What is a Mental Health Counselor?

Mental health counsellors help people manage or overcome mental and emotional disorders and problems with their family and relationships. They listen to clients and ask questions to help the clients understand their problems and develop strategies to improve their lives. They work in a variety of settings, such as private practice and mental health centers. Most work full time.

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What does a Mental Health Counselor do?

Mental health counsellors typically do the following:

  • Diagnose and treat mental and emotional disorders, such as anxiety and depression
  • Encourage clients to discuss their emotions and experiences
  • Help clients process their reactions and adjust to changes in their life, such as divorce or layoffs
  • Guide clients through the process of making decisions about their future
  • Help clients develop strategies and skills to change their behaviour or cope with difficult situations
  • Coordinate treatment with other professionals, such as psychiatrists and social workers
  • Refer clients to other resources or services in the community, such as support groups or inpatient treatment facilities.

Mental health counsellors use a variety of techniques and tools to help their clients. Many apply cognitive behavioural therapy, a goal-oriented approach that helps clients understand harmful thoughts, feelings, and beliefs and replace them with positive, life-enhancing ones. Furthermore, cognitive behavioural therapy teaches clients to eliminate unwanted or damaging behaviours and replace them with more productive ones.

Some disorders can be overcome, but others need to be managed. In these cases, mental health counsellors help the client develop strategies and skills to minimize the effects of their disorders or illnesses.

Mental health counsellors provide treatment to individuals, families, couples, and groups. Some work with specific populations, such as the elderly, college students, or children. Mental health counsellors deal with a variety of issues, including anxiety, depression, grief, low self-esteem, stress, and suicidal impulses. They also help with mental and emotional health issues, and relationship problems.

Some mental health counsellors work in private practice. They must spend time marketing their practice to prospective clients and working with insurance companies and clients to get payment for their services.

What does it take to be a Mental Health Counselor?

A master’s degree in counselling is required. A bachelor’s degree in most fields is acceptable to enter a master’s-level program.

Counselling programs prepare students to recognize symptoms of mental and emotional disorders and to use effective counselling strategies. Specific programs, such as marriage and family therapy programs, teach students about how marriages, families, and relationships function and how they affect mental and emotional disorders. Both programs typically require a period of supervised experience, such as an internship.

Mental health counsellors must be licensed. Licensure requires a master’s degree and 2,000 to 4,000 hours of supervised clinical experience.

What is the workplace of a Mental Health Counselor like?

Mental health counsellors work in variety of settings, such as mental health centers, substance abuse treatment centers, hospitals, and colleges. They also work in private practice and in employee assistance programs (EAPs), which are mental health programs that some employers provide to help employees deal with personal problems.

Mental health counsellors generally work full time. Because counselling sessions are scheduled to accommodate clients who may have job or family responsibilities, some counsellors work evenings and weekends.

How much does a Mental Health Counselor earn?

The median annual wage of mental health counsellors was $38,150 in May 2010. (The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less.) The lowest 10% earned less than $24,180, and the top 10% earned more than $63,630.

Learn more about being a Mental Health Counselor