How to become a licensed mental health professional

By Saybrook University

Are you considering a career as a licensed mental health professional? Does pursuing a career as a licensed counselor seem overwhelming?

Don’t panic.

You’re not alone. The field of psychology, in particular, counseling psychology, can be difficult to navigate. There are a host of different programs, degrees, and paths that can lead you toward becoming a licensed mental health professional. However, if you’re interested in bettering the lives of individuals, children, or families, then there are very few career options that will be as rewarding as becoming a licensed mental health professional.

Let’s consider the basic elements involved with becoming a licensed mental health professional.

At a glance:

  • Earn a master’s or doctoral degree from a qualifying university or college
  • Earn post-degree experience
  • Apply to take the licensure examination
  • After passing the examination, apply for initial licensure
  • Receive license

Now, let’s look at these a little more closely.

What is a Qualifying University or College?

Counselor licensing is made difficult by the fact that each state in the U.S. has its own specific requirements for licensure, and these requirements can oftentimes be difficult to find and confusing to unravel. However confusing licensure may be, there are two attributes that are vitally important if you are interested in becoming a licensed mental health professional.

First, it’s important to find a university that is accredited. This may be the most important factor in determining which school and what program to choose when pursuing a career as a licensed mental health professional. Accreditation is given to universities by accreditation bodies that are recognized by the U.S. government. For example, Saybrook University is accredited by the Senior Commission of Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC) and has been since 1984.

Second, the program needs to meet the standards of whatever state you plan to practice in. Saybrook University’s Master’s in Psychology program: Counseling Specialization meets the degree and coursework requirements to become a licensed mental health counselor (LMHC) or licensed marital and family therapist (MFT) in the State of Washington.

Additionally, Saybrook offers specific tracks for students who wish to practice in Oregon. If you wish to practice in a different state, there may be additional requirements that you will need to complete in order to sit for the licensure exam.

After you have completed your program and received your degree, you will need to gain post-graduate supervised experience. Once that is complete, you may sit for the licensure exam of that state. After passing the exam, and a background check, you can apply for licensure of that your state.

Licensed Mental Health Professional Programs

Once you’ve found an accredited university and a program that will prepare you for the exam, your next step is to find a program that is right for you—one that will best prepare you for a career as a licensed mental health professional. Start by looking at these questions:

  • What area of counseling are you interested in?
  • Will you continue to work?
  • Do you have family obligations?

If you are uncertain on your ultimate career plans—or if you want to be a generalist—then it may be in your best interest to find a program that offers a wide variety of options. The Master’s in Psychology: Counseling Specialization at Saybrook University offers a strong foundation in various areas of counseling. In addition, Saybrook offers an online model that has been ranked in the top twenty for online counseling degrees.

In conclusion, the field of psychology can certainly be difficult to navigate, particularly for those interested in careers as licensed mental health professionals. However, provided that you are able to locate a program that is both accredited and flexible, you can begin the process of discovering which path is best for you to become a licensed mental health professional.