Master of Arts in Clinical Mental Health Counseling

CMHC Definition

The Definition of Clinical Mental Health Counseling: The Counselor Education program at SE prepares counseling professionals for work in variety of clinical mental health settings. Examples of such settings include community mental health centers, educational assistance programs (EAPs), inpatient psychiatric facilities, substance abuse treatment centers, interdisciplinary mental health treatment facilities, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) hospitals and outpatient clinics, military bases, correctional facilities, business or industry settings, university counseling centers, or private/independent practice.

The CMHC Program exists within the larger context of the counseling profession. The counseling profession has many definitions. For example, at the 2010 American Counseling Association conference, delegates from “20/20: A Vision for the future of Counseling” provided the following definition: “Counseling is a professional relationship that empowers diverse individuals, families, and groups to accomplish mental health wellness, education, and career goals.”

The American Mental Health Counselors Association (2010) further submits that, mental health counselors provide flexible, consumer-oriented therapy. They combine traditional psychotherapy with a practical, problem-solving approach that creates a dynamic and efficient path for change and problem resolution. Mental health counseling is a distinct profession, licensed in 50 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico, with national standards for education, training and clinical practice. Moreover, mental health counselors are uniquely qualified to provide high quality care at cost-effective rates. In addition, mental health counselors are highly skilled professionals who provide a full range of services including, but not limited to assessment and diagnosis; psychotherapy; treatment planning and utilization review; brief and solution-focused therapy; substance use and dependence treatment; psychoeducational and prevention programs; and crisis management.

O*Net OnLine (formerly the Dictionary of Occupational Titles), a U.S. Department of Labor sponsored Web site (, suggests that mental health counselors, “Counsel with emphasis on prevention. Work with individuals and groups to promote optimum mental health. May help individuals deal with addictions and substance abuse; family, parenting, and marital problems; suicide; stress management; problems with self-esteem; and issues associated with aging and mental and emotional health.” O*Net OnLine also lists the following “tasks” of the mental health counselor:

  • Maintain confidentiality of records relating to clients’ treatment.
  • Assess clients for risk of suicide attempts.
  • Encourage clients to express their feelings and discuss what is happening in their lives, and help them to develop insight into themselves and their relationships.
  • Collect information about clients through interviews, observation, and tests.
  • Counsel clients and patients, individually and in group sessions, to assist in overcoming dependencies, adjusting to life, and making changes.
  • Guide clients in the development of skills and strategies for dealing with their problems.
  • Develop and implement treatment plans based on clinical experience and knowledge.
  • Fill out and maintain client-related paperwork, including federal- and state-mandated forms, client diagnostic records, and progress notes.
  • Prepare and maintain all required treatment records and reports.
  • Evaluate clients’ physical or mental condition based on review of client information.

The current version of the Occupational Outlook Handbook (, published by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, a branch of the U.S. Department of Labor, describes Mental Health Counseling as follows:

“Mental health counselors provide treatment to individuals, families, couples, and groups. Some work with specific populations, such as the elderly, college students, or children. Mental health counselors deal with a variety of issues, including anxiety, depression, grief, low self-esteem, stress, and suicidal impulses. They also help with mental and emotional health issues, and relationship problems.

[Further,] mental health counselors…help people manage or overcome mental and emotional disorders and problems with their family and relationships. They listen to clients and ask questions to help the clients understand their problems and develop strategies to improve their lives.

Mental health counselors…typically do the following:

  • Diagnose and treat mental and emotional disorders, such as anxiety and depression
  • Encourage clients to discuss their emotions and experiences
  • Help clients process their reactions and adjust to changes in their life, such as divorce or layoffs
  • Guide clients through the process of making decisions about their future
  • Help clients develop strategies and skills to change their behavior or cope with difficult situations
  • Coordinate treatment with other professionals, such as psychiatrists and social workers
  • Refer clients to other resources or services in the community, such as support groups or inpatient treatment facilities

Mental health counselors…use a variety of techniques and tools to help their clients. Many apply cognitive behavioral therapy, a goal-oriented approach that helps clients understand harmful thoughts, feelings, and beliefs and replace them with positive, life-enhancing ones. Furthermore, cognitive behavioral therapy teaches clients to eliminate unwanted or damaging behaviors and replace them with more productive ones.

Some disorders can be overcome, but others need to be managed. In these cases, mental health counselors…help the client develop strategies and skills to minimize the effects of their disorders or illnesses.

Some mental health counselors…work in private practice. They must spend time marketing their practice to prospective clients and working with insurance companies and clients to get payment for their services.”

Employment opportunities and wage information pertaining to Mental Health Counselors is also available through the Occupational Outlook Handbook at the following link:

Additional information regarding the profession of mental health counseling is provided in the following links:

These definitions demonstrate that, as in any profession, the counseling profession involves role statements, codes of ethics, accreditation guidelines, competency standards, licensure, certification, and other standards of excellence (Van Zandt, 1990). The Southeastern CMHC Master’s Degree Program strives to uphold and advance the clinical mental health counseling profession.