Steps it takes to become a licensed counselor

How to Become a Licensed Mental Health Counselor

A need for professional mental health counselors was brought to the forefront of American consciousness during the global COVID-19 pandemic; however, it was only bringing to light a need that has been many years in the making.

Issues such as depression, trauma, suicidality, anxiety, and substance abuse have been impacting global populations at an exponentially growing rate to the point where the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics is projecting substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors to grow by 22 percent from 2021 to 2031, "much faster than the average for all occupations."

"What's unique about counseling is that we believe change comes from the wellness model and the therapeutic relationship.," said Dr. Ryan M. Burkhart, Dean of the School of Counseling at Colorado Christian University. "The wellness model explores many facets of our lives, such as our biology, psychology, social behaviors, and our spiritual lives, incorporating them into counseling. The therapeutic relationship, on the other hand, is the dynamic between the counselor and their client where the wellness model is often explored.

"Within the wellness model and therapeutic relationship, our faith as Christians intersects with mental health. Scripture places great emphasis on our bio/psycho/social/spiritual domains as followers of Christ. Jesus sees our story, good and bad, and chooses to call us His own. Counseling recognizes something very similar. Counseling sessions are spaces where trauma, shame, grief, and pain are shared. Regardless of who sits across from counselors, counselors demonstrate empathy and compassion."

CCU's program has grown exponentially in the last several years, from 223 students in 2014 to more than 1,000 students now, having been recognized as one of the fastest-growing clinical mental health counselor programs in the country.

"We contribute to the restorative mission of Jesus Christ through ethical clinical mental health services, and we emulate the character and compassion of Jesus in every single encounter we have," Burkhart said. "I believe that is what separates us apart from everyone else."

Mental Health Counseling Degree Options

OK, so you want to be a mental health counselor. Great! What kind of counselor are you going to be?

Teachers have specialties that focus on elementary school education, secondary education, special education, individual subjects, and more. Doctors can specialize in cardiovascular, pediatrics, and a dozen other disciplines. Professional counseling is no different.

You need a bachelor's degree in order to apply for graduate school, but it is not required that your degree is in a counseling or mental health discipline.

CCU's Master of Arts in Clinical Mental Health Counseling program provides you with the skills and credentials to become a licensed professional mental health counselor, but it also offers emphases that can prepare you for the type of mental health counseling you wish to practice.

You can become a licensed professional counselor through the Marriage and Family Therapy emphasis. However, you must also take nine extra credits focusing on interpersonal relationships to prepare compassionate professionals to positively impact families, couples, and individuals to become a family therapist.

CCU's Substance Use Disorder emphasis likewise can earn a licensed professional counselor degree while offering additional curriculum to train professional counselors to help individuals suffering from behavioral disorders and substance abuse relating to alcohol and other chemical substances.

The general licensed professional counselor is qualified to work in these settings, but addiction counselors need to receive specialized training in those disciplines. However, they can still work in private practices, mental health facilities, research fields, social work, and church ministries.

A separate, related program, the Master of Arts in School Counseling, prepares students to provide mental health counseling services to students, faculty, staff, and community members in public schools, private schools, charter schools, or K-12 school settings. A master's degree in school counseling is not always required but is beneficial.

Counseling Licensure Requirements

Mental health counseling is a healthcare profession regulated by governing bodies to ensure patients receive quality, professional care.

In addition to state requirements, there are additional exams that may be required. The National Board for Certified Counselors (NBCC) offers a National Counselor Examination for Licensure and Certification (NCE) as well as a National Clinical Mental Health Counselor Examination (NCMHCE).

CCU's programs have students from all over the United States. Therefore, licensure applications and licensure requirements may vary by state board.

What Is Accreditation, And Is It Important?

For starters — yes. Attending a program that is accredited is essential. It goes a long way when applying for a license to practice in the state in which you reside.

When a school is accredited, a larger governing body in the field has signed off on the program as an authentic training platform for the specific discipline.

In the case of Colorado Christian University's Clinical Mental Health Counseling program and emphases, the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Education Programs (CACREP) has approved CCU's program as providing professionally approved standards, resulting in a streamlined licensure application process.

"There are a lot of CACREP programs out there, and what distinguishes them is often not the content," Burkhart said. "Every CACREP program is responsible for teaching the same content across all classes. It's the faculty who are in the classrooms teaching the content and standards that make the difference. An additional level for us is the faith integration and how we incorporate our biblical worldview into our program."

Upon completing the program at CCU, you will be prepared to take the National Counselor Exam, the clinical mental health licensure exam for Colorado, and many other states.


Colorado Christian University does not guarantee any job placement as a result of earning this or any other degrees offered by the university.

Connect with an enrollment counselor today to talk about your options and get more information about joining the counseling program at CCU.

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