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What is a Mental Health Counselor?

Missouri is a state that has long been known for its agricultural industry. The state's flat lands are known to be covered in corn, wheat, and soybeans, among other crops. Missouri only trails Texas for the greatest number of farms in the US, with over 100,000 farming operations, and the state is in the top five soybean producers. Despite these impressive facts, Missouri's economy as a whole is led by its professional and business services sector, which brings in over $42 billion in annual revenue.

A mental health counselor is a healthcare professional who specializes in the mental well-being of their patients. To help patients overcome their psychological difficulties, counseling professionals employ psychotherapy as one treatment option. This talking therapy asks patients to delve deep into their thoughts and feelings to uncover truths and to heal old wounds. There are several other treatment modalities, but this is the best-known option.

Mental health counselors typically work in offices designed for patients to feel safe and secure. However, these days counselors may conduct counseling sessions using streaming video or phone calls. The pandemic increased the number of remote counseling sessions as many were acclimated to streaming chat sessions during the lockdowns.

Counselors can work in a variety of settings. Many enter the field to establish a private practice, but they may also team up with other healthcare professionals in a shared office situation. Then there are many who work as employees of a larger healthcare system or a hospital. This sort of flexibility for one's career path can be very attractive for students.

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Online Mental Health Counseling Education in Missouri

Missouri's #2 industry, manufacturing, is more closely tied to agriculture, but it's also involved with chemicals, machinery, metals, and electrical equipment. Manufacturing brings in $39 billion in annual revenue and is the 20th largest manufacturing sector in the nation. Close behind, Missouri's real estate market brings the state over $35 billion each year, with the state's education, healthcare, and social assistance sector just behind that mark with $33 billion in revenue.

The fourth strongest sector in Missouri's economy includes healthcare and social assistance, which includes mental health counseling. Even Missouri's schools are home to counseling professionals in the form of school counseling professionals. Thus, it's clear that mental health counseling is a vital part of the Missouri economy. Further, when Missouri's counselors can help workers in manufacturing, professional services, and other areas, the impact of counseling professionals is broad.

Mental health counseling is a field that demands that each practitioner hold an advanced degree and state licensure. Counselors are highly trained when they enter their career, and they need to continually update their credentials to maintain their status as counseling professionals.

Missouri's legislator's' recognize the broad impact of counseling professionals in their economy. They keep Missouri colleges and universities fully funded so that the psychology and counseling degree programs can flourish. In turn, Missouri's psychology and counseling degree programs seek out the very best instructors and professors possible.

Online Associate Degree in Mental Health Counseling (AS)

Students who are interested in a career in mental healthcare may start with an associate in mental health counseling degree. While this path won't lead to the sort of credentials that allow practitioners to work as independent counselors, it’s a great way to gain exposure and practical experience. Those who study addiction counseling will be one step closer to working with substance abuse patients, though not in psychotherapeutic sessions and not one-on-one as that requires a bachelor’s degree.

Associate degree students can choose degrees such as addiction counseling, social work, psychology, or allied healthcare. Each of these are a good choice that can open doors to entry-level positions in mental healthcare. These degrees are also a strong foundation for those who transfer to four-year bachelor’s degree programs. After all, it's required that all mental health counselors hold a master’s counseling degree, which necessitates a bachelor’s degree.

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

Bachelor’s mental health counseling degrees are a great way to accrue a significant amount of knowledge in this field and can prepare you to work as a substance abuse counselor. During a four-year degree program, students will be introduced to the full spectrum of issues in the mental healthcare field. They will not only cover the core theories that underlie our understanding of human behavior, but they will have an opportunity to conduct studies of some facets of human behavior and development.

Bachelor’s mental health counseling degree students can also broaden their education by studying affiliated fields or completing an internship. Some students choose to study related fields such as sociology, social work, and others. When they broaden their studies with an internship with a mental rehabilitation facility, they not only gain valuable experience that looks great on a resume, but they help to solidify their resolve to become mental healthcare professionals themselves.

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

Students who are eager to become licensed mental health counseling professionals in Missouri, or any other state, will need to complete a master’s mental healthcare counseling degree program. These programs are tailored to help students achieve licensure by offering internships and other experiential learning opportunities. Student routes to licensure are limited to the choices of degree majors you can find. However, at this level, you are going to be able to find more options than at lower levels. These options might include clinical mental health counseling, school counseling or career counseling, marriage and family counseling, rehabilitation counseling, community counseling, counselor education, and other related educational programs that offer access to counseling skills.

Students may decide to pursue addiction counseling at the master’s level, or they may go a more traditional, academic route and study clinical psychology. There are also options to focus on a specific population or sort of counseling, such as marriage and family therapy or child therapy. Some decide to earn a master’s degree in social work (MSW); licensed clinical social workers can practice one-on-one therapy, much like their colleagues with psychology degrees, but they are also able to work as social workers with various governmental or non-profit agencies.

PhD Degree in Mental Health Counseling (PhD)

A doctorate is not always necessary or valued in many fields. However, mental health counseling is a field that does place a high value on a doctorate. A mental health counselor with a doctorate can find work as a psychologist or psychiatrist and can charge more per hour if they are working in a counseling role. Many counseling professionals aspire to earn their PhD so that they can claim higher professional status.

Psychologists and PhD holders have other options available to them, as well. Many choose to use their credentials to teach at the graduate or undergraduate levels. Teaching can be a good addition to one's earnings and overall professional experience. They can also use their credentials to teach other counseling professionals and use that time to satisfy the state's requirements for continuing education. Finally, many psychologists open counseling practices with their name and credentials on the masthead. This helps to attract master’s level counselors while inspiring confidence in new patients.

Become a Mental Health Counselor in Missouri

Like most states, Missouri has a set of criteria it uses to license its mental health counselors. Students in graduate counseling degree programs are usually advised as to how they can best satisfy the state's requirements since degree programs have a need to show a high level of licensed professionals from their program. However, the first step towards licensure is an undergraduate degree.

There are several degree choices for an undergraduate student who wishes to become a counselor. Most will probably choose a bachelor’s psychology degree that steeps students in the theories behind counseling while exposing them to the research side when they take a research methods course. Students can also study social work and learn how to help their clients find the resources they need to live their best lives. Then, there are undergraduate addiction counseling degrees that focus on one specific sort of mental health crisis: substance abuse disorder. Undergraduate level addiction counselors can become licensed without continuing their education to the master’s level.

For full licensure, Missouri recognizes master’s degrees in the following disciplines: counseling and guidance, counseling psychology, clinical psychology, or school psychology. The program must comprise a minimum of 48 semester hours and those who have fewer hours may petition the Board with a plan to make up the remaining hours. Students should note that online counseling degree programs are not recognized by Missouri's Committee for Professional Counselors. Exceptions are made for programs accredited by CACREP or CORE.

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Students need to choose a program that offers at least six hours in a practicum. Counseling degree programs must also be registered and approved by Missouri's Committee for Professional Counselors. And, after graduation, counseling candidates have many more hoops to pass through. Missouri requires that license candidates complete 3,000 hours and 24 months of supervised experience, with 1,200 of those hours spent in direct contact with clients. Candidates also need to pass the National Counselor Examination, submit to a background check, and pass a jurisprudence examination, which is an internet-based, open book test.

After achieving full licensure, each licensed counselor must maintain their license by way of continuing education. For every licensure period, counselors must complete 40 hours of continuing education. Half of those hours must be spent in a formal learning setting, such as a seminar or workshop, while the other half can be spent reading journals or engaged in other self-directed study.

Potential Careers for Mental Health Counseling Graduates

  • Psychiatric Aides
    These mental healthcare workers assist psychiatrists and psychiatric nurses in their daily work. Psychiatric aides help with patient needs including administering medications, transporting patients through a hospital, or even helping with physical interventions when patients become unruly. Licensure is not always required but some states, such as California, do require proper licensing.
  • Mental Health Counselor
    This mental healthcare career requires that all professionals hold a master’s counseling degree. State licensure is also required. Licensure usually involves a master’s degree from a state approved counseling degree program and a lengthy period of supervised practice.
  • Registered Nurse
    This nursing career requires extensive education and experience prior to licensure. RNs work in a variety of healthcare settings including psychiatry, maternity, oncology, and more. RNs are rather well paid, but the work can be very difficult, and the hours can be long.
  • Social Worker (LCSW)
    Social workers who work as licensed clinical social workers hold a master’s degree in social work (MSW) and have satisfied their state's requirements for licensure. LCSWs work as independent counseling professionals and help individual clients overcome the mental troubles that are holding them back.
  • Psychiatrist
    This field was once the only choice for those seeking psychological assistance. Psychiatrists are medical doctors who have completed their psychiatric residency. These days, psychiatrists are mostly concerned with psychiatric medications such as anti-depressants and anti-psychotics. Psychiatrists also conduct brief therapy sessions to help inform the laboratory work they use when writing prescriptions.
  • Psychologist
    These mental health counselors hold a doctorate degree in their field. Psychologists enjoy an elevated status in the mental health profession but, though they are called doctor, psychologists still cannot prescribe psychiatric medications.
  • Certified Nurse Assistant (CNA)
    This nursing profession is often considered an entry-level to the wider world of nursing. CNAs assist the LPNs and RNs on their ward by changing bedpans, assisting with IVs, and other everyday tasks. The experience earned as a CNA can be invaluable later in your career.
  • School Counselor
    While most counselors work in office buildings, school counselors typically work in schools. School counselors work with students to help them overcome whatever may be blocking them from success in school. School counselors may also conduct testing to assess students' cognitive abilities.
  • Licensed Addiction Counselor
    Addiction counselors can work at a few different licensing levels. Most have undergraduate-level licensure, which enables them to work in group settings as addiction educators or in facilitating activities in a drug and alcohol rehabilitation center. Those with a master’s level addiction counseling license can practice individual counseling sessions.
  • Substance Abuse Counselor
    These counseling professionals work with individuals who suffer with substance abuse disorders. Patients who are addicted to alcohol or other drugs seek substance abuse counselors to help them uncover the causes and conditions of their illness.
  • Marriage and Family Therapist
    These counseling professionals focus their practice on couples and families who need help. These counseling professionals often hold specific licenses to work in this area, But sometimes mental healthcare counselors earn credentials to add marriage and family therapy to their practice.

Clinical Supervisor:

  • Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor
  • Mental Health Technician
  • Director of Outpatient Services
  • Case Manager
  • Rehabilitation Counselor
  • Residential Program Director
  • Career Counselor
  • Chief Operating Officer (Healthcare)
  • CEO
  • Chief Executives
  • Mental Health Program Manager

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