Career Spotlight: Mental Health Counselor

By Dr. Faye Walkenfeld and Dr. Kimberly Johnson

March 01, 2016
Dr. Faye Walkenfeld, Chair of Department of Behavioral Science and Program Director of Clinical Mental Health Counseling
Dr. Faye Walkenfeld, Chair of Department of Behavioral Science and Program Director of Clinical Mental Health Counseling

To earn an LMHC, an applicant must have graduated from a NY State accredited 60-credit graduate program in Mental Health Counseling, complete 3,000 hours of supervised practice, and achieved a passing score on the National Clinical Mental Health Counselor Exam (NCMHCE).  Touro College’s Department of Behavioral Sciences (DBS) Mental Health Counseling program is a NYS accredited program and allows students to meet the education requirements for licensure.

Is this a new field?

In New York, this is a relatively new license, which is why there is so much confusion about the degree.  However, it should be noted that New York is among the last of the states to approve this degree for licensure.  Counselor licensure has existed in some states since as far back as the 1970s.

What are the variety of settings in which mental health counselors can work?

LMHCs can be found in outpatient clinics, substance abuse treatment facilities, hospital and medical settings, social service agencies, Personalized Recovery Oriented Service (PROS) programs, and, of course, private practice.

How does it differ from social work, from the educational and career standpoints?

This is a great question and anything we answer could potentially be debated. Having said that, it is important to address this question so potential students can make informed decisions.  Both of these socially valuable fields seek to help people in their lives. 

For licensure, both require a 60-credit Master’s and fieldwork, with post-graduation hours of fieldwork required, as well.  Traditionally, the education program of each focuses on different content areas; those pursuing clinical licensure in mental health programs require a majority of their 60 credit program focused on clinical education and preparation, whereas those applying for the social work license must demonstrate a minimum of 12 hours of clinical coursework including assessment and diagnosis, social work treatment and practice.

Career-wise, there is great overlap in the professional training and preparation for both professions.  In NY State, the lack of awareness of what LMHCs are able to contribute has hindered the growth of opportunities available to them.  However, the tides are changing as is exemplified by the continued increase in acceptance of LMHCs in various professional settings and by healthcare insurance companies.

Starting salary:

Typical salary for an LMHC across NY State is in the range of $40,000-$45,000, but this varies based upon specialty, additional certification, and location.  It has been noted that the more certifications professionals attain, the more earning power they have.

 This is one reason why the Touro Mental Health Counseling Program has submitted an application to be able to offer students a 350-hour educational certificate that, in association with internship placement and degree, will permit students to apply for their Credentialed Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Counselor – Trainee (CASAC-T) designation upon graduation.  This makes them close to achieving the full CASAC certification by the time they graduate. 

Research demonstrates that CASAC certification in conjunction with the LMHC increases salary potential by $10,000 - $15,000 dollars a year. 

What personality type does really well in this field?

People who are empathetic, compassionate, community-minded and culturally sensitive would do very well in this field.  However, the most successful candidates also tend to be humble and to recognize that although they have a talent for helping people and a good listening ear, learning skills in counseling is a life-long process.

What skills would you say are required to be a mental health counselor?

Empathy, compassion, good listening skills, clarity in communication, patience, ability to see individuals alone, and as they are in their world.

Faye Walkenfeld, Ph.D., is Administrative Director, Mental Health Counseling Master's Program in the Department. of Behavioral Science, Touro College School of Health Sciences

Kimberly Johnson, PhD, LMHC is Program Director, Mental Health Counseling in the Department of Behavioral Science, Touro College School of Health Sciences