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What Is a Mental Health Counselor?
A mental health counselor is a skilled professional who handles and treats clients having wide range of presenting issues related to emotions, thoughts, behaviors and more aspects. They help people who are under psychological distress by using different therapies and techniques. A mental health counselor deals with individuals, families, couples and group in a variety of settings.
Just like there are doctors who specialize in particular field, such as Orthopedics, Gynecology, Cardiology etc. similarly there are mental health counselors who specialize in a specific niche and cater to the people who are within the counselor’s area of specialization such as child psychologist, relationship counselor, adolescent and young adult counselors etc.
What Does a Mental Health Counselor Do?
Cases of depression and anxiety surface on a high level every year. But along with these, there are other mental health conditions that can impact one’s life in one or many ways. A mental health counselor doesn’t just deal with mental illness, but they also help the clients in improving their quality of life, in guiding them achieving certain goals which could be career-related or as personal as improving a relationship with self.
A mental health counselor practices one-on-one sessions which is also called individual counseling sessions where the focus is just the individual. The ones who specialize in relationship counseling may deal with the couple at the same time or again divide it as individual counseling for both the partners separately. You may find a mental health counselor working in setting such as schools, colleges, hospitals or at their private practice. The demand for mental health counselors is also increasing in the companies and organizations to cater to their employees’ mental health. Maintaining a work-life balance, increasing the work satisfaction are few of the other points that a counselor in the organization set-up works with.
Along with this, a mental health counselor works on the following factors:
1. Mental health issues
Everybody’s life has its own ups and downs. These challenges in the life may affect all of us in some way or the other. Various challenges that can come up in people’s lives could be- a married woman not getting along with the in-laws, an employee being under pressure because they cannot say no to the employer in terms of work load, an individual feeling low because of the recent breakup and so on. If these challenges start making the person anxious, angry, furious or make them feel any other unpleasant feeling to a level where they seem to stuck in these feeling or thoughts then mental health counselor can help them in facing the challenges and in finding the root cause of that problem.
It is important to note that mental health counseling isn’t just for psychological conditions such as depression, bi-polar disorders etc. It can be extreme powerful in handling the issues that come up in day-to-day life which could make someone feel anxious, angry or irritated. Hence do not wait until your sufferings worsen to go to a mental health practitioner.
2. Providing guidance
Imagine you are out on a trip all by yourself. To explore the place that you have gone to, you’d need to know the directions, and naturally Maps are the easiest way for navigation. In mental health counseling, the mental health counselor is the one who plays the role of that ‘Map’. There is a partial understanding that the mental health practitioners give their client direct solutions for their problems, but that’s not true. Rather, the mental health counselors guide their clients towards their destination just like Maps. That is, they guide the clients in achieving the outcome that the client has in mind.
But is that it? No. You see, to reach a specific place, there could be 2-3 different routes. So, the Maps will tell you which is the shortest route, where the traffic is low and so on. Similarly, a counselor will guide you and tell you what can happen if you choose a specific path for your healing journey. To sum it, a counselor prepares a treatment plan for the client based on the information that the client gives, leads them towards the outcome that they want to achieve through various therapies and techniques.
For example- if a client comes in for the counseling for work related stress, and wants to know whether they should continue the work or just leave that job. The counselor won’t answer that directly, rather they’ll help client in understanding what can the client do to reach to the answer. And once the client lands on the answer by themselves, the counselor can help the client build certain skills (in this situation skills like- creating boundaries in workspace, having an open and assertive communication with the superiors etc. at workplace) for them to stick to that decision and go forward with it.
3. Therapy or medication
Here’s another fact that a lot of people are unaware of and this question usually comes up in the session. The key difference between a psychologist and a psychiatrist is that only the psychiatrists are authorized to give medicines. This is because psychiatrists come from a medical background, who have an MD degree, whereas psychologists come from Arts background (by obtaining MA degree in psychology) or from science background (by obtaining MSc degree in psychology).
So then how do psychologists work? Psychologists use different therapies to help the client. Some of the psychotherapies are-
- Cognitive Behavioral therapy: This therapy comes under talk therapy where the counselor and the client both try to work on the client’s thought pattern from a conscious point of view. Usually, our thoughts and behaviors are interconnected, in a way that negative thought can lead to an unpleasant behavior and vice versa. A lot of information can be obtained from the client to find the root cause of the issue using this therapy.
- Rational Emotive behavior therapy (REBT): This therapy is an accelerated version of CBT which focuses on irrational beliefs, negative thought pattern and how our beliefs lead us to the distress in our own life. A lot of the work in REBT is regarding the ‘self’ part of the individual.
- Person-centered therapy: This is a non-directive approach to talk therapy. In this the client decides the course of therapy by talking/discussing whatever they wish to and the counselor provides further guidance. This helps immensely to most of the clients as the clients are the captain of the ship here, taking the control instead of the counselor.
- Grief therapy: One experiences grief after losing something that held a great value in a person’s life. Along with death, we may face different types of loss in our lives such as losing our jobs, parting away from a loved one who is alive, physical loss etc. Grief therapy helps client in overcoming the feeling of grief by using models like stages of grief etc.
One key difference to understand is that psychiatrists work on the symptoms of the patients while counselors work on the root cause. If work is done on the root cause of the problems, then symptoms automatically reduce and chances of relapse also decreases immensely. But psychiatric evaluation is must of patients who experience psychotic symptoms such as delusions, hallucinations etc.
4. Support to caregiver:
While someone suffers from a mental health condition, it is important that the people or a person who is that individual’s support system or caregiver, doesn’t have impact on their mental wellbeing. Individuals who provide support and care to their loved ones who are going through tough times, may sometimes suffer the most and their signs could be fatigue, anxiety, anger, frustration and many more. An example of this could be of a mother who is being her child’s caregiver who is suffering from depression. Now feeling helpless, hopeless and worthless are typical symptoms of depression. With therapy, it may take some time for that individual to overcome these symptoms, but the mother may observe these symptoms on daily basis and it must be so difficult for her to make her child understand that this is not the case or the sadness in the mother could be extreme. In such cases, counseling for caregivers is of importance so that their mental wellbeing doesn’t shatter and so that they can continue to support the individuals with mental health conditions properly.
Family counseling is also necessary at times so that the family members of the individual understand about the individual’s mental health condition in a way that their behavior doesn’t aggravate the ongoing distress. Family counseling also helps in a way where the family members understand the right way of being with the individual, to support them.
5. Kinds of mental health issues:
Like said before, every mental health practitioner has their own specialization and a specific niche in which they work. The issues in mental health could be categorized as psychosis or neurosis. Neurosis is a term used to describe anxiety, stress, obsessive behaviors and thoughts. Psychosis is a state where a person is not in touch with the reality, this means that the person could be hallucinating, could be delusion, have disorganized speech etc.
An individual with neurosis suffers from issues that come in day-to-day life such as work, relationships, career finance etc., where they have an understanding that they are feeling anxious or stressed. In psychosis, the perspective in the individual regarding themselves, their condition and others may lack.
What Are the Benefits of Seeing a Mental Health Counselor?
Mental health counseling isn’t only for someone who has a mental health disorder, but for anyone who has concern about their mental health and/or are not able to cope with any challenges in life, no matter how big or small they are.
We have friends, siblings, other close people in our lives with whom we can share our happiness, the problems in our lives, our thoughts abouts someone or ourselves. While having such people in life is a blessing, sometimes they are not equipped to help you and are not enough to help you deal with your mental health issues. Here, a mental health counselor is a professional who has gained knowledge of the subject and has tools which are scientific to help you to overcome the distress. Another important benefit of seeing the mental health counselor is that they truly understand what you are going through and they do not dismiss your feelings, but they help you to acknowledge these feelings and rationally overcome them!
Other benefits of seeing a mental health counselor are:
- They provide complete confidentiality so that you share anything and everything with them without feeling guilty, embarrassed.
- Counseling can be your safe space where there isn’t any scope for being judgmental.
- Counseling process releases the suppressed emotions and thoughts.
- Counselor helps you in getting closer to self-acceptance.
- Counseling opens doors for new insights and perspectives.
- Counselors can help you in fighting the internal conflicts with yourself with a more rational approach.
- Helps in fostering mental wellbeing.
How Do I Know If I Need to See a Mental Health Counselor?
Firstly, as an individual we ourselves understand first when we see certain amount of imbalance in our physical and mental health. The difference is, when it comes to physical health, a lot of us get it checked and start the treatment immediately, but when it comes to mental health some may take a step back because of the stigma revolving it or because some may think that going to a counselor is a sign of weakness. So, whenever the question ‘should I consider counseling?’ pops up in your mind that is your first sign of starting your therapy.
Other signs which tell that one should opt for counseling are:
- Sudden change or transition in life.
- Loss of a loved one.
- Thoughts of self-harm.
- Issues related to self: low self-esteem, confidence, self-worth.
- Problems in relationship, be it romantic relationship, friendship, parent-child relationship or any other relationship.
- Emotional imbalance.
- Extreme distress due to anxiety.
- Depressive symptoms.
- Signs that you are withdrawing yourself from society.
- Addictions- gaming, alcohol, drugs, social media etc.
- Sudden and prolonged disturbance in sleep and appetite.
- Loss of interest in most areas of your life.
- Work stress.
How Do I Choose a Mental Health Counselor?
This is an extremely important question. While a lot of counselors with appropriate degrees and knowledge are trying to make an impact in the field of mental health, there are few people out there who malpractice under the name of counselors by just attending one psychology course. So how would you know if the mental health counselor that you have approached to is the verified counselor? In India, it is mandatory for the mental health counselors to have their Master’s degree in their chosen specialization sub field such as Clinical Psychology, Counseling psychology etc. Another way to practice as mental health counselor is when one has a PG Diploma degree in counseling. For clinical psychologists, the mandatory degree is M.Phil. in Clinical psychology. Hence, whenever you approach to a counselor, ask them about their qualifications and areas of specializations.
You can ask anyone in your friends, family, general physician or your family doctor about any counselor that they know of. Apart from that, there’s Google where you can find out about practicing mental health counselors. But if you do not want to go through all these steps of finding counselors and verifying their authentication, then read till end to find a verified counselor in a hassle-free way!
How Do I Make the Most of My Mental Health Counseling Sessions?
Mental health counseling can be very powerful in understanding yourself, getting insights about yourself and the issues that you are facing, in knowing the behavioral patterns that could be changed for your betterment and so on. A lot of times, it is misunderstood that once a person goes in for counseling then it is the counselor’s work to make things right for that individual. But that is not the case. First and foremost, the individual should go to counseling by his/her own willingness, this is because from there on counseling also becomes the individual’s responsibility. If the individual takes that responsibility, then they will be open and transparent with the counselor, they’ll be open to listening to the techniques which the counselor discusses with them and then they’ll also be able to put those techniques to work in behaviors or actions.
Hence, to get the most of your mental health counseling sessions, it is extremely necessary to be open and show willingness towards it. Then comes the next step of sharing your life details with counselors. Some may hold back information as they might associate feelings like guilt, embarrassment etc. with that information, but the counselor is there so that you could let go of these feelings and feel better.
Then comes the next step of following the counseling schedule. To get the benefits of mental health counseling, one must attend all the sessions planned by the counselor. One must not terminate the counseling process on their own as the progress may stop then. At any stage of counseling process, if you feel that it isn’t working or if you feel to discuss about the process with counselor, then please do so!
How Do I Know When I Should Stop Seeing a Mental Health Counselor?
Counseling is a process, meaning one must attend a specific number of sessions as a plan of treatment. Sometimes it may happen that you may not be satisfied with the approach of the counselor or the progress could be slow then you expected it to be or there could be many such things which may make you want to stop the sessions. But would it be right to do so?
At any time of the counseling if you are not satisfied with the process or the counselor, then instead of terminating the sessions you need to talk to your counselor. The reason for this is that the counselor may have a specific goal plan for you, where they may lead you by taking one-step at a time. Here, by discussing with the counselor, the counselor may tweak the treatment plan a bit if they are sure that you are headed to the right direction to accelerate the progress.
Another point is that every counselor is different. ‘One size fit all’ is rare in counseling. Hence if you discuss with your counselor regarding their approach then may refer you another counselor whose approach will help in a better way.
In all, do not stop seeing your mental health therapist on your own, but talk to them at anytime you feel like stopping!
Are There Any Risks Associated with Mental Health Counseling?
Therapy can make you feel worse initially. Sounds scary, doesn’t it? But let me tell you why this risk is also a benefit. Our mind has a way to protect us from any threat that it perceives. So anytime our mind perceives any situation or person as a threat, it automatically switches to flight-fight-freeze mode. Due to the flight and freeze mode, we may not process or deal with the ‘threat’ completing and this leads to suppression of that emotions and feelings that come up during that time. In counseling, we face all the challenges consciously and that is why, initially it may overwhelm you but this could be the sign that you are now rationally processing the suppressed emotions and learning to cope with them.
Mental health counseling leads to self-discovery. In the process of getting to know yourself, you may come across some of your self-sabotaging behaviors, some of your weaknesses etc. This could be very hard to take in again leading to feeling overwhelmed or disliking self. But as you go ahead in sessions, you’ll realize how to change your behavior (if necessary) or how to accept yourself as you are by gaining deep insights.
In all, whatever risks are, are related to feeling overwhelmed. But that sometimes is necessary to bring in the change, whatever it may be.
The Bottom Line
Mental health counselor is a skilled professional who has vast knowledge about how our mind works and can help you with any issues that you are facing in your life which is directly or indirectly affecting your mental health. Seeing a mental health counselor has immense benefits which you will realize after starting your journey of counseling with them.
It is time that we all start looking after our mental health just like we look after our physical health. Remember, visiting a mental health counselor is same as visiting your physician, so don’t think twice before booking your appointment and starting your treatment!
Looking For Mental Health Counsellor?
We hope that all your queries regarding what a mental health counselor is and how they work are resolved. Now that it is resolved, you may feel ready to visit a mental health counselor if you feel the need. So, are you looking for the right mental health counselor for yourself? Instead of searching for a mental health counselor online, validating their credentials, you could book your appointment with of our skilled counselors.
WAITT has been catering to the community’s mental health since quite some time now and as a part of it has onboarded experienced, knowledgeable and skilled mental health practitioners who have their own niche in which they work and a very unique way of dealing with various clients. All you have to do is go on to- https://www.waitt.in/therapy/ have a look at the counselor’s specialty areas and book an appointment with the one that you feel is the right fit!
Go on, and take that step because no matter what, we are in this together!