Treating individuals for mental health issues attracts many individuals to the career of mental health counselor, but an equal number are now drawn to the profession for its emphasis on the mind-body connection, mental health prevention, and helping others to live balanced, meaningful lives.
According to the American Mental Health Counselors Association (AMHCA), mental health counselors provide a unique type of therapy. These counselors combine traditional psychotherapy with problem-solving, charting a path for change and problem resolution. The therapy is mainly short term with both a stated goal and a stated end result. The AMHCA calls it “consumer oriented” counseling.
Counselors as Problem Solvers
In addition to psychotherapy, the AMHCA states that mental health counselors provide a wide variety of other services. These services don’t replace the work of psychologists and psychiatrists, but provide effective alternatives at a much smaller cost.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) states that because mental health care systems are under managed and insurance companies are increasingly willing to reimburse mental health counselors, the mental health counselor profession is expected to grow by 24%. And, the BLS states, demand has increased because of the willingness of individuals to seek help.
Mental Health Counselors Provide the Following Services:
- Assessment and diagnosis
- Relaxation exercises and techniques
- Goal setting
- Brief and solution-focused therapies
- Behavioral and cognitive methods to change unproductive thoughts and behaviors
- Crisis management
- Substance abuse and addiction treatment
- Educational programs
- Stress reduction programs
- Mental health prevention programs
Mental health counselors spend most of their time working one on one with clients, but also work with families or groups of individuals depending on the issues and treatment plans. They counsel individuals struggling with depression, addiction, suicide, grief, stress, anxiety or low self-esteem.
Basically, today’s mental health counselors are trained to deal with individuals holistically, treating the whole person – body and mind. Some also incorporate spiritual aspects to counseling sessions. They understand how a lifestyle change such as incorporating exercise into one’s daily routine is a low-cost, effective technique for stress reduction.
Or they might refer individuals to alternative treatments for anxiety or pain reduction, such as biofeedback or eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR). Some might decide to become trained in these specialties, offering their clients these services as well.
They understand the role of personality traits and how these traits help or hinder conditions such as depression and anxiety. They also understand how culture, race, and ethnicity affect a person’s coping and recovery in a complex, challenging socioeconomic environment.
Thorough, Comprehensive Training
Mental health counselors are also well trained in human development theory, knowing how important issues like aging affect all aspects of mind-body health. Based on their interests and often their supervised clinical experiences while in school, many develop specialties, such as working with children, couples, the elderly, or women. Some also specialize in certain conditions, such as depression or drug addiction, and many become career and vocational counselors.
Because of their extensive training and state certification and licensure requirements, mental health counselors are prepared to work in diverse settings and with diverse populations. From homeless shelters and adoption organizations to community colleges and elementary schools, there are many community and educational organizations that hire mental health counselors.
Organizations that Hire Most Number of Mental Health Counselors:
- Outpatient Care Centers
- Individual and Family Services
- Residential Mental Retardation, Mental Health and Substance Abuse Facilities
- Local Government
- Offices of Other Health Care Practitioners
- Colleges, Elementary and Secondary Schools
- Home Health Care Services
Many mental health counselors also decide to go into private practice, or work in a group practice with other mental health practitioners.
And, companies concerned about mental health prevention for their employees, are funding employee assistance programs at higher rates, contracting with mental health counselors for these services.
Almost all states require a master’s degree to practice as a mental health counselor plus additional supervised experience in a clinical setting. Most states also require the taking of a state exam. Additional requirements for licensing vary depending on the counseling specialty and work setting.
Some organizations that hire mental health counselors also require certification, which is different from state licensing requirements.
Once licensed and certified, many states require that mental health counselors continue to take workshops and continuing education classes to stay current and up-to-date with the licensing requirements.
Those who become mental health counselors not only enjoy working with people but also are passionate about guiding them in creating positive change in their lives.
Study Confirms More College Students Exhibiting Mental Illness
University and college counseling services in the U.S. acknowledge that college students seeking counseling services are reporting more severe mental illness problems than a decade ago.
One reason for this increase could signal that students coming to campus with pre-existing conditions are now more willing to seek help for emotional distress, according to a research study presented at the 118th annual convention of the American Psychological Association.
John Guthman, Ph.D., director of student counseling services at Hofstra University in Hempstead, N.Y., and author of the study, said that over the past 10 years, it has become obvious that students arriving for help at counseling services are arriving with more severe psychological problems. But, he said, this doesn’t necessarily reflect the experience of the average college student.
“Our findings may suggest that students with severe emotional stress are getting better education, outreach and support during childhood that makes them more likely to attend college in the past,” Guthman said.
Guthman and the other authors of the study found that more students are arriving at counseling centers already taking psychiatric medications than a decade ago. In 1998, 11% of a clinical student sample took medications for depression, anxiety and ADHD. But in 2009 that number jumped to 24%.
The study analyzed the college records of 3,256 students between 1997 and 2009 who sought counseling help at a mid-sized private university. Both undergraduates and graduates were tested for mood, anxiety, and adjustment disorders.