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What is a Mental Health Counselor?

Massachusetts is a healthy and diverse economy that is a hub for New England's business activities. The state is home to Boston, which is one of the nation's three largest financial centers, the coastal area is one of the most popular tourist destinations, and there is even a strong agricultural sector. In fact, despite its relatively small geographic size, Massachusetts is one of the bigger states in the United States when it comes to its economy.

A mental health counselor is a healthcare professional who uses talk therapy, known as psychotherapy, and other counseling methods to help clients overcome their personal difficulties. Mental health counselors in the state of Massachusetts need to be licensed to conduct individual counseling sessions. Similar licensing requirements apply to licensed clinical social workers, who also work as counseling professionals in private practice.

Typically, mental health counselors work in private practice where they see individual clients who tend to pay with insurance. There are also mental health counselors who work for larger healthcare systems in their mental healthcare wards. In each case, their daily work involves meeting with patients or clients who tell them about their problems and difficulties.

Often, mental health counselors focus on certain sorts of problems or populations. For example, there are counseling professionals who focus on addictions or traumas. Other counselors may work with children, adolescents, or the aged. The ability to create a counseling practice that best suits the counselor’s strengths and interests is one of the profession's most attractive features.

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Online Mental Health Counseling Education in Massachusetts

Given that Massachusetts has one of the most concentrated technology centers in the nation, it may soon rival Silicon Valley for dominance in the tech sector. This is likely at least partially a result of Massachusetts' extraordinarily strong colleges and universities. After all, Massachusetts is home to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Harvard, and the University of Massachusetts, some of the nation's strongest intellectual centers.

For the time being, Massachusetts' economy is led by the super sector known as professional and business services. This is an umbrella that includes diverse services including waste management, scientific services, and management consultation. Firms that might be considered a part of the financial sector, such as the Boston Consulting Group, fall into this category because they are supporting other businesses with their expertise.

One of Massachusetts’ top sources of revenue is its social service sector, which includes educational services, healthcare, and social assistance. This area of the Massachusetts economy is the state's largest source of jobs, generates $70 billion in annual revenues, and ranks third in the state, but 7th nationwide. Interestingly, this economic sector is full of counseling professionals, including licensed clinical social workers and mental health counselors.

The Massachusetts legislature is aware of the importance counseling has in the economy. They continually ensure that the state's colleges and universities are preparing highly qualified individuals to work as counselors in the state. Not only is it a financial engine in itself, but it helps create value throughout the state. That is, when tech workers, for example, are having emotional or psychological difficulty, they can turn to mental health counseling professionals or licensed clinical social workers for help. Once they resolve their problems, it's likely that they will be happier and even more efficient in their jobs. Thus, the economic impact of clinical mental health counseling ripples throughout every other sector.

Online Associate Degree in Mental Health Counseling (AS)

One way to start learning about mental healthcare and psychology, in general, is with an associate mental health counseling degree from a Massachusetts community college. Students in one of Massachusetts' many community colleges are exposed to the fundamentals of psychology and counseling. Though graduates will not be able to conduct independent counseling sessions, they might consider working in a mental health ward or facility as a mental health technician or aide to gain more experience in the field. Some states allow those with an associate or bachelor’s degree to work as a substance abuse counselor, but that is not the case in Massachusetts, where you will need a master’s degree for any form of counseling licensure.

Students in a community college may be wise to pursue this approach to higher education. That's because a community college tends to charge far less per credit hour than any four-year institution, including state-supported universities. Not only is the education less expensive, but students are also required to complete the core liberal arts college curriculum, which is required in every liberal arts bachelor’s degree. Thus, if they choose to proceed on the path to a bachelor’s degree, they may only need to focus on their psychology courses and other upper level studies.

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

A four-year mental health counseling degree is a terrific first step on the way to becoming a licensed mental healthcare practitioner. During a four-year degree, students dive deep into their study of psychology and learn a lot about how the human mind works. This is immensely beneficial since it allows students to explore their options a bit before settling on the direction of their graduate degree studies. They can explore areas such as geriatrics, adolescence, and early childhood, among other facets of the mental healthcare picture.

Bachelor’s mental healthcare counseling students can also pursue field studies or internships that will inform their career choice. While they won't be able to practice psychotherapy with clients, they can work in drug rehabilitation facilities or in various healthcare centers, shadowing those who do the jobs they will be prepared for after a master’s program. Once they are prepared, they can enroll in a master’s mental health counseling degree program and then qualify for full licensure.

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

A master’s mental health counseling degree is a minimum requirement for state licensure for any form of counseling: school counseling, rehabilitation counseling, marriage and family therapy, addictions counseling, etc. These degree programs take two years to complete and immerse students in the study of psychology and counseling. The curriculum for a counseling program may include courses in counseling theories, clinical mental health counseling, school counseling, human development, federal and state laws governing counselors, ethical decision making, etc.

A master’s mental health counseling or clinical mental health counseling degree also includes a great deal of personal exploration. In fact, a big part of becoming a counselor is completing therapy for oneself. This way, students gain insights into the therapeutic processes, which will then help their clients. The process also helps many clarify their reasons for becoming a counselor. In fact, some master’s clinical mental health counseling degree students discover that they are more interested in the research side of psychology. This clarity makes them better researchers and professionals generally. These counseling programs can also be used to focus particular attention on a variety of types of counseling skills or specific modalities that students choose: substance abuse counseling, mental illness or mental disorders, adolescent counseling, family counseling, clinical mental health counseling, career counseling, group counseling, psychological testing, and more. With a master's, you can work for mental health agencies, as a school counselor, in behavioral medicine in clinical settings, and some community settings, etc.

Online PhD Degree in Mental Health Counseling (PhD)

A PhD represents the peak of the profession and further study beyond a master's graduate program. Counseling professionals with a doctorate can use the title psychologist and thus earn added respect from their peers and the community at large. Further, a PhD enables the professional to charge insurers more per hour. They may also enjoy enhanced access to publishing opportunities for their books and articles. Publishing credits can often be used to satisfy state requirements for continuing education units. These degrees can be focused on clinical mental health counseling, school counseling, school adjustment counseling, allied mental health, family counseling, and other counseling skills, counseling techniques, and related educational programs.

PhDs also enable holders to consider pursuing teaching positions with colleges and universities. In fact, a doctorate in counseling psychology is a de facto requirement for those desiring a tenure track position. Many mental health counselors pursue work with area colleges to both supplement their incomes and to add more variety to their work life. Those who teach at the graduate level particularly enjoy training aspiring mental health counselors. On the other hand, a doctorate can provide access to opportunities to work as a research faculty member. Research faculty need not teach but instead focus on writing papers and satisfying grant requirements.

Become a Mental Health Counselor in Massachusetts

Mental health counseling is a career that many aspire to. This is especially true for those who have undergone therapy and emerged with new insights and a new lease on life. Even those who have simply witnessed a loved one transformed as a result of therapy may be inspired to pursue counseling as a profession. After all, it's a profession that pays well, allows for great flexibility, and enables practitioners to help others on a daily basis. However, it's not like other jobs or careers because it requires a great deal of formal education and state licensure, too.

To get started on the path of becoming a mental health counselor or one of the other types of mental health professionals in Massachusetts, it's first necessary to complete a bachelor’s degree. However, not just any degree will do. Students should focus their undergraduate studies on psychology, social work, or perhaps sociology. Since the goal is to enter a master’s program for mental health counseling, students should prioritize meeting the academic requirements for their first-choice programs. Some may only require one or two courses, such as developmental psychology and research methods, but others may require a full degree in a specific field, such as psychology.

Upon nearing the end of an accredited, bachelor’s mental health counseling degree program, or bachelor’s psychology degree program, students should start applying to a master’s counseling program for clinical psychology. Students can also consider a Master of Social Work degree program, but all programs should at least have regional accreditation credentials.

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Graduate students' master’s counseling degree program should be at least 60 hours and should include field work and/or internship programs. Practical experience is a huge part of the licensure process, so it's vital to ensure that one's program includes this experiential learning as part of the curriculum. After graduation, students will still need to complete 3,360 hours of supervised experience in the field to satisfy state requirements.

The state Board will also want to see satisfactory scores from the National Clinical Mental Health Counseling Examination. On top of this, students will need to submit to a background check, submit letters of reference, and otherwise prove to be of worthy moral character. Those who have problem areas in their background may appeal the matter before the board.

Upon completing Massachusetts' requirements to practice psychotherapy, students will need to maintain their license. This is done by continually studying and submitting CEUs to the Board. Counselors can also satisfy CEU requirements by teaching, publishing peer-reviewed articles, and even publishing books.

Potential Careers for Mental Health Counseling Graduates

  • Psychiatric Aides
    These mental healthcare workers assist psychiatrists and psychiatric nurses with their patients. Their work may include tasks such as distributing medications, helping patients with various tasks, and even helping to restrain patients when they become unruly. Psychiatric aides are often undergraduate students who are interested in learning more about the field.
  • Mental Health Counselor
    This is a state licensed profession that works with clients to help resolve their various psychological issues. Mental health counselors use therapy to unlock the source of their clients' difficulties and help them overcome their issues. The profession is dominated by independent counseling professionals who work from private residences or small offices. However, many licensed mental health counselors work for larger healthcare systems such as hospitals or rehabilitation centers.
  • Clinical Supervisor
    These licensed mental healthcare professionals are qualified by their state Board to supervise aspiring professionals. Clinical supervisors ensure that those whom they supervise are practicing the utmost ethical counseling practices. They also report to the state and their reports are factored into whether to license a counseling professional.
  • Social Worker (LCSW)
    A licensed, clinical social worker is a mental healthcare professional who holds a license to conduct psychotherapy. LCSWs must hold a master’s social work degree (MSW) and complete the state’s requirements for conducting independent therapy or counseling. LCSWs may also work as social workers for a state or other non-profit agency, thus providing added flexibility to the profession.
  • Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor
    To join this profession, it’s necessary to complete a bachelor’s degree in psychology and a master’s degree in clinical psychology, counseling, or a Master of Social Work degree (MSW) and then complete the rest of the state's licensure requirements. Typical state requirements include a master’s degree and then up to 4,000 hours of supervised work, passage of a professional examination, and a background check.
  • Certified Nurse Assistant (CNA)
    These nursing professionals are in a great entry-level position. CNAs typically help nurses with duties such as feeding patients, changing linens, cleaning patients, and transporting patients to appointments in a hospital. CNAs may also work as in-home caregivers for the elderly and/or infirm.
  • Registered Nurse
    RNs often are found working in hospitals where they assist doctors and physician’s assistants in the care of patients. Many RNs work as specialists in fields such as surgery, psychiatry, or pediatrics, to name a few. RNs may also earn an advanced degree and become nurse practitioners who are considered the most advanced in the nursing profession.
  • Psychiatrist
    This position requires full medical training and then a residency in psychiatry. Psychiatrists these days spend most of their time evaluating blood work or other lab samples from patients. They use this information to determine the best medication or other treatments for their issues. They may conduct brief interviews with their patients but don't often delve into psychotherapy.