Mental Health Counseling

Mental health counseling helps individuals and groups confront challenges in their lives to find healthy, proactive solutions.

Mental health counseling is a developmental approach to mental wellness, based on a tacit assumption people change as they grow, and these changes can be adjusted and directed. Mental health counselors use the tools of human psychology to assess, diagnose and treat the mental health concerns affecting their patients. In the process of achieving these goals, mental health counselors provide crisis management, substance abuse and alcoholism treatment and psychotherapy.

Mental health counselors often develop trusting relationships with their patients, allowing them to effectively apply systemic, behavioral, affective and cognitive techniques to prompt positive changes. Mental health counselors are licensed or certified by the states in which they practice. As a result, certification requirements vary depending on where the counselor works. There is a national certification for mental health counselors as well. Before seeing any mental health counselor yourself, find out his or her credentials, including licenses, certifications, education, training and experience. Find out as well if a given mental health counselor you are considering specializes in a particular therapeutic approach.

Types of Mental Health Counseling

There are many different forms of mental health counseling. Each may be conducted in individual or group sessions, or both, and each may be better suited for different mental health disorders.

Cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) is an evidence-based therapy you can use to help lower distress from a host of mental health disorders. It can help you to recognize and adjust the ways you think and act so as to alter the way you feel physically and emotionally. Mental health issues that can benefit from CBT include the following:

  • Chronic pain
  • Anxiety and depression
  • Low self-esteem
  • Eating disorders
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder and its symptoms
  • Anger management problems

Dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT) is a form of CBT involving an individual session and a group session each week for six months minimum. While well-suited for children and adolescents, DBT can also be used effectively by people who have tried more common methods of counseling for their conditions to no avail. In the group sessions, you practice skills like the following:

  • Mindfulness – Or managing attention
  • Emotional regulation – Or managing and dealing with emotions
  • Interpersonal – Or relating with others effectively
  • Distress tolerance – Or handling emotional distress

Interpersonal therapy (IPT) is a short-term form of mental health counseling used with depressed and troubled youth. The focus of IPT is on building healthy relationships, managing life transitions and improving your ability to communicate. Through IPT, you can learn to recognize the connections between your past actions and events and your current emotional responses to stimuli. Used mainly with depression, IPT may sometimes be adapted for use with specific conflicts, grief and major life changes. It can also be used to treat substance abuse problems, eating disorders, bipolar disorder and dysthymia.

Emotionally focused therapy (EFT) concentrates on your emotions and how you handle them. It places a focus on your actions, thoughts and feelings in the present and past, including the significance of prior relationships. The precept behind EFT is that the cause of many mental illnesses is due to emotions that have been suppressed and avoided. Through EFT, you can resolve these unpleasant feelings by using them to discover information about yourself, such as how and why you respond to things. Other forms of mental health counseling include the following:

  • Mindfulness-based therapies
  • Psychodynamic therapy
  • Group therapy
  • Family therapy
  • Play therapy

Mental Health Counselors

There are many types of mental health professionals. To practice with patients, a licensed clinical mental health counselor must have a master’s degree in either counseling or some similar mental health subject. During their education, mental health counselors are trained in a variety of core subjects approved by the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Education Programs (CACREP), including the following:

  • Cultural and social foundations
  • Psychotherapy
  • Psychopathology and diagnosis
  • Counseling theories
  • Human development and growth
  • Program evaluation and research
  • Psychological assessment and testing

Practicing mental health counselors must also have passed a state and/or national licensing or certification test and finished at least two years of post-degree clinical work through an internship or practicum under a certified or licensed mental health professional’s supervision. Before scheduling your first session with any mental health counselor, make sure he or she meets at least these criteria. Among the names of licenses and mental health counseling professions are the following:

  • Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor (LCPC)
  • Licensed Mental Health Counselor (LMHC)
  • Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC)

To find a mental health counselor to work with, there are many places to look. In addition to those working in private practice, you can also find mental health counselors in substance abuse treatment centers, employee assistance programs, hospitals and community agencies. Many integrated health care delivery systems and managed behavioral health care organizations also have mental health counselors on staff. The Association for Behavioral and Cognitive Therapies recommends seeking mental health help from a counselor who is a member of the organization and is either covered by your insurance or has reasonable fees.

Differences Between a Mental Health Counselor and Other Mental Health Professions

Commonly confused for one another or used interchangeably are the terms “mental health counselor,” “therapist,” “psychologist” and “social worker.” In fact, all four mental health professions are quite different. Therapists are not a licensed profession. Therefore, anyone can call him or herself a therapist. To be a mental health counselor requires a particular set of education and licensing or certification credentials. Social workers are a licensed profession, but social work licenses are different than mental health counseling licenses, with different educational and professional requirements. Licensed social workers are often licensed mental health counselors as well. Psychologists are a broad spectrum of mental health professions, often involved purely in research. While mental health counselors can conduct research as well, their primary activity is working with clients.

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