Career as a Mental Health Counselor

What Does a Mental Health Counselor Do?

You can't pin down mental health counselors.

While they typically work in private practice, they may also specialize in a variety of demographics and focuses (such as substance abuse counseling, PTSD, or childhood development) and venues (including schools, local governments, military bases and residential disability or substance abuse facilities). They may also promote mental and social well being through social media, publications, community programs and advocacy. They are distinguished by the high level of requirement for practice: rigorous education, state licensure, thousands of hours of practice, and ongoing continuing education. Let's examine these professionals and a typical day in their lives.

Salary of a Mental Health Counselor, More Stats

  • 89.3 Million

    Americans Live in Federally-designated "Mental Health Professional Shortage Areas"

  • 20%

    Projected Job Growth between 2014 and 2024

  • 13th

    Among Best Social Services Jobs, According to U.S. News & World Report

What Does a MHC Do?

A day in the life of a mental health counselor can vary widely, depending on his or her specialty and workplace. MHCs work in individual and family services (21%), outpatient and substance abuse centers (17%) and residential disability/mental health/substance abuse facilities (12%).

Generally speaking, here are O Net Online's common work activities that most of them -- no matter their title or environs -- take on during an average day at the office.

Evaluate eligibility and needs of potential clients.
Collect information about clients through interviews, observation or tests.
Complete and maintain client-related paperwork, including progress reports and governmentally-mandated forms.
Help clients to develop skills and strategies to deal with their problems.
Address crisis situations; perform interventions.
Develop, implement and evaluate treatment plans based on clinical experience and knowledge.
Modify treatment as needed to improve care or follow changes in patient's status.
Meet with other interested parties, e.g. family members, to exchange necessary information.
Monitor clients' use of medications.
Supervise other counselors, social service staff, assistants, or graduate students.
Plan or conduct programs to address community mental health.
Advocate for client or community needs.

Tools of the Trade

How do you know if you're right for a job? More to the point: Does your mind work the way a mental health counselor's should? To find out, see which mental skills are integral to their common work activities, at least according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

CompassionSympathize and empathize with people in stressful and difficult situations
InterpersonalWork effectively and maintain good relationships with different types of people, whether clients or other professionals
ListeningPay full and thoughtful attention to patients in order to understand their situations, wants, and needs
OrganizationalKeep track of payments and work with insurance companies
SpeakingExpress information and ideas in a clear way that clients can understand well

"Get to know yourself. Through this process, you can figure out if the career is something that you are willing and capable of taking on. This career is fulfilling and challenging. If you have difficulty with self care, you have to learn to work on yourself before you can help others."

La Shawn M. Paul, LCSW-R, ACSW

Columbia University, 2008

Day in a Mental Health Counselor's Life

The best way to learn about a profession is to shadow a professional for a day, even a week. To save you some time for now, here is a snapshot of the days of two working mental health counselors.

Monique M. C. Prince (MSW) is a clinical social worker in New Hampshire.
7 a.m.Put on my name tag, which is symbolic for me for putting my counselor brain on. Next, check my calendar for the day to see who will be in and if I have any new clients, and get out their charts for review. I vacuum the carpet if it needs it and check my email again.
8 a.m. to 12 p.m.Meet with clients. I review their individual charts before each client to see what we are working on. I meet with them and take written notes as needed. I listen a lot and empathize a lot. Depending on the client, I help them to process past trauma or current difficulties. I give them help in understanding why they are going through what they are going through, or have gone through, which has a negative impact on them. I help them through a healing process so that they can have peace, joy and healthy relationships with others. I usually meet between 45 mins to one hour with each person.
12 p.m.I eat lunch while doing progress notes, which are the documentation of the session. At my clinic, it's on a computer.
1 to 5 p.m.Meet with a client again. If someone doesn't show up, or cancels, I use that time to get my progress notes done.
After hoursIf at any time during the day I receive notice of a new client, I call them right away to set up the initial appointment, which is called an intake. Rarely, I get a call from the hospital, in which my office is located, to go and meet with a patient who is there on account of mental health issues, and I set up a time for them to meet with me after they are discharged from the hospital. During the day, if anyone, such as a medical professional or client, calls or texts me, then I try to respond as soon as I am available. My phones are off during all sessions with clients.
Orly A. Katz (LCPC) is a professional counselor and maternal child nurse who practices in Maryland.
8 to 9 a.m.I usually start seeing clients. I see clients on the hour.
12 to 1 p.m.I take a few-hour break, where I have lunch at home or with friends, go to the gym, make phone calls, let the dog out, water the plants. It is time to relax.
3 to 4 p.m. until 8 to 9 p.m.I go back to the office to see clients. If I start later or finish earlier, I read or write.

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