If you feel that you have valuable insight that you can contribute to the individuals who are dealing with mental health issues, then a career as a mental health counselor may be just the right path for you to travel. First of all, it is crucial to understand that a mental health counselor is quite different from psychiatrists, social workers, nurse practitioners, and psychologists. This is primarily due to the fact that mental health counselors apply a psycho-educational model when they counsel their patients. This model is often used in conjunction with traditional medical or illness models that are intended for diagnosis and assessment. Furthermore, mental health counselors are set apart from other mental health related fields because of its emphasis on prevention, its developmental theory approach, as well as an approach that is grounded in a holistic approach.
In your capacity as a mental health counselor, you may find yourself working with groups, individuals, or families in order to promote mental health. Your educational training will prepare you to use many different therapeutic techniques to address issues such as grief, substance abuse, self-esteem, depression, addiction, stress, and suicidal tendencies. Depending upon your place of employment you may also be expected to help with a person’s educational decisions, their employment or career concerns, with their relationship difficulties, family, marital, or parenting issues they are dealing with, or with a person’s mental and emotional health problems. In some states, your training and licensure may also make it possible for you to treat mental illness. Keep in mind, although mental health counselors work in a different capacity from other individuals in a similar job function, you will most likely spend much of your work time interacting alongside psychiatric nurses, psychologists, psychiatrists, school counselors, and clinical social workers.
It is quite common for mental health counselors to choose an area of specialization with which to focus their studies on. For instance, you could choose to focus on rehabilitation counseling, career counseling, school counseling, substance abuse counseling, family counseling, or marriage counseling. In addition, as a mental health counselor you may also find that you prefer to work with a specific type of patients. For example, you may choose to only work with children, couples, families, adolescents, adults, or the elderly. No matter which age group or focus area you choose, you will be providing psychotherapy, assessments, diagnosis, substance abuse treatment, and crisis management.
Keep in mind, in order to be a mental health counselor you will need to have a minimum of a master’s degree. However, after completing your educational requirements it will be necessary for you to complete approximately two years of clinical experience under the direct supervision of a more experienced counselor who has already obtained their licensure. You will not be eligible to sit for your licensure examination until you have completed this clinical experience. Once you have earned a passing score on your licensing examination, you will be licensed to practice as a mental health counselor. In addition, you will likely belong to the American Mental Health Counselor’s Association.
Your education, training, knowledge, and skills set will make it possible for you to seek employment through a substance abuse center, a community agency, a youth home, a hospital, a corporation, a health care facility, an employee assistance program, or with an independent practice. In some of these professions you will be required to work and interact with other individuals in a related capacity, while others (such as independent mental health practice) may allow you to work more in a solo state.