Careers in mental health counseling

Counseling is a collaboration between a client and their counselor to identify goals and provide guidance on possible solutions for emotionally problematic issues. This also encompasses advice on improving coping mechanisms and communication skills, as well as strategies to improve self-esteem and promote changes in behavior that will improve general mental health going forward.

Counselors focus on different areas, such as helping people deal with addiction, assisting children and adolescents, and helping older adults.

The terms counseling and therapy are often used interchangeably, but there are critical differences in their approach to treatment. Counselors deal with specific problems practically, helping patients deal with issues using various tactics and following a problem-solving approach. Therapists help clients with similar problems but delve deeper by assisting patients in understanding why and how they find specific issues challenging.

Counseling is often best used as a short-term approach to equip patients with tools that can be used immediately, whereas therapy is considered a longer-term process.

There is also sometimes confusion about what counselors and psychologists do. The main difference is that counselors focus on general therapy that may employ psychological research. Psychologists tend to focus on evaluation within a particular field, providing interventions for people with specific disorders through diagnostic tests and consultation with healthcare professionals and researchers.

Career counselor

Career counselors work with clients to explore career options and consider their interests, skills, and work-related values to help them pursue the right career path. They will review educational and career situations and assist in determining which steps need to be taken to reach the client’s goal, then work with them on implementation and moving forward. 

Career counselors work in various settings, such as high schools and colleges, to assist students in moving on to their chosen career or educational path. They can be employed in private practices, social services offices, and employment and staffing agencies. 

Mental health counselors

Mental health counselors assess and treat mental health and emotional issues and other challenges their clients may be facing. They can specialize in areas such as anxiety, personality disorders, and substance abuse and use a range of methods and strategies to assist their patients in developing positive and long-term behavioral changes. 

Mental health counselors are employed in private practices, mental health agencies, academic institutions, hospitals, other health settings, and rehabilitation programs.

School counselors

Part of the role of a school counselor is working to maximize student success and ensure equal access for all students. They can be responsible for designing and delivering counseling programs that contribute to positive outcomes for students and undertake duties that could include short-term counseling for students referred to them, long-term support for students who require it in collaboration with families and teachers and holding individual education plan meetings. They may also be responsible for analyzing data to identify important issues and for holding student-focused meetings.

Useful counseling skills

In addition to gaining the right qualifications, counselors must develop core skills to ensure they are effective at their job. Empathy is vital. It is the ability to understand and identify with another person’s experience by listening to them describe their thoughts and experiences. Counselors deal with people from various backgrounds, examining their problems and life choices.

Active listening skills are a vital requirement for a good counselor. Active listening means the ability to listen to people and to reflect their thoughts back to them, remembering events and feelings that are important to them to reach and maintain a working rapport. Understanding non-verbal communication, such as silence or facial expressions, is also essential if a counselor is to gather all the information needed. 

Good social and communication skills mean you can put people at ease, which is crucial at the beginning of the sessions. Clients will not know you very well and could be uncomfortable revealing personal thoughts and feelings to you during therapy.

Setting boundaries is essential for ethical counseling, and thinking critically is vital when developing courses of action and formulating steps toward a positive outcome.

Benefits of counseling for clients

When encouraging clients to make the most of their counseling experience, it is necessary to help them understand its benefits. 

These can include providing an opportunity for self-discovery and exploration and enabling people better to understand their personality, values, and beliefs. When a patient is with a counselor, they should be provided with a safe, non-judgmental, caring environment that enables them to feel comfortable disclosing personal information. A series of counseling sessions can also help change unhealthy and self-defeating habits by deciding what steps are needed to regain control of these behaviors. 

Clients may also improve their self-esteem and self-acceptance, have guidance in finding a purpose in life, and understand how better to manage their emotions healthily. Talking to an expert in their field also provides a safe outlet to vent and express frustrations and issues clients may be dealing with, helping them express themselves more positively.

In the long term, counseling can assist clients in learning practical life skills such as problem-solving and conflict resolution, providing them with a safe place to learn, practice and experiment with these skills before applying them to real-life situations. It can also help with motivation, encouragement, and hope for people who are finding life difficult because of their situation and how they feel about it. 

Steps to becoming a counselor

Before you take your first steps toward becoming a counselor, it is essential to research what is required of the different types of counselors to decide which direction to take. 

Once you know which path you wish to pursue, you can enroll in a master’s degree in counseling, preferably from a CACREP-accredited school such as American International College’s MA counseling online. Some states offer a pathway for students who graduate from a non-CACREP-accredited program, so double-check what is required for the place where you will be working. 

During their studies, students must complete field experience under the supervision of licensed counselors; they must then pass a licensure exam and earn the necessary credentials to practice in their state. After this, some counselors continue their education through doctoral work to continue with lifelong learning that can enhance any career path.

Job prospects

Anyone interested in becoming a counselor in the field of their choice will be able to enjoy positive long-term job prospects, with a rewarding career ahead if they choose to ensure they get the proper qualifications and career development.

Employment for school and career counselors is projected to grow 10 percent through 2031, faster than the average for all occupations, with an expected 32,000 openings available. 

Once qualified, the employment outlook for counselors is positive. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment of mental health counselors is expected to grow by approximately 22% until 2031, offering an estimated 43,600 job openings.