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What is Mental Health Counseling?

Mental health counselors are trained professionals who work with individuals to help them manage mental health and behavioral issues. They typically provide counseling services to those struggling with depression, anxiety, trauma, substance abuse, and other mental health concerns. Mental health counselors may also offer family counseling or marriage counseling.

In order to become a mental health counselor, students must complete an accredited master’s program in psychology or related field such as social work or psychiatric nursing. After completing their degree program, mental health counselors must pass the National Clinical Mental Health Counseling Examination (NCMHCE). This exam is administered by the National Board for Certified Counselors and covers topics such as ethics and professional standards of practice. In addition to this exam, some states may require licensure or certification from additional organizations such as state psychological boards or the American Psychological Association (APA).

Once they have acquired their certifications and credentials, mental health counselors can begin working with clients on individualized treatment plans that include psychotherapy sessions and lifestyle changes. The primary goal of these treatment plans is to help individuals recognize patterns of behavior that contribute to their problems and make necessary changes in order to improve their quality of life.

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Online Mental Health Counseling Education in Illinois

Mental health counseling colleges and degree programs provide students with the theoretical knowledge, clinical skills, and field experience to become professional counselors. Clinical mental health counseling degrees can range from an associate to a doctoral program, depending on the student's career goals and training requirements. Typically, most mental health counselors obtain a master's degree in order to practice professionally; however, some positions require a doctorate or specialist-level degree. Many schools also offer dual-degree programs that combine coursework from related fields such as social work or psychology. It’s important to know the requirements to obtain licensure in your state. In Illinois, all counselors must have at least a master’s degree in counselor education to perform therapy with clients, whether that's in clinical mental health counseling or school counseling.

At the associate level, students learn about basic psychological principles as well as practical counseling techniques in order to better understand individuals who are struggling with emotional issues. At the bachelor's level, students focus on developing an understanding of human behavior and how it relates to mental health issues. They gain essential skills for working with clients through courses such as group therapy and crisis intervention. At the master's level, there is more emphasis on clinical practicum experiences that allow students to gain real-world experience before entering into their own practice as a licensed counselor. Doctoral programs typically involve advanced research topics and methods within the field of mental health counseling while specialist degrees may specialize in areas such as addiction, trauma or child/adolescent development. Those looking for a counseling degree can look for courses from Northeastern Illinois University Chicago, Chicago State University, Western Illinois University Macomb, Northern Illinois University Dekalb, and more across the state. Graduates of counseling programs and related educational programs who have met all educational requirements can work as licensed professional counselors, school counselors, in community counseling, in substance abuse treatment centers, in clinical rehabilitation counseling, mental health clinics, and more.

Online Associate Degree in Mental Health Counseling (AS)

Associate mental health counseling programs typically require two years of full-time study and include courses in psychology, social work, and human development. Students may also take courses in substance abuse treatment, crisis counseling, mental health assessment and diagnosis, family systems theory, group dynamics, multicultural counseling techniques, or ethics but they will not receive an in-depth education in any one field. Instead, those earning an associate degree will find that they leave with a solid foundation in the field. In order to graduate with an associate degree in mental health counseling students must complete a minimum number of credits, and some colleges may require a supervised practicum or internship experience.

However, students at this level will not receive the type of clinical experience required for licensure and will not be able to receive licensure after graduation. Those who graduate can transfer credits into a bachelor’s program and save money on their undergraduate education overall, but they must complete a master’s degree in the field if they want to go on to gain experience and licensure to become a mental health counselor.

Online Bachelors Degree in Mental Health Counseling (BS)

Mental health counseling is an important field of study for those looking to make a difference in the lives of individuals who are struggling with mental health issues. Bachelor's degree programs in mental health counseling are available at many colleges and universities throughout the country, and the curriculum generally includes courses on psychology, human development, abnormal psychology, ethics in counseling, and research methods. Students should also learn about therapeutic interventions such as individual and group counseling, crisis intervention strategies, psychopharmacology, family therapy techniques, and the application of ethical standards in clinical practice.

In addition to classroom-based learning experiences, many bachelor's degree programs require students to complete supervised clinical experience hours so that they can gain hands-on experience working directly with clients. This allows students to develop their skills as counselors before entering graduate school or pursuing professional licensure. Many schools also offer additional coursework related to multiculturalism and cultural competence so that graduates will have a better understanding of how different backgrounds may influence their work with clients.

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Online Masters Degree in Mental Health Counseling (MS or MC)

Mental health counseling is a specialized field of counseling that focuses on helping individuals with mental health issues. Mental health counselors provide individual, group, and family therapy to patients dealing with a wide range of mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, addiction and trauma. They assess client needs and develop treatment plans based on their findings.

Mental health counselors must hold at least a master’s degree from an accredited university or college. These higher-level degree programs provide students with the knowledge and skills necessary to work in a specialty area of mental health care. Master's degree courses may include theoretical approaches to counseling, research methods, human growth and development, assessment techniques, psychopharmacology, marriage or family therapy, addictions studies, ethical considerations in mental health care, and multiculturalism in mental health care and supervised clinical practice.

In addition to coursework, most programs require students to complete an internship which involves providing psychological services under the direct supervision of licensed professionals. Completing these types of hands-on experience can allow students to gain hands-on clinical experience working with clients under the supervision of a licensed professional counselor or psychologist. During these practical training students learn how to diagnose and treat mental health issues such as depression and anxiety disorders using a variety of therapeutic approaches. They are also able to observe firsthand how ethical codes and regulations guide professional practice within the field. After completing the required practicum hours, graduates will be eligible for state licensure exams that allow them to become practicing counselors in their state or province.

Online PhD Degree in Mental Health Counseling (PhD)

A PhD in mental health counseling allows students to pursue advanced research and clinical practice within the field. These degree programs include coursework in core counseling skills, theories of human development, psychopathology and diagnosis, research methods, and professional ethics. Students are also likely to be required to complete a dissertation project, which involves conducting independent research on a particular mental health topic. Through their dissertation projects, students are able to acquire expertise in the subject matter that can be used for future clinical practice or teaching opportunities.

In addition to coursework and dissertation work, some PhD programs require an internship experience at a mental health facility or hospital. These internships provide students with hands-on experiences in various roles such as clinician or researcher while allowing them to gain valuable knowledge of how different organizations’ approaches work in actual practice settings. Upon completion of their degree program, graduates possess extensive training in both theoretical aspects of counseling as well as practical applications through their internship experience. Furthermore, they are prepared for careers as counselors at universities or private practices or researchers within the mental health field.

Online Mental Health Counseling Certifications

Mental health counseling certifications are available from various organizations around the country. The two most commonly recognized certifications that lead to licensure are the National Board for Certified Counselors (NBCC) and the Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC). To become certified through either of these organizations, individuals must first complete a mental health counseling degree program at an accredited college or university in order to be eligible for certification. Additionally, they must meet certain criteria such as completing supervised practice hours and passing exams designed to evaluate their skills and knowledge related to mental health counseling.

Successful completion of one of these mental health counseling certifications gives students a competitive advantage when seeking employment in this field. Employers often prefer candidates who have completed one of these certifications in addition to their academic studies because they have demonstrated additional commitment to their profession by taking on additional responsibilities and continuing their professional development after graduation.

Certification can also demonstrate that an individual has achieved a higher level of training beyond what is expected for entry-level positions. This can help increase job opportunities and salaries within the field. This is especially true for those who earn certifications that expand their skill sets and abilities to allow them to help a wider variety of clients.

Become a Mental Health Counselor in Illinois

Mental health counseling is a growing field in Illinois, with the need for qualified professionals on the rise. If you are looking to pursue a career in this highly rewarding profession, here are some steps that can help you get there.

  • Step 1: Earn Your Undergraduate and Graduate Degrees

    Most mental health counselors in Illinois have an undergraduate degree in psychology, counseling or social work. Although some very low-level jobs may only require candidates to have a high school diploma or GED, counseling positions will require additional training and education beyond high school or even an undergraduate degree. In addition to taking courses related to your chosen field of study, many programs also include practicum or internship experiences in community mental health settings or related organizations.

  • Step 2: Get Licensed as a Professional Counselor

    After earning your graduate degree, you can become licensed as a professional counselor (LPC). To be eligible to practice mental health counseling in Illinois, you must complete two years of post-degree supervised practice and pass a national exam administered by the National Board for Certified Counselors (NBCC).

  • Step 3: Pursue Additional Certifications

    While most professional counselors will never need any other qualifications beyond the LPC license, it may be beneficial for more specific roles such as medical mental health counseling and substance abuse therapy to obtain additional certifications from independent organizations such as The American College of Mental Health Counselors (ACMHC) .

  • Step 4: Participate in Continuing Education Courses

    Despite having earned their degrees, licenses, and gained suitable experience, all mental health counselors will still need to continue their education throughout their careers at regular intervals in order keep updated on current trends and best practices within the field of counseling services. This is also a requirement to maintain licensure in the field. These opportunities can be found through state associations such as those like Consultation & Training Services Institute (CTSI), American Association Publication’s Crisis Response Network (CRN), Illinois Association for Marriage & Family Therapists (IAMFT), and other regional networks that offer online webinars and regional seminars/conferences throughout the year.

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What Can I Do with a Bachelor's in Mental Health Counseling?

Mental health counselors help clients deal with the psychological, emotional, and social issues that are affecting their lives. Unfortunately, nearly all the job opportunities available in the field are meant for those who have a master’s degree in mental health counseling and licensure. These professionals can work in numerous settings such as hospitals, schools, private practice offices, government agencies, and community service organizations.

Those who pursue a bachelor's degree in mental health counseling can begin to develop the skills necessary to diagnose and treat mental health disorders through counseling, but they will not be able to work as counselors or provide group or one-on-one sessions without a master’s. Instead, they can work in entry-level roles as psychiatric aides or in other roles associated with mental health care but not directly working with patients the majority of the time.

Those who choose not to go on and earn a master’s degree can instead shift their careers into another field where an understanding of human nature will come in handy. This may mean business, marketing, human resources, writing or editing, or a number of other roles where your experience can help you move up in a field that you are not directly trained for. Many students choose to do this instead of continuing into a master’s program that will take an additional two years.

Potential Careers for Mental Health Counseling Graduates

  • Mental Health Technician:

    A mental health technician is responsible for the care of mentally ill or chronically mentally ill patients. They work closely with nurses, psychiatrists and other medical professionals to coordinate patient care plans and provide emotional support and assistance. MHTs help develop strategies to keep patients calm during times of stress and monitor patient behavior for signs of crisis or emotional disturbance.

    Necessary Requirements:

    • Bachelor’s degree in psychology or social work or related field
    • Prior experience working with people suffering from mental illness
    • Excellent communication skills, both verbal and written
    • Ability to provide compassionate care to a diverse range of clients
    • Proficient in using computer applications

    Estimated Salary

    • The median annual wage for psychiatric technicians in the US in 2021 was $36,230
    • The mean annual wage for psychiatric technicians in Illinois is $40,270
  • Adult or Geriatric Counselor:

    Adult or geriatric counselors provide psychological and social services to individuals and families, with an emphasis on those aged 55 and older. They help people with mental health issues, interpersonal relationships, work-related stressors, and life transitions. This type of counseling requires specialized training, extensive knowledge, and professional aptitude in order to become a successful adult or geriatric counselor.

    Necessary Requirements:

    • Master's degree in psychology, social work or related field
    • Licensed or certified by the state as a professional counselor, therapist or similar role
    • Ability to maintain confidentiality of patient information
    • Knowledge of evidence-based practices for adult and geriatric therapy

    Estimated Salary

    • The median annual wage for rehabilitation counselors in the US in 2021 was $38,560
    • The mean annual wage for rehabilitation counselors in Illinois is $46,430
  • Marriage and Family Therapist:

    A marriage and family therapist provides counseling and therapy services to individuals, couples, and families experiencing marital or family problems.

    Necessary Requirements:

    • Master's degree in marriage and family therapy, psychology, social work or related field
    • Licensed as a marriage and family therapist in the state/province of practice
    • Knowledge of evidence-based practices in family therapy
    • Strong interpersonal skills and ability to establish rapport quickly with clients
    • Excellent communication skills both verbal and written

    Estimated Salary

    • The median annual wage for marriage and family therapists in the US in 2021 was $49,880
    • The mean annual wage for marriage and family therapists in Illinois is $53,560
  • Child, Family, and School Social Worker:

    A child, family, and school social worker is responsible for providing direct social work services to children, families, and schools in order to improve quality of life and functioning.

    Necessary Requirements:

    • Bachelor’s degree in social work or related field
    • Knowledge of child development, family systems, and school systems
    • Ability to establish effective working relationships with clients and their families
    • Excellent communication skills both verbal and written
    • Valid state social work license

    Estimated Salary

    • The mean annual wage for child, family, and school social workers in the US in 2021 was $54,880
    • The mean annual wage for child, family, and school social workers in Illinois is $55,930
  • Career Counselor:

    Career counselors typically start sessions offering assessments and tests such as personality tests, work sample tests, multiple-intelligence inventories, aptitude testing, and others. The results from these tests combined with individual interviews and discussions gives a holistic overview of the client’s knowledge, skills, motivations, and core values. Furthermore, career counselors often provide guidance on resume building, interview tips, or practice interviewing techniques for individuals not used to practicing verbal responses in these situations. In addition to providing personalized analysis reports and feedbacks, many experienced counselors are well connected within corporate circles and provide extra assistance when needed.

    Necessary Requirements:

    • Bachelor's degree in counseling, psychology, or a related field
    • Previous experience in the field of career counseling or career guidance preferred
    • Excellent interpersonal and communication skills
    • Ability to work independently and as part of a team

    Estimated Salary

    • The median annual wage for school and career counselors and advisors in the US in 2021 was $60,510
    • The mean annual wage for educational, guidance, and career counselors and advisors in Illinois $57,880
  • Direct Support Professional:

    A direct support professional provides direct support to individuals with disabilities in a variety of settings. They ensure the health and safety of their clients while providing emotional and physical support.

    Necessary Requirements:

    • High school diploma or GED
    • Previous experience working with individuals with disabilities preferred
    • First Aid/CPR certification

    Estimated Salary

    • The median annual wage for home health and personal care aides in the US in 2021 was $29,430 and healthcare support workers (all other) earned $37,740
    • The mean annual wage for home health and personal care aides in Illinois $29,400 and healthcare support workers (all other) earn $43,110
  • Psychiatric Aide:

    Psychiatric aides are nursing professionals who provide care for mentally ill patients and help them maintain normal daily lives. They work under the supervision of psychiatrists and other mental health professionals to deliver safe, effective, and compassionate treatment plans for those struggling with mood disorders, addiction, behavioral problems, and more.

    Necessary Requirements:

    • High school diploma or equivalent
    • Certification or experience in a related field is preferred
    • Ability to work under pressure in a fast-paced environment
    • Knowledge of safety protocols for clinical environments
    • Excellent communication and interpersonal skills

    Estimated Salary

    • The mean annual wage for psychiatric aides in the US in 2021 was $34,640
    • The mean annual wage for psychiatric aides in Illinois $35,520
  • Grief Counselor:

    A grief counselor helps people mourn by providing emotional support while they work through difficult feelings such as guilt, despair, loneliness, and anger. This may involve identifying, understanding, and working through feelings; exploring spiritual or cultural expressions of grief; learning healthy coping strategies; learning how to use personal strength and insight to get through painful times; connecting survivors with helpful resources; developing self-care plans; setting boundaries for healthy relationships; writing journals about experiences; or practicing relaxation exercises like deep breathing or guided imagery visualization.

    Necessary Requirements:

    • Master’s degree in psychology or related field
    • Certification in Grief Counseling or related field
    • Minimum of two years experience in individual or group counseling
    • Knowledge of relevant laws and principles of grief counseling

    Estimated Salary

    • The median annual wage for substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors in the US in 2021 was $48,520
    • The mean annual wage for substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors in Illinois $52,480

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