candidates for this position.
  • Psychiatrist:
    These mental health professionals are actually medical doctors who have chosen to complete a psychiatric residency as the capstone of their training. Psychiatrists can work in their own private practice or as part of a hospital system. Their patient interactions typically involve evaluating blood levels to determine how to best medicate them. They also counsel patients to determine the efficacy of those medications.
  • Marriage and Family Therapist:
    These mental health counseling professionals are licensed by the state to work as independent counseling professionals. Some work with general counseling licenses and degrees, but others pursue specific credentials to work with couples and their families. These mental health professionals typically work in private practice, though some also work in conjunction with a mental health clinic, including a drug and alcohol rehabilitation facility.
  • Psychologist:
    This is a distinctive title given to counseling professionals who have earned a PhD. Psychologists conduct individual or group therapy that employs various psychotherapeutic methods. When a professional earns this title, they are able to charge their clients' insurance more than those who work with a master’s level credential. Psychologists are also better able to land teaching positions, including tenure-track professorships, with California colleges and universities.

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