Mental health counselors usually provide one-on-one therapy to patients suffering from emotional problems. The treatment is often ongoing and long lasting. A mental health counselor may specialize in a certain area such as substance abuse, depression, or unhealthy relationships. They do not prescribe medicine, but they may refer patients to doctors who do. They often work with other medical personnel to treat patients in a holistic manner. Mental health counselors do not spend all their time talking to patients; they also spend a lot of time alone doing research and studying patient files.
The purpose of the National Clinical Mental Health Counselor Examination (NCMHCE) is to certify counselors at the national and state level. Some states use the NCMHCE as the exam of choice, but others require a different exam. Find out if your state requires this exam before you start studying for it. National certification is a prestigious accomplishment for a mental health counselor. The certification is good in any state and is often seen as superior to state exams.
The NCMHCE contains simulated cases that ask the test taker to solve multiple problems in one question. You will have to use your powers of analysis to answer questions pertaining to diagnostics and treatment. This is not a one-answer-fits-all exam. It is not a test where you need to memorize long lists of vocabulary terms (although you should know them anyway). The NCMHCE is a very challenging exam that will test your overall abilities as a mental health counselor.
There are 10 clinical cases on the exam. Each case has several sections where you need to make decisions regarding diagnosis and treatment. First of all, you should know how to appropriately assess and evaluate a patient and a situation. You need to identify the issues, symptoms, and mental health status of the patient. From there, you should be able to take a thorough medical evaluation.
Next is the diagnosis stage, where you put together the symptoms and come up with a treatment plan. Treatment includes working with the patient and other medical personnel to create a plan of action. Above all, you need to be aware of ethical and legal boundaries when working with mentally ill patients.
The two main sections on the NCMHCE include “Information Gathering” and “Decision Making.” Each case will have these two sections. Your test score is calculated from the IG and DM sections. Unfortunately, you do not get your exam results right away. You will have to wait up to six weeks to receive your scores in the mail. You also cannot call in for your scores.
Remember the three areas covered on the test:
- Assessment and Evaluation, where you gather information from the patient and analyze the results;
- Diagnosis and Treatment Plans, where you put together the symptoms and come up with a diagnosis and plan of action;
- Clinical Practice, where you stay within legal and ethical parameters and meet your client’s mental health needs.
Education Requirements for Mental Health Counselors
Mental health counselors need at least a master’s degree and a NCMHCE certification in order to get ahead in this career field. With psychology, however, all the education in the world isn’t enough. Scientists have not yet completely figured out the human brain, and they are making breakthroughs all the time regarding psychology. Mental health workers need to have a combination of practice experience, intuition, empathy, and education in order to be successful.
Most mental health counselors hold a bachelor’s degree in psychology, since they need to understand how the human mind works and interacts with the environment. The psychology degree covers a wide range of subjects, from anatomy and physiology to advanced writing skills. A degree in psychology is the basis for many medical careers. If your degree is not in psychology, it is extremely helpful to start those basic courses, at least in biology, anatomy, and research. Statistics is another important class you need to master, because you will use it in your career as a mental health practitioner.
If you want the NCMHCE certification, you need to complete your master’s degree in counseling and have two years of relevant experience working with patients. Government jobs may not require this certification, but most private sector employers prefer to see a certification. In addition, the NCMHCE designation can actually increase your salary.
You can take graduate classes online now. Not only is it very convenient, but it often costs less than going to a traditional brick-and-mortar school. Gas prices are unpredictable (but mostly go up) so commutes can eat up a lot of your cash. Online classes usually let their students work at their own pace, which is helpful if you tend to work slower than most. You still need to complete the practicum portion in your city, but that comes at the very end of the graduate program. Most graduate degrees in counseling are between 48 and 60 semester hours.
The courses in a mental health degree program include topics such as human behavior, research, ethics, career counseling, writing, and substance abuse counseling. You may be able to tailor your degree to focus on a certain subject area (such as substance abuse counseling). Marriage counseling, family therapy, and substance abuse counseling is hot right now for those entering the profession.
Some online schools require their students to attend classes at a physical campus, at least part of the time. You may need to stay at a campus location for up to a week to attend seminars or take proctored exams. Working with other students in labs and with simulation experiments is fairly common as well. Face-to-face interaction is very important when you are studying mental health, since most of your work will be with patients in a clinical setting.
For online coursework, you are going to need the basics: a laptop, Internet connection, software, printer, and textbooks. You should know your way around the Internet and understand how to troubleshoot basic computer problems quickly in case one should arise.
How to Beat NCMHCE Exam Stress
Don’t worry about trying to rote memorize portions of the NCMHCE exam. It’s pointless because the test is based on your skills of analysis. Of course, you need to know about the various theories, practices, and diagnostic procedures, but you shouldn’t panic about memorizing a certain law. If you tend to get anxious before big exams like the NCMHCE, here are a few pointers that will help you relax when you enter the testing room:
- Think positive thoughts. Do not worry about whether or not you prepared adequately. When you walk into the testing center, your own focus should be to get through the questions as best you can. Tell yourself that you know the material and that you know the correct answers. Banish thoughts like “I don’t remember” or “This is too hard.”
- Stay healthy. The night before your NCMHCE exam, go to bed early and eat a light meal beforehand. Do not go to sleep overly hungry or full, as this can cause you to toss and turn all night. In the morning, eat a small breakfast that contains proteins and healthy carbohydrates. Stay away from sugary food or too much caffeine, which can stimulate anxiety symptoms.
- Know where you are going. Map out a route to the testing center and make sure you know how to find it. Arrive 30 minutes early at the testing center so you are not rushed.
- Plan study sessions at the same time every day. Everybody has 24 hours in a day, and it’s up to you to use them wisely. Get up an hour early if you must and do your studying. A routine will ensure that you get in some quality study hours.
- Gather everything you need for the exam day. This includes two forms of photo I.D.’s, your Authorization to Test letter, a watch, and comfortable clothes for the long session ahead. Go ahead and leave your phone in your car.
- Take deep breaths before you start the test. A few controlled deep breaths actually calm your nervous system and slow down your heart rate. Close your eyes and repeat positive thoughts to yourself.
- Stay in control of your thoughts and actions. If you reach a question you don’t know, don’t blindly click anything. Use your common sense and try to eliminate answers that you know are wrong.
- Plan out your test taking strategy. Figure out how much time you have for each question and stick to that limit. If you can’t figure out a question in the allotted time, you probably are not going to pick the correct answer anyway, so move along.
- Keep the exam in perspective. Even if you fail, you can still take the test over again.
- Create a unique approach to studying every day. Study where you feel happy and relaxed, not stressed out and tired. Perk up your study area with bright colors or photographs of loved ones. You will begin to associate studying with relaxation, not antipathy.
How to Become a Mental Health Counselor
Mental health counselors are “people persons.” They need to have the ability to connect with others on an emotional level, listen without judging, and genuinely want to help people. They may provide ongoing treatment to individuals suffering from drug addiction, relationship problems, or other personal issues. Not only do they spend long hours with patients, but they also must perform research and write in patient files every day. If you are intrigued by human psychology and do not want to get into medical school, then counseling might be the right fit. Your sole means of providing therapy is verbal – you do not prescribe drugs. The test is called the National Clinical Mental Health Counselor Examination (NCMHCE),
The outlook for mental health counselors is good, especially for those who specialize in family therapy or substance abuse therapy. Most of these counselors are not doctors, but they often have master’s degrees in psychology or a related field. Anger management, self-esteem issues, stress, and depression are all common mental health problems that a counselor can work with. It helps that more and more people are choosing to talk about their problems rather than covering them up with medication.
If you want to become a mental health counselor, you need to excel in your science and psychology courses. Most counselors start out with degrees in psychology or social work and get a master’s degree in counseling. Graduate coursework consists of classes like assessment, diagnosis, treatment, testing, and research.
Work experience is the next logical step for becoming a mental health counselor. You will work under the supervision of a licensed mental health counselor for approximately two years. During that time, you should be asking questions of your mentor, working on your diagnosis and treatment skills, and making connections with patients. You can also start studying for the NCMHCE, which is an extremely intensive test.
The next step is to take the NCMHCE, which is a comprehensive exam for mental health certification. This tough exam contains several case studies. Your job is to analyze the case studies and pick out the correct diagnoses and treatment plans for the hypothetical patients in each case study. If you succeed on this exam, you can call yourself a certified mental health counselor.
Counselors work anywhere from rehab clinics to hospitals and group homes. Some even open their own practices and work with families or couples. Family therapy involves a lot of group work and relationship re-building, as does marriage counseling. You do not need a doctorate degree to work in these specialties, but you may need extra classes.
Prisons and substance abuse centers hire many mental health counselors. It is expensive for prisons to house drug offenders, so they try to send them to rehab centers instead. Drug addiction is also starting to lose its stigma, so more people are actively seeking help for their substance abuse problems. On average, mental health counselors make about $41,000 a year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Counselors who choose government jobs may earn more, especially if they have master’s degrees.
Jobs in the Field of Mental Health Counseling
Mental health counseling is a broad field, but it contains several specialties. If you have a graduate degree in counseling, you can pursue a few different job options. You don’t necessarily have to work in a mental health clinic. These professionals work in schools, treatment centers, hospitals, and more. Today’s mental health counselor goes beyond passive listening to active troubleshooting and crisis management. The test is called the National Clinical Mental Health Counselor Examination (NCMHCE)
Family Therapy and Marriage Counseling
This is a popular option for new counseling graduates. You may have noticed the number of job openings for family therapists. It’s only expected to grow from this point. Blended families and married couples are turning to family therapists in increasing numbers. With the divorce rate around 50 percent, couples and families are facing a lot of turmoil that a mental health counselor can alleviate. Counselors first listen to their patients and then work on a plan of action. They do not prescribe medication. Instead, they work toward helping families and couples communicate more effectively. Family therapy includes individual therapy sessions as well as group therapy.
Substance Abuse Counseling
Mental health counselors can work with drug addicts and repeat offenders. Groups like Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous use the help of certified mental health counselors who specialize in substance abuse. Prisons also need mental health counselors who are willing to work with inmate populations. Finally, rehabilitation centers staff many counselors to work with their patients. You need specialized training to get into this field. It is a challenging job, but equally rewarding.
Trauma can occur to people by means of relationship abuse, mental abuse, wars, or even natural disasters. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is a term that is bandied around frequently in the media, but it is a common occurrence, especially for veterans. Most of this type of therapy involves listening to patients and giving them techniques to reduce stress symptoms. If the trauma is especially severe, mental health counselors can refer patients to physicians for further medical evaluation.
Mental Health Counselor Credentials
Most of these jobs require a certification like the NCMHCE. This certification will open many doors if you want to work in the private sector. Most government agencies do not require its job applicants to have this certificate, but it doesn’t hurt your chances. You can apply for the NCMHCE certification after you get your master’s degree and have at least two years of relevant mental health work experience under supervision.
Start studying for this certificate while you are still in graduate school. It is not a “rote memorization” type of test, but it requires test takers to use a lot of analysis and decision making skills. Flashcards can help you remember the important phrases, words, and concepts in the field of mental health counseling. Study guides are also available that can guide your study sessions and help you be more productive. Finally, study partners can not only help you do better on the exam, but they provide invaluable emotional support.