Best Practices for Finding Field Experience in Mental Health Counseling
As a clinical mental health counselor, you can help change lives by helping people improve their mental and emotional health. It can be a highly rewarding career, but before you can start practicing clinical mental health counseling on your own, you have to qualify for licensure.
All 50 states, Puerto Rico, and the District of Columbia require clinical mental health counselors to be licensed. While the requirements for licensure vary between jurisdictions, you typically have to hold an MS in Clinical Mental Health Counseling from an accredited program and have completed around 3,000 hours of post-master’s supervised experience.1 While finding a site to complete your field experience may seem difficult, you can greatly improve your chances of finding a site by following a good plan.
1) Attend a Good Clinical Mental Health Master’s Program
Where you earn your master’s degree in clinical mental health can influence how easy it will be to find field experience. When choosing a program, consider where you ultimately want to live and work. Does it make sense to move to be near a campus that isn’t near where you live now? For many, the answer is no, which is where online learning can help.
Unlike most campus-based programs, clinical mental health counseling online programs allow you to stay where you are and complete your MS degree from home or anywhere else you have internet access. With its flexible class scheduling, online education even makes it possible to continue working full time while you learn. That means you can stay engaged in the community where you want to complete your field experience, which can help you network and stay on top of opportunities.
The best online universities can also provide excellent career guidance and connect you with local alumni and faculty who can help you locate a field experience. For many working adults, attending an accredited clinical mental health master’s program online can make earning a degree and finding a field experience more convenient than they ever thought possible.
2) Embrace Networking
Finding a site for your field experience is not unlike finding a job. Networking can make a significant difference in how successful you are.
Begin by networking with your degree program’s faculty, alumni, and fellow students. It’s quite possible that someone connected with your program can recommend sites that are willing to supervise your clinical mental health counseling experience. To increase your chances of finding a field experience, you should also become involved in professional associations. Such associations can offer you opportunities to network directly with mental health professionals in your area, and some even offer resources for those seeking a field experience. Consider joining:
- American Counseling Association
- American School Counselor Association
- American Mental Health Counselors Association
- State counseling associations
- Divisions closely aligned with your specialty area
3) Create a Field Experience Portfolio
While field experience is necessary for you to obtain licensure, the field site should also benefit. To convince a site to take you on and provide supervision, you’ll want to sell the site on what you have to offer. The best way to do that is to put together a portfolio that highlights your education, previous experience, and the skills you can provide. A strong portfolio usually includes:
- Cover letter
- Curriculum vitae
- Information on your university
- Information on your MS in Clinical Mental Health Counseling program and the courses you completed
- Information on previous counseling-related experience
- Research papers you’ve written
- Presentations you’ve created that relate to the population you will serve at the potential field experience site
- Master’s thesis or capstone project, if applicable
4) Don’t Give Up
Success is all about persistence. If you struggle to find a site for your field experience, don’t stop looking. Instead, redouble your efforts and consider taking on volunteer work at local mental health clinics or with mental health agencies. Simply helping out at a community health day or at a consumer fair can help you make the connections you need to find the right field experience.
Walden University is an accredited institution offering a CACREP-accredited MS in Clinical Mental Health Counseling degree program online. Expand your career options and earn your degree in a convenient, flexible format that fits your busy life.
Walden University’s MS in Clinical Mental Health Counseling program is accredited by the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP), a specialized accrediting body recognized by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA), which is a requirement for licensure in many states.
The MS in Clinical Mental Health Counseling program is designed to prepare graduates to qualify to sit for licensing exams and to meet the academic licensure requirements of many state counseling boards. Because no graduate program can guarantee licensure upon graduation, we encourage students to consult the appropriate agency to determine specific requirements. For more information about licensure, students should visit the National Board for Certified Counselors at www.nbcc.org/stateboardmap, the American Association of State Counseling Boards at www.aascb.org, and contact the appropriate licensing body. International students are encouraged to identify and contact their appropriate licensing body.
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