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The Best Workplaces for Mental Health Counselors

What To Know

  • School-based counselors will usually work with a wide range of problems, from helping students recover from bereavement or divorce in the family to dealing with specific mental health issues and helping them with areas of education, such as improving concentration and behavior in the classroom, improving their grades, or even preparing for exams or higher education applications.
  • In addition, we also examine the typical educational path that a counselor will take, the skill set they need to develop and the importance of gaining experience in the field and taking a positive approach to lifelong learning.

Thanks in part to the greater awareness of the importance of focusing on the mind and mental issues, mental health counselors are highly appreciated by society and in demand by many employers today. Not only do counselors offer a vital service in various aspects of the healthcare system, but they also work in various other institutions, from community organizations and companies to schools and universities.

This article looks at the areas where counselors typically find employment, what kinds of tasks they usually carry out, and how they assist their clients. In addition, we also examine the typical educational path that a counselor will take, the skill set they need to develop and the importance of gaining experience in the field and taking a positive approach to lifelong learning.

A wide range of expertise

Generally speaking, mental health counselors are responsible for assessing and treating mental and emotional health disorders. They also help people cope with life challenges, relationships, or family problems. Counselors typically apply various psychotherapeutic methods and work closely with patients to help them enact meaningful changes in behavior, positively alter their lifestyle, or learn coping strategies to help them deal with complex problems. In many cases, the counselor will work to develop and implement a tailor-made treatment plan in one-to-one sessions with a client, though they may also carry out group or family sessions. They are typically responsible for monitoring and evaluating client progress and maintaining client records.

Counselors often work alongside other healthcare professionals to ensure appropriate and effective treatment for individuals. Although counselors often work in mental health facilities, they can also operate in a wide range of different settings. In many cases, counselors will operate in several areas over the course of their career, often trying out different roles before gravitating towards one particular field of expertise.

An integral part of healthcare

Many mental health counselors will be employed in hospitals and healthcare facilities, particularly earlier in their career. Their main role in these settings is typically to provide emotional and administrative support for patients and their loved ones in the event of a major health crisis. They may also be asked to help them deal with chronic illness, whether as outpatients or inpatients, or to assist patients with completing health assessment forms and locating additional resources. In many healthcare institutions, counselors will also be available to provide support for staff too.

Often, mental health counselors may instead seek to work in a private practice, where they would typically need to build up a reliable base of clients over some time. Although some might specialize in certain areas, such as pediatric counseling or couples therapy, many counselors who work in private practice will deal with a wide range of clients and likely treat various issues. Today, besides working in a clinical setting onsite, many counselors will also offer remote counseling online or through video calls. Telemedicine and online consultations are now a common and popular way of treating clients.

Education and the community

Many counselors will also find themselves working outside of direct healthcare over the course of their career. Some, for example, may choose to work in schools or other educational institutions, where they will typically assist students who are struggling in some way with their education, or who have other issues outside of school that are, in one way or another, making life difficult for them. School-based counselors will usually work with a wide range of problems, from helping students recover from bereavement or divorce in the family to dealing with specific mental health issues and helping them with areas of education, such as improving concentration and behavior in the classroom, improving their grades, or even preparing for exams or higher education applications.

Other counselors choose to provide assistance to the wider community. They may, for example, work at a community health center, where they will work in a non-profit setting to help provide affordable, high-quality mental health services for people in the local area. Others will find work in rehabilitation centers, where they will be responsible for assisting people recovering or suffering from various types of addiction, including alcohol and substance abuse. Counselors are also employed by outreach programs and non-governmental organizations to provide assistance in a wide range of other cases too, including assisting people who have suffered from abuse and asylum seekers who require assistance after arriving in a new country.

Other areas to explore

There is also significant demand for qualified mental health counselors in prisons and correctional facilities. Here, counselors provide both one-to-one and group counseling for inmates, many of whom suffer from one or a series of mental issues. In addition to helping inmates cope with the difficulties of internment, mental health counselors will also help them prepare for life after their release. They also typically perform additional administrative tasks in the correctional facility, such as keeping track of the prisoner’s mental health records and assisting with paperwork.

Finally, some counselors might also gravitate towards the corporate world. Thanks in part to the growing appreciation of the importance of mental health, many corporations and even some smaller businesses provide employee assistance programs, where workers can receive professional assistance with any issues they may have related to mental health. Counselors working in this kind of environment may also find themselves involved in developing educational and promotional programs, where they help encourage people in the organization to take action to prevent or cope with workplaces issues, such as burnout, work-life balance, bullying and intense stress. Of course, counselors in this type of position will also be available to discuss other issues that are not directly work-related and will also look to raise awareness of mental health and mental illness in a more general sense.

The right kind of preparation

When it comes to the educational path that counselors typically follow, in most cases, counselors will first complete an initial bachelor’s degree. Though many counselors will study a related subject, such as psychology or psychiatry, in some cases, their first degree will be in another subject. The next step will be to complete a master’s degree in counseling or a related field through an accredited program.

Overall, there are many different work environments for mental health counselors; each presenting different opportunities and requiring different skills and experiences. To increase your opportunities within the field, consider specialization through advanced degrees, such as an Online Master of Arts (MA) in Clinical Mental Health Counseling (CMHC) from a reputable institution, such as American International College (AIC). In the program offered by AIC, students have the opportunity to develop their theoretical knowledge and clinical skills in preparation for a career in counseling by exploring a wide variety of topics, including counseling theories, principles and techniques of mental health counseling.

In addition, students will also learn about crisis intervention and trauma-informed care, as well as systems and theories in counseling and psychology. This program also looks at the social basis of behavior in relation to multicultural counseling and the specific trends and issues of a multicultural and diverse society, with a special emphasis placed on cultural diversity.

The online nature of this kind of program provides students with greater flexibility and enables them to learn at their own pace. With 100% online coursework, the flexibility of this type of program makes it the ideal choice for anyone with other commitments. Students are also required to complete field placements that will help them learn how to apply their theoretical knowledge in a practical setting and develop real-life clinical experience.

After completing a master’s degree, prospective counselors will also be expected to pass a state licensing exam to become a Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC). They will then be ready to look for their first position as a mental health counselor.

Keep on learning

Naturally, even upon graduation, there will be much to learn. Most counselors will find work in various settings, particularly early in their careers. Fortunately, most newly graduated counselors can count on their colleagues’ support as they face their profession’s challenges. This can come through informal, on-the-job conversations, discussions, appraisals, or more formalized mentoring programs and training courses. The ability to learn and develop will continue to be critical throughout a counselor’s career, particularly if they later look to specialize in a particular field of expertise.

A positive approach to lifelong learning is integral to this kind of profession as it is essential to not only learn from the most-up-to-date research, but also to learn as much as possible about all the different factors that could positively or negatively influence a person’s state of mental health in any given situation. For this reason, many of the best counselors not only spend a lot of time reading and researching in their field, but also make the effort to attend further training courses and explore various areas of mental health to the greatest possible extent.

Building the right skill set

Over the course of their career, counselors need to develop both the hard and soft skills needed to perform to the highest possible standard in their work and ensure the best patient or client outcomes. In terms of hard skills, it is naturally essential to develop a sophisticated understanding of psychology and mental health theories and practices, as well as the ability to diagnose and treat mental health disorders. In addition, it is important to build a working knowledge of various therapeutic techniques, as well as the legal and ethical issues involved in mental health counseling. The ability to not only keep detailed and reliable records but also knowledge of data analysis is also invaluable.

In terms of soft skills, most of the best mental health counselors have a high degree of empathy and compassion, and are also excellent listeners, capable of comprehending and understanding their client’s situation even if it may differ greatly from their own. It is also important to be a good communicator and to possess the interpersonal skills required to interact effectively with clients, fellow healthcare professionals and any other people within the workplace and beyond. Today, there is also an increased focus on developing an awareness of cultural and diversity issues, while the ability to develop a rapport and establish trust with clients is also important. Finally, counselors need to demonstrate both patience and adaptability, particularly if they end up working in a variety of different workplaces over the course of their career.

The path to success

Overall, studying to become a mental health counselor can lead to a long, varied and richly rewarding career. Not only is the profession incredibly wide-ranging, but there is also a significant demand for counselors in many different settings. This means that counselors can expect to work with a diverse range of clients and patients and will also have the chance to explore different workplaces and roles over the course of their career.

Any position that deals with mental health will provide its fair share of challenges. Helping people to cope with and overcome mental issues can often be extremely demanding, with patients requiring support over a prolonged period. At the same time, having the opportunity to provide genuine support and assistance at a crucial time in someone’s life is a genuine privilege, and many counselors will report that it is one of the most richly rewarding professions available.

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