The need for mental health counselors is growing. In the past, mental health was something that no one wanted to talk about, either through fear, shame, or misunderstanding. Thankfully, things have changed, and today we are able to be more open about these issues. The great thing about this is that the people who need help are now able to receive it.
Therefore, more and more mental health counselors are required. However, this is not an easy job, and it takes a certain kind of person to do it well and to enjoy it (which is crucial; you can’t help others if you are miserable in your job as you simply won’t be motivated to do it). With that in mind, here are some of the character traits that a good mental health counselor will need to succeed.
A Genuine Interest In Others
Becoming a mental health counselor takes a lot of dedication and hard work, and if you’re looking for a career in which you can put your interest in people to good use, there are few better than becoming a counselor. However, if you’re just looking for a career in which you can do your job and get paid and go home, then mental health counselor may not be right for you. Unless you truly do have an interest in people, it’s not going to be something you can get a lot out of.
There are some people who simply have a need to ensure others are happy and healthy and that they are making the best of their lives. These people will often also want to know more about other people, and when they are given questions, they really want to hear the answers – and it shows. These are the kinds of people who make excellent (successful) mental health counselors. Are you one of them?
When in a therapy session with a patient, this kind of person will be entirely present for any story the patient tells and not ‘zone out’ or become bored in any way. This is crucial; the patient needs to be able to talk without feeling they are a burden. If you feel you could achieve this today, will you still be able to do so many years down the line? This is also important; you have to continue to be interested in the rest of your career.
A successful and effective mental health counselor must understand that as well as helping their patients to be more self-reflective to understand where their mental health issues stem from, they must practice self-reflection themselves. It’s just as important to look deeply inside yourself as it is to encourage others to do the same.
There are a number of reasons for this. Firstly, when you are a mental health counselor student, you will be taught to use your own feelings and emotions as a way to empathize with your patients. You can use your own ideas as a way to measure others, and you can help understand emotions by understanding your own. Not only is this important, but it’s also good practice when it comes to helping your patients in the best way. If you can understand more about what you’re feeling, you’ll know what questions to ask your clients and how to interpret the answers.
The Ability To Listen On Many Levels
If you don’t listen to your clients, you’ll find that you can’t help them in the right way. It’s absolutely imperative that a good mental health counselor is able to not just hear the words that are being said but to listen to them – and there is a big difference.
We’ve already talked about how a mental health counselor needs to be present when their clients are with them in order for that client to feel comfortable in speaking. This needs to be built upon, and the counselor must listen carefully to exactly what the patient is saying. There will be clues and nuances that could easily be missed when it comes to finding the right way to help someone if you’re not listening in the right way.
Remember, a counselor must listen to what is being said and how it is being said. Only when they do that can they interpret why it is being said and understand how to help their client in the right way. Everyone will be different, so even if you’ve heard a similar story before, you won’t have heard it from that patient, and therefore you cannot simply assume what the outcome should be and how you should make your next move. You have to listen every time and determine the right course of action for that one person, not find an off-the-shelf approach that might save you time but that won’t help the patient at all.
Accessibility And Authenticity
One of the most important things for a mental health counselor is for their patients to trust them. Without this trust, the client won’t be able to open up about what is troubling them, and if they can’t do that, the counselor will be unable to offer them advice and help them. Therefore, accessibility is an important trait to have. This means not just being trustworthy but also being empathetic and authentic; a genuine person will be able to help others much more than someone who is only there for the money or the adulation; patients will know the difference.
Being authentic and accessible is at the heart of every good counselor’s work. The client needs to know that when they talk to you, you understand. Perhaps you haven’t been through a similar situation, but you know what they are feeling, nonetheless. At the very least, they need you to be able to put yourself in their shoes.
When you work as a mental health counselor, you need to be flexible if you are to be successful. As we’ve mentioned above, every client is going to be different and have different needs. You need to be able to tailor your care to meet those needs, and the care will be different depending on the individual you are helping.
In order to help as many people as possible, being flexible is crucial. Although it might be tempting (because it’s easier) to stick to one plan and hand it out to everyone, that will actually only be beneficial to a small number of people. Being too rigid with your ideas can cause harm, and at the very least, it will ensure that the people who come to you for help don’t receive it, which is the last thing you’ll want when you’re a counselor (assuming you decided to study and work hard because you wanted to help people).
You’ll need to be able to ascertain what kind of person someone is and how they will best be helped quickly and accurately, and once you know more about them, you will either reassess or move forward with your original ideas. Things can change quickly in counseling, particularly when you make a breakthrough or, conversely, when an issue pulls the patient back a few steps, so you must always be ready to adapt and change when needed.
Be An Advocate
If you are to help patients in the best way as a counselor, they need to know that you will be their advocate when required. They need to know that you will speak for them and speak up for them when necessary. They need to know that you are working together to help them, rather than just treating them as any other patient and telling them what to do.
Linked to gaining trust, being an advocate for someone – and ensuring they know you are there for them – is another way to help them make the most of their therapy sessions. If they know that you can help them, they will be more open to you, and the more open they are, the more you can help them.
You’re going to see many different people, all with a variety of issues. The one thing they will all have in common is that they need you to be their advocate, and therefore you need to prove that to them if you and they are to get the most out of your time together.
Are you a clear communicator? Some people are better at communicating than others; some actually find it very difficult indeed. When you are a mental health counselor, you need to be able to communicate with your patients clearly and concisely, but with a tone that shows you are empathetic and, as mentioned above, there for them as an advocate. If you are able to do all of this, counseling could be an ideal career for you, as being understood is absolutely vital.
It’s great to understand your clients, and it’s great to come up with a solution – or at least the start of one – to help them when it comes to their mental health issues, but unless they can understand you and follow your instructions, it will all be for nothing. You need to ensure that your communication is good and that there is no room for confusion, and then you can be sure you are helping people in the best way as a mental health counselor.
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