Mental health challenges are aggravating and worsening with the rise of technology and innovations. The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated existing mental health conditions, alongside giving rise to challenging issues. The National Institute of Mental Health revealed, in 2019, over 51.5 million adults were suffering from mental disorders in the US. 

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These mental disorders included emotional, behavioral, and mental conditions. Over 44% of adults diagnosed with mental health illnesses received professional services in the last year alone. There is an alarming shortage of mental health professionals to deal with the rise of disorders and complications. Today, there is a much greater need for trained and skilled professionals. 

And if you’re considering this career path, there is an enriching journey ahead of you. Keep reading to map out your journey as a mental health counselor. 

Role of a Professional Counselor 

Before examining the steps to certify as a professional counselor, let’s take a look at the roles and responsibilities. Professional counselors utilize psychotherapy techniques and problem-solving strategies to aid individuals and their families. They work with individuals, couples, groups of diagnosed patients, delinquents, and other community members. 

Mental health counselors work in a diverse array of settings. They typically deliver specialized therapy to specific groups, such as military veterans, young adults, the elderly, or children. They also work with married couples, the disabled, patients with learning difficulties, or those struggling with mental disorders. 

This article will trace the steps that you need to take to certify as a professional counselor. As a counselor, your education will never truly end as it is instrumental in staying abreast with industry innovations. Psychologists and counselors continue pursuing counseling degrees online accredited by prestigious associations and platforms. 

Steps to Certify as a Professional Counselor 

  1. Pursue an Undergraduate Degree 

The first step is to pursue a bachelor’s degree in psychology. Students can choose any psychology sub-field, such as cognitive, behavioral, social sciences, or biological paradigms. It is a necessary step, and professionals are required to undertake a master’s degree for licensure. 

A bachelor’s degree in psychology will create a solid groundwork for graduate degrees in psychotherapy and counseling practices. It is ideal to choose an undergraduate program that is most relevant to your graduate specialization. Typically, undergraduate degrees focus on human development and behavior and introduce foundational counseling skills and practices. 

It is ideal for students to pursue internships while completing their undergraduate. These internships will take students to multiple settings, such as hospitals, clinics, mental health facilities, and organizations. Students can expand their exposure and observe professionals dispensing counseling services in a multitude of settings. 

Internships are vital for professional development and exposure so you can find your true calling. 

  1. Pursue a Master’s Degree 

The next step is to pursue a graduate degree in mental health counseling. Students can explore numerous CACREP accredited institutions to specialize in counseling and therapy. It is a requirement to obtain licensure and practice as a professional counselor. CACREP is a highly prestigious accrediting body in the mental health profession, but other accreditors have similar prestige. 

It is ideal for conducting rigorous research on the accreditors who command esteem in your local/state industry. Most professionals aim to complete master’s and postgraduate degrees and gain work experience before obtaining licensure and additional certifications. As mentioned above, as a counselor, your academic journey will never end. It is essential to continue pursuing other certifications and training to expand your skillet and increase marketability. 

Graduate programs in counseling also require supervised experience. Mental health professionals observe students as they assume the roles of licensed counselors. This experience allows students to cultivate real-world skills and learn how to deal with patients and their mental health challenges. Many students then go onto obtain postgraduate education and internships. 

  1. Obtaining Licensure 

You cannot practice as a professional counselor without passing the mandatory counseling exams and obtain your license. Each state has its counseling licensure program and requirements. Some programs include the National Clinic Mental Health Counseling Examination (NCHMHCE), or the National Counselor Examination (NCE). 

Many states also have additional requirements that aspiring counselors must address to obtain their license. It is vital to research the eligibility requirements and examinations conducted by your desired state. Once you’ve received your license, you can start exploring job positions and opportunities in multiple industries. 

  1. Additional Certifications & Training 

One cannot stress the significance of education, certifications, and training to strengthen a counselor’s career. Mental health practices are rapidly innovating and evolving, compelling professionals to continue advancing their skillsets. Imagine your method of therapy becoming entirely redundant after a new psychiatric medicine gets discovered. 

New behavioral therapies and cognitive strategies can take precedence over older practices. As a psychological counselor, it is vital to continue pursuing more recent certifications and maintain an industry-relevant skillset. Licensed counselors can join associations and psychological boards to continue pursuing specializations and training. 


As a mental health professional, your biggest challenge is to stay relevant and abreast with the pace of evolution. It is vital to continue your education and skill development and keep up with psychological innovations and trends. Academic advancement gets closely tied with professional growth, career advancement, and prestige amongst peers. 

Licensed counselors need to explore networking opportunities and gravitate towards research. Research is a powerful tool to make an impact and build prestige.