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What is a Mental Health Counselor?
Are you interested in earning a mental health counseling degree in Florida? This major is particularly appropriate for prospective students who wish to help people work through and overcome various emotional and behavioral disorders. Graduates at every level tend to qualify for a wide variety of engaging and impactful career opportunities in the state.
It’s worth noting that not all colleges and universities offer degrees in clinical mental health counseling specifically. Prospective students may find general counseling programs more readily available, especially at the undergraduate levels. Depending on the intended profession, however, other related subjects may be acceptable.
Mental health counselors use their training, knowledge, and problem-solving skills to help people manage various mental health issues. They are not psychologists or psychiatrists, although they do often engage in psychotherapy and can offer psychological treatment services to patients. Most are capable of treating patients of all ages and demographics, although some do choose to specialize in working with children, adolescents, the elderly, disabled individuals, or military personnel. These counselors are generally licensed to provide services to single persons, couples, families, and/or groups.
They regularly diagnose and treat emotional and behavioral issues such as:
- Mood Disorders
- Personality Disorders
- Obsessive Compulsive Disorder
- Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
- Eating Disorders
- Behavioral Addictions
It’s important to realize that responsibilities can vary from job to job. In most cases, however, counselors are expected to perform client evaluations, treatment readiness assessments, and treatment plan management. Depending on the situation, they may help patients process complicated emotions and behavioral patterns or offer recovery guidance using various therapeutic practices. Some cases may also require referrals to support groups, out-patient clinics, or healthcare providers.
Notably, this field is not for everyone. Becoming a mental health counselor can be extremely rewarding, but the work is also often stressful and/or emotionally draining. Most positions require large workloads management and irregular hours, especially when assigned to on-call emergency duty rotations. Many companies and organizations hire clinical mental health counseling professionals, but they are most commonly found working in outpatient mental health facilities, individual and family service centers, hospitals, and residential mental health and substance abuse homes.
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Online Mental Health Counseling Education in Florida
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), employment of substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors is expected to increase by 22% from 2021 to 2031. This is much faster than the average for all occupations and will result in an additional 43,600 new job openings throughout the nation each year. While most employment opportunities in the field are expected to result from the need to replace workers changing careers or exiting the labor force, demand is also likely to increase as states seek treatment and counseling services rather than jail time for people with mental health concerns.
The educational services, healthcare, and social assistance industry is the third largest in Florida. It accounts for $100 billion in revenue each year. As of May 2021, the state employed 13,030 of these professionals with an annual mean wage of $50,010. Graduates may also qualify for work in many community and social service occupation. Employment for these jobs is projected to grow less, but opportunities may be more readily available. As of May 2021, Florida was home to 105,990 workers in this field, with an annual mean wage of $49,000. Notably, the state’s annual mean wage for all occupations in 2021 was $51,950.
With virtual learning options becoming more common, some prospective students may be interested in an online mental health counseling program. While these do exist, the field is not as well-suited to this format as some others. This is because hands-on training and practicums are often required components of the curriculum. As a result, there tend to be far more hybrid programs available, which consist of primarily online coursework but incorporate periodic sessions on campus.
Many colleges and universities in Florida offer programs in clinical mental health counseling and other related subjects. Ideally, those who intend to work in the state should give preference to these institutions. These local schools generally have a better understanding of licensure and certification counselor education requirements for counselors in the region, with many incorporating various elements of the credentialing process into their curriculums. While it is possible to meet licensing expectations after earning a degree from another state, it can make the procedure more complicated.
Students interested in becoming licensed mental health counselors in Florida can find plenty of counselor education options all over the state before finding roles for professional counselors in family counseling centers, in school counseling, rehabilitation counseling, career counseling, substance abuse counseling, and more.
All licensed and certified counselors in Florida require higher education. While there may be some community and social service occupations available to individuals without academic degrees, opportunities like these are relatively rare. Most potential employers in the state expect some level of formal academic instruction. Fortunately, Florida is home to many colleges and universities offering counseling-related degrees. Those interested in the field should have little difficulty finding relevant options at the associate, bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral levels.
Online Associate Degree in Mental Health Counseling (AS)
Few academic institutions offer associate degree programs in mental health counseling, as this level of higher education is insufficient to meet minimum licensure and certification requirements. Prospective students determined to enroll in associate programs typically designate less specialized majors such as counseling, mental health, human services, behavioral science, social science, or psychology.
Generally, associate degrees consist of 60 credit hours of coursework that take full-time students approximately two years to complete. These are undergraduate programs, which mean they typically incorporate both general liberal arts and major-specific classes. Curriculums will vary based on the subject area selected, but most students can expect to gain a basic introduction to their field of choice, as well as a strong academic foundation for future learning.
This type of degree is ideal for those who want to obtain the minimum knowledge and skills needed to pursue entry-level employment in community and social service occupations. As previously mentioned, however, it does not satisfy Florida’s requirements to pursue clinical mental health counseling licensure and certification.
Graduates can also choose to continue their education by enrolling in bachelor’s degree programs. Many colleges and universities will accept undergraduate class credits earned at other accredited academic institutions, applying them towards new programs. In many cases, those with associate degrees only require two additional years of education before graduating with more advanced degrees.
Online Bachelor's Degree in Mental Health Counseling (BS)
There are still relatively few mental health counseling degree programs available at this level. As a result, students often select related majors such as counseling, mental health, human services, behavioral science, social science, or psychology.
In general, bachelor’s degrees consist of 120 credit hours of coursework that take full-time students approximately four years to complete. These are also undergraduate programs, incorporating both general liberal arts and major-specific classes. Curriculums will vary based on the subject area selected, but those enrolled can typically expect to develop basic academic skills and knowledge in addition to learning about behavioral health and various counseling theories and concepts.
This type of degree is ideal for individuals who plan to employment in various community and social service occupations. Notably, however, it does not satisfy Florida’s requirements to pursue clinical mental health counseling licensure and certification.
Graduates seeking licensure and certification will need to pursue further education by enrolling in related master’s degree programs. Prospective students should be prepared to meet minimum grade point average (GPA) and Graduate Record Examinations (GRE) score requirements set by gaining institutions.
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Online Master's Degree in Mental Health Counseling (MS)
A master’s mental health counseling program generally ranges from 30 to 45 credit hours of coursework that take full-time students approximately two to three years to complete. Curriculums vary, but most cover concepts related to lifespan development, attachment theory, group dynamics, interviewing techniques, counseling theories, diagnostic practices, and ethics. Those enrolled can also expect to complete supervised counseling experiences, which allow for hands-on learning and practice.
This type of degree meets the minimum education requirements for clinical mental health counseling licensure and certification in Florida. Graduates are generally qualified to begin the credentialing process, although additional supervised counseling experiences may be necessary prior to practicing without supervision.
Prospective students should realize the accreditation status of the clinical mental health counseling program is important. Starting in 2025, only degrees accredited by the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP), the Masters in Psychology and Counseling Accreditation Council (MPCAC), or an equivalent body will meet licensure and certification requirements for counselor education in Florida.
Online PhD Degree in Mental Health Counseling (PhD)
A PhD or doctorate in clinical mental health counseling may consist of between 60 and 120 credit hours that can take full-time students up to seven years to complete. While every program is different, most provide highly advanced instruction in specialized topics. Those enrolled can also expect to learn about qualitative and quantitative research, which will be helpful when preparing dissertations prior to graduation.
This type of degree exceeds the counselor education minimum requirements needed to meet licensure and certification minimums in Florida. Doctoral programs can, however, be useful for individuals interested in continuing to work with patients in clinical settings. Alternatively, graduates are generally qualified to teach and/or mentor students in higher education.
Become a Mental Health Counselor in Florida
While counselors require licensure in Florida, not all graduates seek this type of employment. The state offers many other employment opportunities for individuals with expertise in this field. As such, the first step to becoming a clinical mental health counseling professional is determining your ultimate career goals. Identifying your preferred occupation will make it easier to determine the level of education necessary to meet minimum requirements for credentialing, if necessary. You should also be able to identify which elective courses, minor areas of study, concentrations, and/or internship opportunities will be most appropriate if you do not intend to seek licensure.
The Board of Clinical Social Work, Marriage & Family Therapy, and Mental Health Counseling oversee the licensing and registration process for those seeking to practice in Florida.
The board issues the following credentials:
- Registered Mental Health Counselor Intern
- Licensed Mental Health Counselor
- Registered Clinical Social Worker Intern
- Licensed Clinical Social Worker
- Certified Master Social Worker
- Registered Marriage & Family Therapist Intern
- Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist
- Dual Licensure as a Marriage and Family Therapist
- Out-of-State Telehealth Provider Registration
- Qualified Supervisor
- Limited Licensure
The Registered Mental Health Counselor Intern license is for individuals earning two years of supervised post-master’s experience. Counselor education requirements include official transcripts for a minimum of an earned master’s degree in clinical mental health counseling or a closely related field consisting of at least 60 semester hours. Starting in 2025, only degrees accredited by the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP), the Masters in Psychology and Counseling Accreditation Council (MPCAC), or an equivalent body will be satisfactory. Applicants must also obtain a letter from a Board-approved Qualified Supervisor confirming agreement to provide supervision for the duration of the internship.
The Licensed Mental Health Counselor credential is for individuals who have completed their post master’s experience or who have held an independent license to practice in another state. Requirements include official transcripts for a minimum of an earned master’s degree in clinical mental health counseling or a closely related field consisting of at least 60 semester hours with the same accreditation restrictions as mentioned above. Applicants must also have completed two years of post-master’s supervised experience under the supervision of a Board-approved qualified supervisor. These hours must be documented on the Verification of Clinical Experience Form by the supervisor. In total, applicants need at least 100 hours of supervision in no less than 100 weeks, 1,500 hours of face-to-face psychotherapy with clients, and one hour of supervision every two weeks. Additionally, those seeking licensure need passing scores on the National Clinical Health Counseling Examination (NCMHCE), which was developed by the National Board for Certified Counselors (NBCC). Additionally, the state requires candidates to complete an eight-hour Florida laws and rules course, three-hour HIV/AIDS course, and two-hour domestic violence course. All courses must be from a board-approved provider listed on CE Broker.
Notably, as a Registered Mental Health Counselor Intern applying for full licensure, less documentation is required. These candidates only need proof of their supervised experience, passing scores on the NCMHCE, and the three relevant courses offered by a board-approved provider on the CE Broker list. Endorsement applicants may be exempt from taking the NCMHCE if it was passed prior to 2000, but will need to have their original licensing agency complete the Florida Certification/License Verification Form.
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Careers for Mental Health Counseling Graduates
- Clinical Psychologist
Clinical psychologists work with patients experiencing psychological issues resulting from mental conditions, environmental impacts, and personal circumstances. They generally evaluate, diagnose, and treat various conditions, but most commonly assist individuals suffering from depression, anxiety, and/or various behavioral problems. These professionals often consider each case carefully in order to determine the best possible care plan. According to PayScale, clinical psychologists make an average base salary of $83,550 per year.
- Counseling Psychologist
Counseling psychologists work to improve the mental, behavioral, or emotional health of their patients, often by using various psychological techniques. These professionals often provide care and treatment intended to help people better deal with depression, anxiety, and interpersonal conflicts. They frequently perform risk assessments, implement therapy plans, evaluate outcomes, and maintain accurate records. According to PayScale, counseling psychologists make an average base salary of $60,550 per year.
- Direct Support Professional
Direct support professionals are generally responsible for helping people with disabilities. While they tend to perform a wide variety of tasks, some of the most common duties include maintaining updated patient records, administering medications, fostering community integration, and supporting social skills development. In some cases, these professionals may also provide assistance with daily activities such as personal care, transportation, and household chores. According to PayScale, direct support professionals make an average base salary of $34,900 per year.
- Forensic Psychologist
Forensic psychologists provide patient assessments and recommendations for courts, prisons, and mental hospitals. These professionals frequently assist during legal proceedings by evaluating the mental competency of criminals on trial, providing mental health diagnoses when appropriate. In some cases, they may use their understanding of criminal theory to establish helpful profiles for law enforcement. Additionally, it is not uncommon for them to recommend sentence lengths for those found guilty of crimes. According to PayScale, forensic psychologists make an average base salary of $73,200 per year.
- Organizational Psychologist
Organizational psychologists help companies and organizations determine potential training needs by administering various rating scales and psychological assessments to employees. These professionals use assessments and best practice to ensure managers maintain well organized work environments that improve morale and productivity. In some cases, they may also take responsibility for staff selection, placement, education, and performance programs. According to PayScale, organizational psychologists make an average base salary of $89,000 per year.
- Mental Health Counselor
Those in clinical mental health counseling work with patients to diagnose and treat various mental health conditions and illnesses. As these professionals rarely have the authority to prescribe medications, they generally provide curative counseling during one-on-one and group sessions to people struggling with psychological difficulties. In many cases, they choose to specialize in particular areas of care. According to PayScale, mental health counselors make an average base salary of $45,700 per year.
- Mental Health Technician
Mental health technicians tend to work directly with patients, providing assistance with daily tasks such as bathing, grooming, and eating. They are also present and/or actively involved during organized activities and therapy sessions. In most cases, it is their responsibility to observe those under their care while ensuring a calm atmosphere. Depending on the facility, these professionals may also be tasked with administering medications, answering phones, keeping records, and performing janitorial services. According to PayScale, mental health technicians make an average base salary of $34,650 per year.
Psychometrists are responsible for administering and scoring tests designed to evaluate cognitive, behavioral, academic, neuropsychological, and/or emotional status. Results must be recorded and assessed carefully as they are often used to project patient outcomes. Additional tasks may also be necessary including various clerical duties such as typing, billing, coding, and procuring office supplies. According to PayScale, psychometrists make an average base salary of $48,350 per year.
- Substance Abuse, Behavioral Disorder, and Mental Health Counselors. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
- May 2021 State Occupational Employment and Wage Estimates: Florida. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
- Licensing and Registration. Florida Board of Clinical Social Work, Marriage & Family Therapy, and Mental Health Counseling
- Licensed Mental Health Counselor. Florida Board of Clinical Social Work and Clinical Mental Health Counseling