What are Community Mental Health Counselors?

Those with high mental health needs don't always have high salaries. In fact, it's often the opposite. We find mental illness among the homeless, the unemployed, those who have jobs but are just barely getting by. In some cases, mental illness is the reason for the more limited resources. Then there are those who for whatever reason (genetic disorder, fetal alcohol syndrome, premature birth) have mental conditions in combination with physical disability or mental retardation. Often these individuals depend on the services of clinics with sliding fee scales.

How are they different from mental health counselors?

Community mental health counselors work at clinics and other community agencies. They perform many of the duties that mental health counselors perform in private practice, like conduct individual and group therapy sessions.

Community mental health counselors have some duties that are unique to the setting. These may include helping individuals with mental illness carry out basic functions like scheduling appointments. Community mental health counselors may even teach patients how to use public transit and other community services.

Community Mental Health Counseling Education

Community mental health counselors are well educated. The level of education varies, depending on state law as well as on specific job duties. Some community service organizations hire both bachelor’s level and master's level counselors. Bachelor's level counselors would be more likely to assist patients with functional living skills; master's level counselors, on the other hand, would be more likely to treat individuals with severe mental illness.

Under the most recent guidelines, the CACREP agency accredits mental health and community counseling programs by the same rather than by individual standards.

Students in CACREP accredited programs do at least 600 hours of internship before they graduate; many do 900. Schools often have partnerships with a number of community agencies; they may put a good deal of effort into matching internships to student interest. Thus, the internship is a great way to tailor one's career.

Licensing and Certification

Some states allow counselors to work under supervision in agency or community settings without a license; others mandate licenses for all counselors who work in mental health. Even when the license is not a mandate, it can be advantageous. One reason is the job market. Mental health counselors who have completed master's degrees must work under supervision for two or three years before they attain the highest level of licensing. Often this means taking a position with a community organization or agency. A lot of positions go to new graduates of master's and doctoral programs in counseling. Another reason, of course, is to provide individuals with high needs with the highest level of service.

Bachelor's level counselors are often certified to work in a particular capacity. In some jurisdictions, they are certified as Qualified Mental Health Providers. In others, they may be substance abuse counselors with certification in co-occurring disorders.

Community Mental Health Counselor Salary and Career Outlook

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, mental health counselors who worked for outpatient care centers had an annual mean wage of $41,920 in 2011. Those who were in individual and family services averaged $42,960.

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