What is Mental Health Counseling?

If you desire a career where you can help people to deal with their mental health and personal problems, you may want to be a mental health counselor. As Americans are living longer and healthier lives, many want to address their mental health concerns so they can live a happy life, as well.

As more Americans are seeking mental health services, there is a greater need for mental health professionals to work in mental health clinics, schools, hospitals, and private practice.

If you want to work in mental health counseling and make a difference in people’s happiness, you may want to consider earning your master’s or doctoral degree in this field. Below is more information about a career in mental health counseling.

Mental Health Counseling Overview

All people eventually face psychological challenges in their lives and sometimes need the assistance of a mental health professional to deal with them. A mental health counselor uses many psychotherapy techniques and methods to help patients with psychological and relationship problems. (Verywellmind.com)

Some of the tasks that mental health counselors often deal with include:

  • Assess and diagnose a client who is experiencing psychological distress
  • Provide psychotherapy to the client
  • Talk to the client about their emotions, experiences, and thoughts
  • Conduct group counseling session with the family
  • Work with the client to set goals, develop treatment plan, and obtain insight through psychotherapy
  • Examine social issues that may affect the patient’s mental health, such as substance abuse, bullying, peer pressure, work stress, and health problems
  • Refer the patient to other medical professionals and other community resources such as social services, job services, and mental health support groups

Mental health counseling is a formal partnership between the client and mental health counselor. It is a process of various lengths where the mental health professional and client work collaboratively to explore problems and challenges and develop skills and mindset to overcome life problems and live a healthy emotional life.

The length of the mental health counseling process depends on the patient and the type of problem. Mental health counseling sessions can range from a few weeks to months or years.

There are four major types of mental health counseling: (Counseling.org)

  • Individual: Helps the individual patient to deal with personal issues such as anger, depression, anxiety, substance abuse, parenting problems, and relationship challenges.
  • Couples: Can help to resolve marital and relationship conflicts and to heal past wounds.
  • Family: Often sought to deal with a major life change or stress that is having a negative effect on several members of the family. Focuses on parenting, loss of family members, sibling conflict, and dealing with a move.
  • Group: Allows the patient to work on mental health problems in a group, which can be helpful because they understand they are not alone.
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How Does Mental Health Counseling Help the Patient?

The problems that are addressed by mental health counselors are done by looking at developmental, environmental, and cultural perspectives. (APA.org). The mental health counselor can help the patient with many issues in their life, including the following:

  • Deal with changes and challenges in school and career
  • Make difficult decisions about work and career, as well as deal with school, work, and retirement decisions.
  • Difficulties with learning and developing job skills
  • Manage stress and handling negative aspects of life
  • Talk to the patient about their personal relationships and how to improve them
  • Manage and adjust to physical disabilities, injury, or disease
  • Developing one’s identity
  • Minor to moderate mental health disorders, such as anxiety and depression

Studies have shown that most people – up to 80% of patients – experience benefits by attending mental health counseling. (Healthyplace.com). When patients work with mental health counselors, they often gain many positives, including:

  • Hope
  • Personal empowerment
  • Life acceptance
  • Personal insight
  • Wellness
  • Life skills
  • Prevention of future mental health problems

How Can You Become a Mental Health Counselor?

To become a mental health counselor, the first step is to obtain your bachelor’s degree in psychology or a related field. Next, you will earn your master’s degree in mental health counseling. With a master’s degree, you can be employed as a mental health counselor, but may need to eventually get your Ph.D. to have the most opportunities.

EXPERT VOICE: Does mental health counseling work? As a therapist, I have to believe that it works. That being said, it is not right for everyone and other things ‘work’, too. It is but one tool to help a person end the suffering that has driven them to think that it may be a solution. It is my privilege to have people come to me with their stories, their pain, their suffering and help them to understand that they are not bad, wrong, unloveable, flawed. There is often a misconception that going to counseling means being told ‘how I’m wrong and what I have to do to fix me’. It is so not that. It is more about understanding one’s self differently and finding strength to ‘be’ in a world that you get to enjoy, not suffer through. So from that perspective, and with the right therapist, it is one of the best tools I know. As a therapist and a person who has gone to therapy her whole life, I give a resounding YES to the question. –Kristine CainM.A. Counseling, Lewis University (2013)

Some of the classes that you may take in your master’s in mental health counseling program include: (Walden.edu)

  • Introduction to Mental Health Counseling
  • Techniques in Counseling
  • Counseling and Psychotherapy Theories
  • Ethics and Legal Issues in Counseling
  • Multicultural Counseling
  • Assessment in Counseling and Education
  • Lifespan Development
  • Diagnosis and Assessment
  • Group Process and Dynamics
  • Couples and Family Counseling

After you earn your master’s, you will need to get your mental health counseling license. Every state has different standards for licenses, but you usually need to have your master’s in mental health counseling, 2,000 to 4,000 hours of supervised clinical experience, and passage of a state examination. (BLS.gov)

What Do You Need to Apply to the Program?

Every admissions office at universities has different requirements, but most will require you to have the following items to apply for a master’s in mental health counseling program:

  • College transcripts: You will need at least your bachelor program transcripts, as well as transcripts from any master’s work you have done.
  • Letters of recommendation: Master’s in mental health counseling programs are competitive, so you will need excellent recommendations from your employers and professors.
  • Prerequisites: If you have a bachelor’s in psychology, you probably will have the prerequisites needed for a master’s program.
  • Personal essay: You will need to display excellent writing skills to be admitted into a master’s program in mental health counseling.

What Do Exams and Licensing Involve?

To become a mental health counselor, you must complete your master’s or doctoral degree in mental health counseling and pass a state examination. Passing this examination lets you practice as a mental health counselor in your state. Getting your mental health counselor license involves earning your master’s, having enough hours of clinical practice, and then passing the state examination.

Is The Job Outlook for a Mental Health Counselor Good?

The job outlook for mental health counselors is outstanding. The Bureau of Labor Statistics states that employment for mental health counselors will rise by 22% by 2028, which is much faster than the average for all occupations. Employment growth will occur because more Americans are looking for mental health counseling and addiction services. (BLS.gov)

Demand also is expected to increase because states are seeking treatment and counseling for drug offenders instead of long jail sentences. The criminal justice system is realizing that drug offenders are better off getting mental health and addiction counseling, and sentences usually involve treatment and less jail time.

There also will be more need for mental health counselors to work with military veterans to give them needed mental health and substance abuse counseling.

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Further Resources for Candidates in Mental Health Counseling

Looking for more information about the mental health counseling field? Check out these resources:

Hopefully, you have a better understanding of mental health counseling as a career. Now you just need to get started on your education so that you can get your mental health counseling license!