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Career Profile: Mental Health Therapist

Everything You Need to Know About Becoming a Mental Health Therapist


Career Profile: Mental Health Therapist

Adam Gregor - Mental Health Therapy

Adam Gregor
Mental health therapists work in a healthcare specialty that offers many sub-sections, including cognitive behavioral therapy, family and marriage, general psychology, child therapy, and other mental health specializations. A mental health therapist works with people to manage, diagnose and help overcome emotional and mental difficulties.

A mental health therapist may specialize in family problems, relationship troubles, or in education, disabilities or other areas of development. Mental health therapists treat children, young adults, adults and elderly patients.

Many mental health therapists treat a wide range of symptoms. Some also offer testing, and case management for legal issues, testing for pre-employment. Many also offer testing for educational purposes. Among the more common duties assigned to mental health therapists or counselors may include:

  • Evaluating and diagnosing health conditions including mental health conditions.
  • Treating anxiety and depression.
  • Encouraging patients to talk about emotional experiences or problems including stress.
  • Helping clients process reactions or past trauma.
  • Working with clients to make decisions including complex decisions involving the future, and goal-setting.
  • Coordinating treatment goals with other health professionals or social workers, psychiatrists.
  • Referring clients to other resources in the community including hospitals or rehabilitation.
  • Provide counseling and therapy for substance abuse disorders, self-esteem problems and suicidal tendencies.
  • Assist with relationship development, divorce or problems associated with child development.
Mental health therapists may use many different processes and styles including cognitive behavioral therapy to help clients move past harmful attitudes or behaviors to lead a healthy life.

Some mental health disorders, particularly organic disorders may require medication or medical intervention. In cases like this a mental health therapist may work alongside a medical doctor or psychiatrist to provide optimal care for a client.

Educational Requirements

To practice as a mental health therapist, a student must acquire a master's degree, along with up to 4,000 hours of supervised clinical experience. A state exam is also required in most states. The National Board for Certified Counselors provides state-specific information on licensing for mental health therapists.

Typically licensure is necessary in most states for mental health therapists wanting to practice as Marriage and Family health therapists. 2 years of supervised clinical experience is often necessary to practice in this capacity. Continuing education is also necessary for mental health therapists to practice in most states. The Association of Marital and Family Therapy Regulatory Boards provides additional information on credentialing for aspiring mental health therapists in this field.

Salary and Job Outlook

The median salary for a mental health therapist averages approximately $49,270 as of May 2012, as per the guidelines set for by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Job growth is quite good, with growth expected to climb steadily, by as much as 37 percent through 2020, which is much higher than other occupations.

Work Environment

Mental health therapists work in many different settings. These include private medical offices, hospitals, government facilities, educational institutions and substance abuse or rehabilitation centers.

Some will also work in colleges or universities or in employee assistance programs otherwise known as EAPs. Many marriage and family therapists are self-employed, while others find work in private nursing and residential treatment centers.

A vast majority have individual or family practices. Most work full-time, as the client load continues to expand due to the rapidly expanding problems that mental health therapists are faced with as modern society continues to place pressures on people from all walks of life.

New services requiring advanced forms of testing also place needs on mental health counselors who have the training necessary to provide services to clients and corporations.

Characteristics of Mental Health Therapists

Thinking about going into mental health therapy? Most mental health therapists display a wide range of characteristics and traits. These characteristics help mental health therapists be successful on the job. Among the top traits demonstrated by therapists include:
  • Compassion. Mental health counselors must have compassion as therapists often work with people that deal with stressful and unpredictable circumstances. Many endure grief, abuse, disability and other circumstances requiring a mental health therapist to empathize with.
  • Problem solving. Therapists must have excellent problem solving skills, to help clients come up with solutions to tough problems. Multiple solutions work best with clients that have diverse backgrounds.
  • Listening. A vast majority of a therapist's time is spent listening. To succeed as a mental health therapist, you need to have very good listening skills. Clients need to have your undivided attention so you can understand what the root of their problems are.
As a mental health therapist you will also benefit by having excellent speaking and . Mental health counselors must be adept at communicating and expressing their thoughts and information in a way that allows their clients to relate to them, form relationships and understand the concepts and ideas presented to them.


BLS. "Mental Health Counselors" Bureau Labor Statistics May 2012. Reviewed May 28, 2013. http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes211014.htm.

"Licensure and Certification Boards. American Mental Health Counselors Association. Reviewed May 28, 2013.

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