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Mental Health Counselor Requirements 

If your friends often go to you for advice and you enjoy listening to others, you may be well suited for a future career as a mental health counselor. At its core, professional counseling involves private communication between a certified counselor and their client,1 but it can also take many different forms—counseling can be performed in couples or groups, and in various locations, such as schools, hospitals, private practices, and even at home. 

Given these possibilities, you may wonder how to even begin to pursue a career as a mental health counselor. Because mental health counselors must legally be licensed to practice, it’s helpful to start by earning a masters degree in the field, which can prepare you for passing your state board licensing exam. 

Keep reading to learn more about how to become a mental health counselor,  mental health counselor requirements, including masters degree and licensing details.

Coursework for a Mental Health Counselor Degree 

Your mental health counseling degree will often begin with behavioral science coursework that helps build a strong theoretical foundation of the field. The continuing education classes you take will depend on your level of specialization and expertise, but they can generally fall into the following categories: 

  • General coursework – Laying the groundwork with an undergraduate degree in psychology can help put you on the path to professional counseling, increasing your familiarity with the problems that professionals face. You might take foundational behavioral science courses such as General Psychology, Abnormal Psychology, Drugs and Behavior, or Statistics.2
  • Specialized paths – As you progress in your professional education, you may choose to continue your studies in a graduate degree program. These counseling programs often include more advanced courses directly related to the practice of counseling, such as classes on the effects of religious and cultural identities, ethical issues related to counseling, and classroom simulations.3
  • Independent research – If you’re interested in pursuing research alongside a clinical practice, your continuing education coursework may progress to the doctoral level.4 Professional education Degree requirements may include methodologies for empirical research, specific statistical and data collection techniques, and possibly a dissertation completed under the mentorship of an advisor.

Practical Experience for a Mental Health Counselor Degree

In addition to successfully passing various courses, completion of your mental health counseling degree may also require a hands-on aspect. After all, behavioral health counseling is not just a study, but a practice, so learning by doing can be incredibly beneficial. 

Practical experience may come in the following forms: 

  • Practicums – Before you’re entrusted with your first client, many mental health counseling masters programs will require practicums, where you observe other professionals at work.5 This may involve shadowing a certified counselor as they recommend treatments, guide a client through coping methods, or lead a group session. 
  • Internships – Unlike practicums, internships typically have you on your feet and working independently with clients. You will often be under the supervision of a more experienced counseling professional who can provide guidance. Various locations, such as hospitals, schools, and community clinics, may offer internship opportunities. 
  • Volunteer opportunities – Volunteering at various institutions, such as nursing homes, community shelters, or religious organizations, can provide valuable experience and may count as course credit. Even if volunteering does not directly satisfy degree requirements, it may help build important relationships for future internship and job opportunities. 

Requirements for Licensing Exams

If you want to legally work as a licensed counselorl in the mental health field, you typically have to pass a licensing exam. Each state board has its own licensure requirements, including the accepted examinations, so make sure to confirm your state’s specific rules before applying. However, common required exams include:7

  • The National Counselor Examination (NCE), which consists of 200 multiple choice questions assessing your knowledge and skills in counselor education.
  • The National Clinical Mental Health Counseling Examination (NCMHCE), which is comprised of ten clinical simulations in areas such as assessment and diagnosis or counseling and psychotherapy.8

Even if you meet all the licensure requirements, it’s still helpful to go in prepared. Your counseling degree program may offer resources to help you better prepare for the licensing exam, such as: 

  • Official resources – Program-sponsored resources may include a test prep or peer tutoring center where advisors hold information sessions and one-on-one meetings to answer questions about the exams. Your school may also publish print and online resources, including FAQs about the exams or mock questions for practice. 
  • Community resources – One of the benefits of completing a degree is that you likely have access to other students who are also working to pass these same exams. This means there are often opportunities to form study groups and create spaces for working through tough practice questions together. 

Pursue a Master’s in Clinical Counseling with Alliant

Looking for jobs for masters in clinical mental health counseling or are you ready to pursue a future career in the mental health field? Get the process started with a master’s degree program in Clinical Counseling at the California School of Professional Psychology (CSPP) at Alliant International University. 

This two-year program will help you build expertise and familiarity with diverse parts of the mental health field like mental health counselors vs psychologists. Lab-based courses in Group Counseling and Multicultural Counseling can help sharpen your ability to handle any environment, while our Clinical Counseling Practicum provides the opportunity for hands-on experience. 

Contact Alliant today for more information on how we can help you start your journey. 


  1. “How to Become a Mental Health Counselor.” Teach. May, 2020. Accessed February 14, 2022. 
  2. “How To Become a Licensed Mental Health Counselor.” Indeed. September 15, 2021.…. Accessed February 14, 2022.  
  3.    “How To Become a Licensed Mental Health Counselor.” Indeed. September 15, 2021. Accessed February 14, 2022.  

  4. “Doctorate in Psychology (Ph.D. and Psy.D.).” January 21, 2022. Accessed February 14, 2022.  
  5. “Internships and Practicums.” January 19, 2022. Accessed February 14, 2022.  
  6.  “Internships and Practicums.” January 19, 2022. Accessed February 14, 2022.  

  7. “Our LMHC License Guide.” Teach. August, 2020.…. Accessed February 14, 2022.  
  8. “Applicant Handbook for National Certification.” National Board for Certified Counselors, In. 2017. Accessed February 14, 2022.  

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