Approximately 25 percent of Americans suffer from a mental disorder each year. Since our society has become more aware and understanding of mental disorders, so has the need for professionals in the field. Most health insurance providers recognize the need for mental health counseling as way to resolve emotional and psychological problems that may affect an individual, family, or society. Mental health counseling analyzes the external pressures from the environment and society that a person may face. Most individuals in the profession begin as a mental health counselor and then move into a more specialized field, such as rehabilitation, substance abuse counseling, marriage and family counseling, or guidance counseling. Individuals in these fields usually hold at least a master’s degree with a license or certification in their specialized area.
A career in mental health counseling will involve working with individuals or groups who struggle with depression, psychological disorders, substance abuse, relationship issues, and stress or anger problems. According to Payscale.com, the average salary for a mental health counselor is about $40,000, with individuals who are self-employed earning more money. While the earning potential when working in private practice is greater, it can take up to five years to develop a business. Education requirements to work in the field are at a minimum a master’s degree.
For those individuals who choose a career in the clinical arena, they will find a combination of traditional psychotherapy and medicine in treating patients. A clinical mental health counselor can benefit from earning up to $60 per session or working in a health care or substance abuse treatment center. Demand for these professionals continues to grow as employers continue to offer employee assistance programs. Clinical mental health counseling could reach into areas such as career development, group counseling, psychological testing and assessment, human growth, research, and program evaluation.
All mental health counselors agree to adhere to a rigorous code of ethics and professional practice standards. The code of ethics is an agreement to follow a standard in the following areas:
- Commitment to Clients
- Commitment to Other Professionals
- Commitment to Students, Supervisees, and Employee Relationships
- Commitment to the Profession
- Commitment to the Public
- Resolution of Ethical Problems
Counseling can occur in different ways. There is individual counseling, which is one on one therapy, where a person talks to a counselor in private at his own pace. These sessions are confidential and useful when the individual needs objective advice, guidance, or opinions. Couples or family counseling occurs when a mediator is needed to help family members relate to each other. This type of counseling is common for a couple contemplating a divorce, issues of sexual or domestic abuse, substance abuse issues, or grief counseling. Group counseling or support groups help groups of people dealing with similar issues. They are sometimes helpful for people suffering from similar issues to share ways of handling a problem.
When you are searching for mental health counseling, there are many types of therapy and providers. A psychotherapist is a general mental health practitioner of sorts and conducts individual and group sessions to discuss patient symptoms, thoughts, emotions, and behaviors. Psychotherapists use different techniques to achieve results; however, medicine management is something that the psychotherapist will not generally be allowed to do. A psychologist, on the other hand may be trained to provide treatment, only if he has specialized in clinical or counseling therapy. Most states require a clinical or counseling psychologist to be licensed in order to treat patients. A psychiatrist is trained in psychiatric disorders and licensed to practice medicine. He may provide psychotherapy to patients on some occasions.
Staying Sane as a Mental Health Counselor
People become mental health counselors because they believe they can help people reach their full potential. Effective interpersonal skills in this profession include the ability to be sensitive, empathetic, patient, and listen and convey understanding without judgment. The mental health counselor believes that the client is capable, respectable, and worthy.
This profession has its challenges, as some of the clientele could have deep emotional and psychological problems. A combination of counseling and medication may be the required treatment. Thus, the job could bring an immense amount of stress and frustration into the counselor’s personal life. So how does a mental health counselor stay sane in the profession? How does the counselor maintain her own mental stability without losing hope or compassion for the people they serve?
One way to cope with the stress of working in the mental health profession is to establish a network of other people working in the same field. The best way to manage the challenges of this profession is to be able to talk with others who encounter some of the same issues. Networks encourage dialogue among people who are willing to give encouragement in a public way. Networks can be established locally or nationally, and now many collaborative groups meet via the internet. Another way to meet people is by joining associations, committees, and conferences where topics of mental illness are discussed.
Another option for maintaining a healthy lifestyle is to seek personal therapy. The mental health counselor will benefit from personal therapy by discussing issues that have developed in their professional relationships. It is important that the counselor be emotionally balanced and stable with the ability to avoid projecting her own personal beliefs and ideologies on a client.
Don’t forget to work out. Exercise is the best way to alleviate some of the tension and stress from the day. For some time, magazines, health newsletters, and television shows have promoted the idea that exercise is good for one’s health. It is more recently that the benefits of exercise to mental health have been touted. Running, swimming, cycling, weight training, and dancing can all be therapeutic to a counselor’s mindset. The effects of exercise include a positive mood, a renewed level of self-esteem, and restful sleep. There have been many studies that have examined sleep duration and daytime fatigue. The study showed that those people who had more sleep were less likely to report stress during the day.
If you find that you are unable to shake the discussions from your daily sessions as quickly as you’d like, spend some time thinking about why you entered into the profession in the first place. Be honest with yourself and self-evaluate: Are you trying to solve your own problem by treating others? If you have had a personal experience with mental history in your family, this may sensitize you to the situation. It can be destructive, though, if the counselor is seeking power in the relationship. A counselor needs to be able to make a difference without having unrealistic expectations for helping others. The mental health counselor should not undermine the client’s autonomy by doing for the client. A functioning mental health patient should be able to solve his own problems.
In order to lead a healthy life as a mental health professional, try to give direction and guidance to the community you serve without becoming too attached. The optimum level of detachment will allow the counselor to remain clinically objective, empathic, and engaged. It is important that the counselor stay insulated from the toxic emotional enmeshment that can derail therapeutic effectiveness.
Mental Health Nursing
Mental health nursing presents a growing opportunity for nurses, yet many people do not know about it. As our society has become more accepting of mental health disorders, so has the demand for this profession. People in this field can find personal fulfillment and financial rewards because nurses usually get to experience the direct results of their care. This role involves taking care of patients who may be suffering from bipolar disorders, anxiety, depression, schizophrenia, or dementia. These patients may be involved is assisting the patient with daily activities, such as bathing and eating, as well as medication management. They may work with family members and physicians who also take care of the patient.
There are two types of psychiatric nursing. At the most basic level, the nurse works with individuals to diagnose, develop, and implement a nursing treatment plan. This treatment plan is designed to assist the client in regaining or improving coping skills to prevent further disability. This may involve self care activities, psychoeducation, crisis intervention, prevention management of a therapeutic environment, or case management. At the basic nursing level, nurses will work on a rotation which will introduce them to other areas of psychiatric mental health nursing they may want to pursue. At this time, they may decide to pursue a specialty in a particular area.
Advanced mental health nursing consists of Advanced Practice Registered Nurses (APRNs) and Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioners (PMHNPs). The APRN conducts intakes, develops a plan, and cares for patients. They assist the patient and communicate with family, physicians, and other providers. They conduct one-on-one patient counseling and group therapy sessions. The salary for an entry-level mental health nurse ranges from $40,000 – $60,000 a year and can earn up to six figures.
The PMHNP takes on more responsibility than the APRN in the follow-up with patients and treatment plans. PMHNP nurses provide one-on-one counseling, order additional treatment, if needed, and may prescribe medicine. The PMHNP is involved in the mental and psychical health of the patient. They usually have a great deal of experience in substance abuse counseling because many mental health patients try to self-medicate with drugs or alcohol. The PMHNP is trained in biological, pharmacological, sociological, and psychological sciences. The salary for a PMHNP averages about $75,000 – $80,000 per year.
Advanced nursing is a specialty and requires a master’s degree in psychiatric mental health nursing. Along with performing the basic functions of nursing, this individual can treat families with psychiatric problems or disorders. Professionals who decide to pursue a doctoral degree can then teach, conduct research, work in a hospital, or as a graduate program administrator. Some mental health nurses choose to specialize in forensics, substance abuse, child-adolescent health nursing, or geropsychiatric nursing. They can also function as a psychotherapist, and some states allow them to prescribe medicine. The PMHNP can specialize in many different areas, such as family health, nursing, emergency services, or pediatrics. Each state decides on the titles it uses for nurses in advanced practice. For more information on titles, scope of practice, and requirements for licensing, contact the National Council for State Boards of Nursing.
The PMHNP is similar to a psychiatrist, social worker, and psychologist in that they all can provide psychotherapy; however, the PMHNP and psychiatrist are the only ones who can prescribe medicine. Psychologists, though, can administer testing, whereas the other professions cannot. All providers can practice independently and are subject to state laws on the scope of their practice.
To begin in the mental health nursing field, a person should receive an Associates of Science or Bachelor degree in order to become a registered nurse (RN). To become an RN, a person can enter a two-year program leading to an associate’s degree in nursing, enter a three-year diploma program in nursing, or a four-year bachelor degree program. After completing any of these programs, the individual is eligible to sit for the RN licensing exam.
A good way to determine if you should continue in this field is to do some volunteer work in agencies, hospitals, and community programs. Here you will observe the full scope of a psychiatric nursing position. To become an APRN or PMHNP, a nurse has to earn a master’s degree. Some people choose to become certified in psychiatric mental health (CNS-PMH) by the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC) which will mean an increase in pay and further opportunities.