When we talk about mental health, we are referring to a person’s emotional well-being, their psychological state, and their success at managing their interpersonal relationships. It’s part of our earliest development as a child, it affects our adolescence, and it will continue to have an impact on our lives in adulthood. Our mental health touches upon every aspect of our lives. The condition of our mental health – be it poor, robust, or somewhere in between – will regulate our interactions with other people, our ability to make good choices, and our capacity for managing stress.
Good health for the body and mind
It’s not just about how we are feeling emotionally; mental health also plays a key role in our physical well-being. Taking care of mental health issues can help people to stay in good physical health, avoiding conditions such as sleep disorders and the development of chronic diseases. However, even people who have always felt positive about their mental health can find it harder to cope over time. This could be due to stress at work, relationship problems, or the loss of a loved one. For some, this could develop into a more serious illness such as depression or bipolar disorder.
Understanding what causes someone’s mental health to decline and helping them to find a way out of their situation falls to clinical professionals. Mental health counseling is a role in which specialists need multiple skills. These include patience, empathy, and critical thinking, as well as the ability to communicate effectively and to help people feel relaxed. These proficiencies are developed through experience and professional development, but many are learned during a practitioner’s initial training as well.
People who are planning a career in counseling can refine their skills with the Clinical Mental Health Counseling Masters Online at St. Bonaventure University. Combining coursework with two internships, the program prepares students for the licensed professional counselor exam and a graduate role in the specialty of their choice.
How can counseling be delivered?
Depending on the needs of the patient and the symptoms they are experiencing, counseling can take several different forms.
When it involves just the patient and the counselor, it’s known as individual therapy. One-on-one sessions can help people who are feeling anxious or overwhelmed about various issues in their life. They may be struggling to focus at work or when studying, they may be concerned about addiction, or there may be a relationship issue at play.
Group counseling is often conducted with two or more people – up to a total of 15 patients to one counselor. Each session will be aimed at addressing an experience that the entire group shares. It could be substance abuse, low self-esteem, or the loss of a family member. Patients gain comfort from learning that other people feel the same way. They can share their feelings and benefit from the support of a professional.
Marriage counseling can be useful to couples who are happy as well as those who are having problems in their relationship. It can help to tackle breakdowns in communication, upsetting behaviors, or the fallout after a spouse has had an affair. This form of counseling will guide the couple to changes that could improve their relationship.
Family counseling can address a wide range of concerns. It can be of use to families with one member who is living with a mental health problem. They can be brought into sessions to learn more about the condition, and as a result the family will be better placed to help the person in question. It can also provide a safe place for individual family members to talk through general conflicts that are frequently repeated or are barriers to communication.
How advancements in mental health counseling are expanding the provision of care
The National Institute of Mental Health states that “Technology has opened a new frontier in mental health care”. Today, phones and other smart devices are making it possible to collect data and offer help to people who are experiencing mental health issues.
This informs research and can improve the practice of clinical mental health counseling providers. Advancements have also been made in the ways counseling is delivered. There are forms of software which can be linked to sensors that monitor a client’s behavior patterns and will notify their care provider if help is needed. There are also programs that people can use to enhance their memory or increase their cognitive skills.
Apps are also increasingly being designed to help users manage their feelings of anxiety and stress. Although the stand-alone versions are largely unregulated, others, such as Talkspace, put users in contact with a qualified counselor who is trained to assist with their specific needs.
Can clients choose a particular type of therapy?
Although some counselors do specialize in particular forms of therapy, they can make a joint decision with their client to establish which is the right one. In these cases, the client is usually a layperson, so rather than considering the different options from a medical point of view, they need to think along a personal line. This could include considering what they hope to get out of therapy and what their long-term goals are in terms of their recovery. Clients can also be encouraged to research their condition where appropriate, so they understand how living with anxiety, depression, or a substance abuse disorder can impact their wellbeing and what treatments are considered to be the most effective. Clients may also feel drawn to a particular form of therapy because of their past experiences; if so, counselors can try out this approach to ensure it is beneficial.
What role do mental health counselors play in caring for people?
Counseling for people with mental health issues takes the form of a partnership between the client (or clients) and the professional. This is a purposeful collaboration that uses evidence-based techniques and research to establish an effective recovery plan. The length of time that the client and the counselor work together can vary. Often it will depend on the severity of the client’s condition and what the counselor feels would be best for their patient as an individual.
Sessions may be spaced out over a week or a month, or these could continue for a few months or years if that’s what would benefit the patient. During this time, both people will work on exploring why the client is distressed and which problems they are facing. Each session tends to focus on tackling the key problems or symptoms that a person is experiencing, especially those which are particularly distressing. The counselor aims to help their clients develop healthy coping skills which allow them to manage challenges more effectively and lead a healthier emotional life.
Listening without prejudice
For some clients, counselors just provide a safe space and a listening ear without being shocked, upset, or judgmental. Clients attend these sessions because they feel better after speaking with someone who is not involved with their life. If a support group or another medical professional, like a dietician, could be of assistance, a counselor can refer their patient to that service. Either way, seeking help at the earliest stage can lessen the impact of stress and anxiety and can prevent it from escalating into a more serious condition.
The specifics of each course of counseling and each session will be different depending on why the client needs help. People can approach a counselor because they are experiencing life stresses such as difficulties at work or home, eating disorders, or obsessive-compulsive disorder. Many counselors choose to specialize in one or more of these areas, while others may take on additional training so they can assist people who have experienced a recent traumatic event. Some patients need help with managing a mental illness, and some counselors specialize in those areas. Either way, there are several routes the counselor could take.
What approaches can a mental health counsellor use to treat clients?
There are many types of approach when it comes to offering therapy. The right one for each individual client will depend on their needs and characteristics as well as the preference of the counselor. Treatments focus on a different aspect of a person’s background or current behaviors. Some are more concerned with emotions and moods, and others will blend all or some of these to form a unique method.
Each distinct type of counseling has techniques that are used as a starting point for the course of therapy a person undertakes. Most involve the client and the professional discussing the problem together to try and gain clarity and, eventually, a solution. That’s why many of these approaches are known as talking therapies – all of them involve working with a trained counselor.
Working toward set goals with cognitive behavioral therapy
During a cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) session, the client will explore how their thoughts impact their moods and behavior. They will be encouraged to consider how they feel about their life at present, and then work on changing patterns of behavior that are intrusive or unhelpful. In some cases, five sessions are enough for people to break out of a cycle, but twenty or more sessions are not unusual. As part of the treatment, the counselor will work together with the client to see achievable goals. The success a client has with carrying out these tasks in between sessions will often dictate how long their course of therapy lasts. Clients are often asked to keep a journal which can help them to manage their thoughts, and this will be used to inform the next session.
CBT is often seen as a very practical approach that empowers people to solve their problems. Therefore, it is useful for conditions such as panic disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, depression, and a range of phobias. Over time, the counselor will encourage the client to identify their negative thoughts, examine them more closely, and finally replace them with more positive thoughts. The aim is not to banish negative feelings but rather to teach healthier ways of managing them.
Giving clients independence with guided self-help
Guided self-help is based on the theories explored in CBT and is often used in the treatment of anxiety disorders and depression. Therapists work in unison with their clients to provide clarity and solutions to problems. Clients are given techniques that they can carry with them for the rest of their lives and draw upon when their emotions begin to spiral. Sessions tend to be short and very focused, with an agenda that is set by the counselor. This ensures that clients get the most out of each meeting with a health professional.
Face-to-face support can be in the form of a phone call or a meeting. It is designed to support the work clients must do between sessions. The practical side of guided self-help is done during the client’s everyday life. Tasks need to be tried out repeatedly, so they are improved through practice. This makes change happen more quickly. As a result, clients can see improvements in their condition and feel motivated to continue. It may seem like a heavy burden is being placed on the client, but most counselors provide a workbook or a software course that provides additional guidance.
Helping the whole family with interpersonal therapy
Interpersonal therapy (ITP), another talking treatment, aims to help clients with issues that arise in their relationship with their partner, friends, and family. It is specifically designed to treat people who have depression by identifying what their problems are and how to improve their relationships. Unfortunately, it is often the case that depression negatively impacts how sufferers interact with others, so during IPT they work to resolve interpersonal issues as part of their wider recovery route. People are often offered IPT if they have tried other forms of talking therapy but their mild to moderate depression has not changed.
How do practitioners promote better mental well-being?
Counseling is a process that can have benefits in the long and short term, it supports those who are struggling and helps them to manage their feelings more successfully. During a difficult time, people like to feel they are being understood and genuinely heard. They often want to have their feelings validated by someone impartial. This is especially true if they have phobias or behavioral disorders that are characterized by compulsive or irrational thoughts. Often families, friends, and partners can struggle to understand why their loved one has these feelings, but a professional can provide reassurance. This helps a client to develop resilience, strengthen their self-esteem, and confirm that their needs are important.
Motivating clients into action
Counseling allows people to understand when they are avoiding a problem by addressing the underlying issues they are dealing with. People have the space to develop a better self-awareness in terms of their thoughts, and they learn to expect positive outcomes. As a result, the thought patterns which would have led to destructive or negative behaviors or thoughts can be managed more effectively.
Giving clients a better understanding of “self”
Conditions that affect a person’s mental health often impact their sense of self. Counseling can promote a more balanced and fairer concept of self within clients. It gives people more perspective and can prevent them from comparing themselves unfavorably to others. Instead, they are given support and encouraged to concentrate on their well-being.
Encouraging clients to face their feelings
It can be difficult for people to tell their loved ones about dark or intrusive feelings, but professional mental health counselors will encourage a conversation around these. They recognize that addressing difficult feelings is one way of healing and resolving a problem. Clients who go through therapy are better placed to see the connection between their past thoughts and the negative behaviors they are beginning to escape from.
Offering the space to speak about uncomfortable emotions
Counseling is a safe space in which clients can share their feelings and know they will be listened to. For clients who have felt isolated or misunderstood, it reinforces the idea that they deserve to be heard. While the client speaks, the counselor will occasionally cut in and ask questions at appropriate moments in order to help their client reach breakthrough realizations.
Making change happen
It’s good to have friends and family around to provide support, but a counselor can help clients to identify the problem that are having more quickly and accurately than a layperson can. Counselors are professionally trained people with experience in helping others with similar problems. Moreover, because they are unconnected to the client, they can be completely honest in a way someone in a personal relationship may not be. This impartiality makes it easier for the client to speak openly, reach breakthroughs, and experience better mental health sooner.