Consumer Information

What You Should Know About Licensed Mental Health Counselors and Their Services


What is mental health counseling?

Mental health counseling is the evaluation, assessment, amelioration, treatment, modification or adjustment to a disability, problem, or disorder of behavior, character, development, emotion, personality or relationship by the use of verbal or behavioral methods.

Practitioners, called mental health counselors, are trained in counseling and psychotherapy to treat individuals with mental and emotional disorders and other behavioral challenges. Mental health counselors address mental health, human relationship, education and career concerns within ethical, developmental, preventive and treatment contexts. Mental health counselors demonstrate a concern for the short-term and long-term well-being of individuals, couples, families, groups and organizations.

Mental health counselors are dedicated to the optimal functioning of individuals, families and organizations. The mental health counselor uses standard mental health assessment and evaluation protocols, develops patient psychosocial histories, writes treatment plans, documents patient progress, facilitates consultation and referral with other providers, and implements discharge plans.

What services do licensed mental health counselors provide?

Mental health counselors use assessment instruments, provide mental health counseling and psychotherapy, clinical assessment and evaluation, treatment planning and case management, prevention, discharge, and aftercare services. After identifying and evaluating mental health problems and related human development challenges, mental health counselors employ effective methods of counseling and psychotherapy to treat individuals with conditions that may include mood disorders including depression, anxiety disorders, substance abuse, sexual dysfunction, eating disorders, personality disorders, dementia and adjustment disorders.

Mental health counselors assist patients to develop skills and strategies to address issues such as parenting and career skills; problems in adolescent and family communication and functioning; couples, marital and relationship problems; and preventing the occurrence or re-occurrence of alcohol and substance abuse.

How do licensees provide these services?

Mental health counselors are trained in counseling, psychotherapy and prevention. They work with individuals, couples, families, groups and organizations using brief techniques, such as crisis intervention and solution-focused approaches, or longer term approaches when treating chronic mental health disorders or disabilities. Mental health counselors provide services such as:

  • Helping patients identify goals and solutions to problems causing emotional problems and the use of psychotherapy to address mental disorders and substance abuse
  • Assessing the patient’s disability and developing a treatment plan that may include counseling, job training and access to technology and services, that assists the patient in achieving maximum participation in work and social activities
  • Supervising counseling interns and graduates of counseling programs to develop skills necessary to practice as a mental health counselor
  • Engaging in program development, advocacy, research and program evaluation to improve mental health treatment and prevention services
  • Assisting new and displaced workers to identify vocational and career interests based on the patient's knowledge, skills and abilities
  • Collaborating with students, teachers and families from elementary school through college to eliminate barriers to learning and provide students with the skills necessary for healthy, successful lives

Where do licensed mental health counselors practice?

Mental health counselors may work in individually or as part of a team of professionals who establish and implement a treatment plan to address the patient’s needs. They may work in a private practice or practice with other licensed mental health counselors or in other settings authorized to provide professional services.

In cases of sustained treatment of a serious mental illness (schizophrenia, schizoaffective disorder, bipolar disorder, major depressive disorder, panic disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder and autism), the patient shall be evaluated by a physician. The physician shall consult with the mental health counselor regarding the illness and advise whether any medical care is needed.

What credentials do licensed mental health counselors have?

Other than those mental health counselors licensed under the special provisions established in law for those already practicing when the new law came into effect, each New York licensed mental health counselor has a master's or higher degree in counseling, or its equivalent, with required coursework in mental health counseling theory and practice, assessment, psychopathology, ethical practice and a supervised internship, has passed a State-approved exam, and has completed at least 3,000 hours of post-degree clinical experience under supervision of a qualified, licensed mental health professional. Those licensed under the special provisions for those practicing when the licensing law took effect meet other standards specified in law and regulation.

Individuals who have completed their education requirements may hold a limited permit to practice the profession while they work to complete the exam and/or experience required for full licensure. These individuals practice under supervision at a specific site.

Who may practice mental health counseling?

Only licensed mental health counselors, and certain others exempt under the licensing law, may practice the profession. None of these exempt individuals, however, may use the title of licensed mental health counselor unless they are also licensed in mental health counseling.

Are licensed mental health counselors allowed to prescribe drugs or perform “invasive” treatments?

No, these professionals may not prescribe or administer drugs or use any invasive procedure. Examples of “invasive procedures” include surgery, therapeutic ultrasound, and electroconvulsive therapy.

Will my health insurance cover the services provided by a licensed mental health counselor?

To determine whether mental health services provided by a licensed mental health counselor are covered by insurance, review your plan’s benefits with your insurance provider.

What records does a licensed mental health counselor retain?

Your patient records typically contain your full case history. The counselor must keep these records for 6 years or until the patient turns 22, whichever is longer. Although there are exceptions, your records are generally confidential, unless you approve their release. Ask your counselor about any exceptions. If you want a copy of your records, provide your counselor with a written request. You may be charged a reasonable fee to offset the cost of providing copies.

What questions should individuals with disabilities ask about accessing services?

Ask such questions as whether the service location is physically accessible (curb cuts, ramps, restrooms, etc.), as well as whether there is a Telecommunication Device for the Deaf (TDD), parking for people with disabilities or homebound care.

How can I locate a licensed mental health counselor?

When seeking help, consider the types of available therapies and ask if the practitioner has been trained specifically in the therapy being practiced.

  • check with people you know for recommendations
  • your primary care provider may be able to direct you to a mental health counselor
  • professional mental health counselor organizations may have a list of members and their specialties
  • the yellow pages of your telephone book may include a listing of "mental health counselors" or "psychotherapists"

The State Board for Mental Health Practitioners cannot direct you to a mental health counselor.

Verifying a New York license:

New York licensed mental health counselors must display a current New York registration certificate; this certificate lists the professional's name, address, and dates of the registration period. Licensed mental health counselors must reregister every three years to practice in New York. Some professionals also display their original New York license, diploma, licenses from other states, and membership certificates. You may verify an individual's license and registration on this site.

Last Updated: June 23, 2009