The responsibilities of the mental health counselor vary according to the setting and the specific role the counselor is expected to fulfill. The roles of various types of counselors are discussed below.
- School counselors advocate for the development of students, ensuring curricular, financial, and other issues have been addressed. They help students develop realistic goals via oral and written assessments. Many of their students have developmental problems or other special needs. Counselors also help students with behavioral problems as well as social and personal issues they may be dealing with. The goal of the school counselor is to help the student build the life skills needed to deal with problems before they worsen.
- Vocational counselors help individuals make career decisions after evaluating all relevant factors. The vocational counselor may arrange for a client to take aptitude or achievement tests in order to better determine his or her best career path. Vocational counselors also support people who are coping with job loss, general job stress, or other career transition issues.
- Rehabilitation counselors help people deal with disabilities by arranging for medical and career assistance. Rehabilitation counselors work with disabled individuals as well as with their families in order to provide necessary support. They also evaluate reports and confer with professionals to determine the capabilities and skills of the individual, with the goal of trying to increase the individual’s capacity to live independently.
- Substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors help people struggling with substance or other abuse issues. Substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors provide counseling to individuals who are addicted to drugs, helping them identify addiction-based behaviors and problems. Counseling can be individual or in groups. In addition, counselors may work with others affected by their loved ones’ addictions and conduct addiction-prevention programs.
- Marriage and family therapists apply family systems theory and techniques to help patients resolve emotional conflicts. Marriage and family therapists strive to modify perceptions and behaviors while also enhancing communication and understanding. These therapists may also use non-medical psychotherapy and refer patients to psychiatric resources.
Educational Requirements for the Mental Health Counselor
In order to become a mental health counselor, one must first obtain the proper licensure. Obtaining this licensure usually entails earning a master’s degree, though some states will grant licensure to individuals with a bachelor’s degree who also have completed the appropriate counseling courses. Completing an accredited master’s program generally requires completion of 48 to 60 semester hours of graduate study, including completion of a supervised clinical counseling experience.
Many states also have special requirements for mental health counselors wishing to get jobs within certain settings. For example, many states require school counselors to hold a state school counseling certification and to also have a teaching certificate and experience working in the school setting.
Some employers also provide additional training to mental health counselors. Still others may allow the mental health counselor to take time off in order to pursue his or her education and may even provide tuition assistance. Furthermore, counselors often must participate in graduate studies, workshops, and personal studies to maintain their credentials.