The mental health field has many aspects. The jobs in the field include not just therapists but also in-school counselors and crisis workers. The therapists can work as family and marriage counselors, as well as children's therapists and regular therapists. Within each therapy specialization there are more breakdowns.
One example of this is that a therapist that works with adults may also specialize as an addictions counselor. This is actually a larger field than many people think. Mental illness and addictions have a high rate of co-morbidity. That means that they occur together. Many people who have mental illnesses self-medicate with street drugs or alcohol. Any mental health counseling they get has to address their addictions as well as their mental illness, otherwise there is no real hope for change.
People who are interested in counseling employment need to look into the necessary requirements. All counselors need to have at least a Bachelor's degree, usually a BS. Most of them require a Master's degree in either psychology or social work. Many colleges and universities offer programs at the undergraduate level that can help the student get started in the counseling field. Once they move on to the graduate level there are programs that are just for a masters degree, while others are a masters/doctorate program.
While most counseling jobs require a masters degree, some agencies will hire people who are at least part of the way through a masters degree as long as they continue to be enrolled in their program and working toward the finish. A Master's degree in psychology or social work can take as little as 18 months, and they can go as long as 3 years. The length depends in part on the specialty or focus that the student chooses.
Once the person has the education that they need and are ready to get employment they need to look into licensure. All 50 states and Washington D.C. require counselors to have licenses. The licensing requirements change from state to state, although they are the same, in general. The different specialties have different license requirements. An example of this is that some states require that marriage and family counselors require their own special license. Anyone interested in counseling employment needs to make sure that they check into what license they need in the state in which they are going to practice.
Other licensing issues include continuing education. For a person to keep their license they need to make sure that they are getting a certain amount of continuing education hours each year. Continuing education can means something as easy as attending conferences and workshops, or in-house workshops. They can also include further university courses. The state defines what continuing education is. Some mental health agencies require that their employees take continuing education courses above and beyond what the state licensing board does.
People who want counseling employment need to make sure that they get the right education and licensing.