What Does a Mental Health Counselor Do?
A mental health counselor facilitates and promotes mental health in a number of different kinds of settings. A mental health counselor may work with individuals, couples, groups or the community at large. A mental health counselor helps people seeking help with emotional, marital, and other mental health needs, assisting clients in moving from emotional pain to emotional wellness. They often specialize in a particular type of counseling practice. For instance, some mental health counselors work only with substance use and abuse issues.
What is a Mental Health Counseling Degree?
A mental health counseling degree can include anything from an associate degree, to a bachelor’s degree, to a master’s degree, culminating in a doctoral degree. Each level has its benefits and limitations in terms of licensure, the type of client seen, and pay level.
An associate degree in a two-year college program that will result in limited job opportunities, mostly working as a psych technician in a hospital or other mental health setting.
A bachelor’s degree in counseling is a 4-year university program. These degrees are roadways to jobs where people skills are important, such as psychiatric technician, job counselor, human resources specialist, and the like.
A master’s level program usually takes two years to complete and includes an internship. This is a professional track and often results in professional licensing that allows a person to work directly with clients in a variety of mental health settings.
A doctoral degree can take anywhere from 2-5 years to complete and includes hands on work with clients in an internship. This degree leads to professional licensing and allows direct client contact in a variety of settings as well as a pathway to managing agency mental health programs.
What are the Careers in Mental Health Counseling?
A mental health counseling degree allows a person to help others. There are a number of different types of jobs that a mental health counseling degree can prepare you for. At the master’s and doctoral level, once licensed, a mental health professional may also develop a private practice which allows a person to see a wide variety of clients. Although not a complete list, the following jobs are among the types that a mental health degree may help prepare you for:
An addiction counselor works with clients individually and in groups regarding substance use and abuse issues such as interactions between use and emotional triggers, developing coping tools to help with cravings, and devising and implementing a recovery plan. An addiction counselor may also incorporate educational elements in working with clients that can help them understand brain chemistry and addiction. An addiction counselor may obtain a CADC, or a Certified Alcohol and Drug Abuse Counselor certification. This certification is recognized nationally.
A behavioral counselor works with clients utilizing a behavioral framework to help a client change unwanted negative and destructive behaviors. These can include substance abuse issues, phobias, depression, and anxiety, among others. A behavioral counselor usually has at least a bachelor’s degree, although a master’s degree may be required for some jobs. National certification is available as either a Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor (LPCC) or a Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC).
A behavioral counselor may work in a number of job settings including neighborhood health clinic, hospital, in-house addiction treatment center, and the like. Daily tasks include intake and client evaluation and diagnosis, treatment planning, conducting therapy sessions either individually or in groups, crisis intervention, and making referrals to appropriate other client services.
A career counselor can be instrumental in helping a client find a career or job well matched to a client’s strengths and preferences, helping a client move forward in a current job or career, or helping a client make a career change. Using interviewing skills, testing and their knowledge regarding job skills, career counselors are well equipped to help a client make informed concrete career changes. A career counselor can help a client map out a career path including appropriate education, finding a job, lateral moves to improve a career path, continued education as needed and as appropriate, and resolving issues in the workplace.
A crisis counselor is highly trained to deal with individuals in crisis. That crisis can occur with violence, the death of a loved one, a natural disaster, suicidality, a health crisis, a school shooting. A crisis counselor often meets with clients individually, either in person or by telephone. Examples of crisis counseling by telephone are suicide and rape hotlines. Crisis counselors are expert at helping a client stabilize, including making important decisions regarding a client’s immediate needs, making the appropriate referrals for the next stage of therapeutic intervention for the client, and advocating for the client when and if the client is in shock. Crisis counselors are an indispensable bridge between immediate trauma and longer-term therapeutic help.
Community Health Worker
A community health worker may have a broad range of duties depending on the agency or health provider they work for. In general, a community health worker is a liaison between the agency and the community at large, and often, more specifically, with individuals in that community. A community health worker may provide education on a particular aspect of community or home health. For example, a community health worker specializing in working with the elderly, may provide education to the elderly within the population regarding home safety, or work with individuals on safety within their homes. A community health worker may facilitate support or educational groups for particular health concerns such as asthma or diabetes. Community health worker jobs usually require a bachelor’s degree.
Community Service Manager
A community service manager coordinates and supervises services encompassing varying aspects of physical and mental health within a community. Often these services are facilitated within an agency specializing in a particular population or type of health concern, for example, a children’s health agency, or an elder outreach program. A community service manager ensures that the program serves the needs of that population, collects data regarding the needs they are meeting, and reports to supervisors or funding agencies. A community service manager must have a broad array of managerial skills as they are often responsible for the day to day running and implementation of their programs.
A family counselor works with families and individuals within families on a variety of mental, emotional and relationship issues. A family therapist is highly trained, having at least a master’s degree, thousands of hours of supervised clinical work, and professional licensing. A master’s degree takes 2 -3 years to complete. All states require that a family counselor complete a certain number of supervised clinical hours before the counselor may sit for their state’s licensing examinations. A family counselor may hold a Marriage and Family Therapist license or the equivalent and is expert at family systems and relationships.
A geriatric counselor works exclusively with elders on mental, emotional and relationship issues relevant to the elder population. Working with elders can be extremely satisfying work for a counselor. Issues such as chronic pain, end of life, isolation, loneliness, depression, anxiety, and substance use are all issues that a geriatric counselor may work with. A geriatric counselor may often work for an agency that works with elders, interfacing between the client, family, and other health care and social workers, to help provide a network of services for their clients.
A grief counselor specializes in helping clients cope with loss and their feelings surrounding that loss. This means working with clients in all stages of grief, from the initial shock of a loss in the early stages, through all the stages of bereavement, as well as any accompanying depression or anxiety. Some work may be done with clients individually. Some work is best done in groups with clients, such as bereavement support groups. Grief counselors often hold advanced degrees and professional licensure. A grief counselor may work in variety of job settings including a hospital, clinic, senior center, nursing home, or funeral home.
A health educator works with community members to promote activities and lifestyle changes that result in better health and wellness. A health educator can work with a number of health issues or specialize in a particular health issue of population subset. For example, a health educator could work with diabetic clients, educating client groups and their families on appropriate diet and exercise changes and their effect on blood sugar levels. A health educator most often holds at least a bachelor’s degree, and may work in a hospital, clinic, or agency setting.
A rehabilitation counselor works with people with disabilities to enable them to live independently. This includes people with emotional, mental, and physical difficulties. A rehabilitation counselor often works in a hospital, clinical or agency setting that specializes in helping people with disabilities. A rehabilitation counselor may work with clients individually or in groups to develop skills and strategies that help them cope with their disability and take advantage of their strengths. They usually work in concert with doctors, nurses, social workers and other therapists to serve a client’s needs.
A residential counselor works with clients in a structured residential setting. The duties of the counselor will vary depending on the type of residential setting involved. Residential counselors often work in group homes, half-way houses, transitional housing and shelters, and with school residential programs such as dormitories.
A residential counselor often handles relationship issues and conflicts that arise between clients as well as issues that develop between clients and others outside the residential setting. This may involve working with clients individually or in small groups. Most of these positions require at least a bachelor’s degree.
A school counselor helps students from elementary school through college deal with a wide range of issues including academic, emotional, mental, and family issues. The school counselor is often the first person called in when a student continually acts out, experiences or inflicts bullying behaviors, has trouble with teachers or peers, has academic trouble, or is suspected of being abused at home.
A school counselor may see a child individually, meet with teachers and parents to help develop a plan to help a troubled child, or may help a child who is experiencing academic difficulty. School counselor positions usually require at least a master’s degree and professional certification.
Substance Abuse Counselor
A substance abuse counselor works with clients individually and in groups regarding substance use and abuse issues. Pulling from a recovery model, substance abuse counselors work to help clients understand their addiction and develop coping strategies to help a client move into and maintain sobriety.
While some jobs may only require a bachelor’s degree and certification, increasingly, employers are looking for candidates with advanced degrees and a professional license specializing in working with this population. Candidates with advanced degrees are often able to move laterally into management of substance abuse programs within an agency or clinical setting.