Coping in today’s world is not easy. Life’s rapid pace, a tough economy, high divorce rates, unrealistic expectations on how people should look and dress, all contribute to a society that challenges even the most emotionally stable individuals.
Community organizations, employers, schools, and religious organizations all recognize the complex, stressful environments that individuals of all ages live in today. They all try their best to support individuals in their life’s journey, but sometimes the problems get larger and more complex than non-professionals can handle.
Were it not for the field of Mental Health Counseling, too many people would slip through the cracks, getting caught in problems that those without proper training would be unable to help. The field of Mental Health Counseling prepares professionals to understand – cognitively and behaviorally – the pressures that others face, preventing or hindering them from reaching their goals and dreams. The profession trains individuals to consider the effects of culture, socioeconomic status, gender, and a host of other factors – such as increasing demands on time and energy – when counseling.
These issues include mental health disorders in addition to a number of other difficulties that all people experience – at some point in their lives.
Mental Health Disorders
Many people visit outpatient clinics and offices that specialize in mental health counseling for mental health disorders – either their own or to get help for those close to them struggling with these disorders.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), 26.2% of Americans ages 18 and older suffer from a diagnosable mental disorder in a given year, making these disorders the number one cause of disability in the U.S.
These disorders include conditions such as depression, bipolar disorder, anxiety disorders, panic disorder, OCD, PTSD, specific phobias, eating disorders, and substance abuse disorders.
Mental health counselors provide therapy and support for individuals and families trying to adapt to the changes these illnesses impose on lives. Sometimes mental health counseling requires that counselors refer clients to doctors, such as psychiatrists or psychologists. But in most cases, mental health counseling helps the majority of individuals and families set goals, establish behaviors required to meet the goals, and monitors the sequence of behaviors that lead to successful goal attainment.
However, mental health counseling today extends beyond simply setting goals for those with diagnosable disorders. Goal setting and revising is a part of everyone’s life, and sometimes the path one takes gets derailed, either in a career or in a relationship, due to a number of circumstances often beyond anyone’s control.
Those seeking the expertise of mental health counselors might simply feel overwhelmed with stressful jobs, jobs that often require individuals to spread themselves between work and family responsibilities.
Family responsibilities also cause insurmountable stress, especially those trying to raise children and care for their elderly parents at the same time. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the U.S. population of people 65 or older is expected to double by the year 2030. This rise is partly due to the aging of baby boomers, or those born between 1946 and 1964 – a time period that experienced a huge explosion of births.
Besides baby boomers, however, people in general are expected to live longer thanks to better medical care and breakthroughs in technology. This of course not only necessitates counseling services for families taking care of the elderly, but also for the elderly themselves. They are living longer with chronic illnesses, such as cancers and heart conditions, yet research has shown that with exercise, staying active, and receiving the proper support, they live meaningful, enjoyable lives. In summation, mental health counseling helps the elderly – and their families – deal with the many issues of aging.
In addition to those over age 65 living with chronic pain and illnesses, the entire U.S. population suffers at an alarmingly high rate from chronic pain: it is estimated at over 50 million Americans. The Journal of the American Medical Association published an article in 2003 reporting that employers lost approximately $61 billion annually from worker’s reduced productivity as a result of chronic pain issues.
Mental health counseling helps individuals learn to live and cope with chronic pain. In addition, those in mental health counseling help employers and other organizations design and implement effective pain prevention programs.
Other Life Issues
Basically, mental health counseling helps all people struggling through any type of difficulty. Simply by listening and supporting individuals, or the process of psychotherapy, many individuals receive invaluable help. It often only takes a caring, sensitive person not directly related to a person to provide fresh opinions and objective, informed feedback.
From teens struggling with self-image issues, to those with anger management issues, to those who have recurring thoughts of suicide, mental health counseling employs psychotherapy and other interventions to help and treat individuals from all age groups.
Some mental health professionals specialize in one area, such as substance abuse and addictions, rehabilitation, educational or career issues, or marital and relationship issues. Others in the field of Mental Health Counseling are generalists, trained to treat a variety of disorders or difficulties.
In some instances and depending on the issue, some mental health counseling takes place in a group setting while others occur in more traditional one-on-one settings. Some conditions simply respond better to group or family counseling than others.
A Career in Mental Health Counseling
Most states require a master’s degree in mental health counseling to work as a counselor. These degrees require classes in a number of psychology-based courses, plus additional supervised experience in a clinical setting. Almost all states also require a license to practice, requiring the taking of a state exam. Other requirements for licensing will depend on the mental health counseling specialty and work setting.
Some organizations that hire mental counselors also require national certification, which differs from state licensing.
If you are interested in working in the field of Mental Health Counseling, request information from the schools offering degree programs in mental health counseling or a related counseling degree program.
Family Involvement in Treating Anorexia
Recent research states that relying exclusively on individual counseling does not help patients suffering from anorexia nervosa, pointing to family involvement as critical in overcoming the disorder.
The study published in the Archives of General Psychiatry in October 2010 supported a long-held yet controversial approach to treating anorexia nervosa in teens called the Maudsley approach.
Twenty years ago, a model for treating the eating disorder stemmed from Maudsley Hospital in London, a model supporting the role of parents and other family members in helping patients overcome the disorder. The Maudsley approach mandates that family members accompany the patient during each meal, making it impossible for the patient not to eat something. It also supports mental health counseling for the entire family.
Researchers have long disagreed over this approach, stating that it ignores the need for teens to separate and become independent from parents.
Yet the findings by researchers at the University of Chicago and Stanford University, showed that one year after treatment, approximately 42% of patients in a family-centered therapy group were in remission compared to 23% of those only receiving therapy from an individual counselor.
**Anorexia nervosa patients refuse to eat because they fear getting heavy or gaining weight. The condition could be fatal if not successfully treated.