Exploring The Role of a Clinical Counselor

What Is the Role of a Clinical Counselor?

According to Mental Health America, 19% of adults are experiencing a mental illness. This is equivalent to over 47 million Americans. Therefore, the need to treat mental health disorders is more important now than ever. Thus it’s important to ask, what is the role of a clinical counselor?

Clinical Counselors, also commonly known as Mental Health Counselors are trained professionals that counsel individuals and groups in regard to stabilizing their mental health. ThUpworkey treat and assist individuals who are suffering from a number of mental disorders, including anxiety and depression.

What Do Mental Health Counselors Do?

What Do Mental Health Counselors Do?

Mental Health Counselors help guide people in dealing with their emotions and internal problems. Usually, this is commonly done through talk therapy. A few issues they resolve include:

  • Anxiety and depression
  • Drug and alcohol addictions
  • Marital or relationship problems
  • Boundary setting
  • Abuse
  • Suicidal ideation

They usually hold a bachelor’s degree in psychology, counseling, or a related field and have appropriate credentials and licensing based on the state they’re practicing in. A few of their duties and responsibilities are listed:

  • Counsels clients and patients, individually and in group sessions, to assist in overcoming dependencies, adjusting to life, and making changes. Maintains confidentiality of records relating to client’s treatment.
  • Guides clients in the development of skills and strategies to deal with their problems. Encourages clients to express their feelings and discuss what is happening in their lives and helps them develop insight into themselves and their relationships.
  • Collects information about clients through interviews, observations, and tests. Prepares and maintains treatment records and reports.
  • Evaluates the client’s physical or mental condition based on a review of client information. Develops and implements treatment plans based on clinical experience and knowledge. Acts as a client advocate to coordinate required services or to resolve emergency problems in crisis situations.

Highlighted programs for you

University of Maryland Global Campus

University of Maryland Global Campus

Psychology Bachelor's
Social Science Bachelor's

Touro University Worldwide

Touro University Worldwide

Social Work Bachelor's
Counseling Master's

Required Skills/Abilities they must possess:

  • Knowledge of human behavior and performance; individual differences in ability, personality, and interests; learning and motivation; psychological research methods; and the assessment and treatment of behavioral and affective disorders.
  • Knowledge of principles, methods, and procedures for diagnosis, treatment, and rehabilitation of physical and mental dysfunctions, and for career counseling and guidance.
  • Knowledge of group behavior and dynamics, societal trends and influences, human migrations, ethnicity, and cultures and their history and origins.
  • Knowledge of principles and processes for providing customer and personal services.

What Are the Different Methods of Counseling?


Since every person is unique, they will respond differently to different types of counseling. Therefore, it’s important for Clinical Counselors to be trained and aware of an assortment of therapy methods. Some of these methods are:

Cognitive Therapy

This therapy emphasizes how a person thinks and can identify their patterns of negative thinking. The individual’s negative thoughts about themselves and the world are challenged in order to change unwanted behavior

Behavioral Therapy

This therapy states that if someone changes their behavior, then there will be positive outcomes in their feelings, thoughts, and interactions with others. Reinforcement and finding the underlying root causes of why the behavior occurs are some techniques used.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

This therapy combines the mission of both cognitive and behavioral therapy. It tries to understand how an individual’s thoughts, emotions, and behavior integrate with one another. Once the patient is able to identify the negative thoughts, then they can work on restructuring these thoughts. It is currently the most commonly used method for therapy

Psychodynamic Therapy

Similar to CBT, this therapy has a strong component of self-awareness. However, instead of focusing on conscious thoughts and behavior patterns, it focuses on the unconscious instead.

This approach is to help the patient have a deeper understanding of their own emotions and mental processing in order to make better choices about their lives.

Humanistic Therapy

This therapy focuses both on the patient and the therapist. The therapist has a very empathic and unconditional acceptance of the client and is encouraged to openly talk about what’s bothering them to the therapist.

Through this approach, they discuss positive things about the client instead of the therapist urging identification of certain patterns.

Dialectical Behavior Therapy

This therapy method is new and gaining popularity. It incorporates mindfulness, which is a concept in psychology about being grounded and present in one’s mind. In this approach, individuals will learn how to manage emotions and decrease self-destructive behavior.

Substance Abuse Therapy

This therapy is a specific approach for a subset patient population. These patients are individuals who have become addicted to drugs and alcohol and the goal is to get them to quit and stay sober. This treatment commonly uses 12-step programs, or other interventions depending on the severity of the dependency.

Group Therapy

Group Therapy

This therapy is usually led by a supervisor or supervisors and composed of individuals who tend to be grouped together by their mental disorders. Members of the group are expected to be respectful to one another and encourage to openly share their experiences and struggles with the group.

It is known to be affordable and quite beneficial for the therapist. They can observe the patient and see how they behave in social situations and respond to other people, which can later be useful if the individual decides later on to have one-on-one therapy.

What’s the Difference Between a Clinical Counselor and a Psychologist?

A clinical psychologist also treats mental disorders but is trained to diagnose, intervene, treat and prevent mental disorders. They have to get a higher degree than counselors, usually a doctoral degree: PhD or PsyD.

They can work in:

  • Academic settings (schools and universities)
  • Clinics
  • Hospitals
  • Prisons
  • Public health centers
  • Private practice
  • Military

While clinical counselors treat mental disorders too, they are trained to promote and assist individuals in improving their personal and interpersonal functioning rather than diagnosing it. Clinical or mental health counselors counselors tend to hold a bachelor’s degree or a master’s degree depending on where they work.

They can work in:

  • Mental health agencies
  • Community mental health agencies
  • Detox faculties
  • Hospitals
  • Residential facilities (e.g., psychiatric inpatient facilities)
  • Correctional facilities
  • Schools
  • University counseling centers

Here are a few ways they differ: 

Clinical Counselor Differences:

  • General therapy
  • Assist people in day-to-day life management
  • Sessions can be more cost-effective for clients
  • Emphasis on “talk therapy”
  • May be involved in conducting research but mainly consume and apply research according to clients’ needs

Psychologist Differences:

  • Disorder-specific therapy
  • Typically administer a wide range of tests: IQ tests, tests of neurological function, etc.
  • May administer tests to patients they do not see on a regular basis
  • More likely to work with individuals with serious mental illnesses and behavior problems
  • Frequently involved in conducting research

Both positions also have responsibilities that overlap. The similarities are:

  • Provide counseling services to help people navigate the mental health or emotional issues that make life difficult
  • Work directly with clients
  • Weekly sessions
  • Engaging in talk therapy
  • Giving patient homework assignments
  • Using assessments
  • Each requires licensing for the state they’re practicing in
  • Reimbursable by most insurance companies
  • They get to specialize in special populations, including children and individuals of the LGBTQ+ community

In terms of salary, according to Northwestern, the median annual pay for clinical counselors is $47,660 in 2020 with a projected growth of 23%. While the median pay for a psychologist is $82,180 in 2020 with a projected growth of 8%.

What Are the Dos and Don’ts of a Clinical Counselor?

What Are the Dos and Don’ts of a Clinical Counselor?

As clinical counselors are also ordinary people themselves, they also go through life hardships such as breakups, the death of a loved one, family issues, or terminal illnesses.

During times as such, they also have a list of do’s and dont’s:

  • Don’t bottle up your feelings
  • Do practice self-care and work through the pain with healthy outlets. These include journaling, working out, or any physical activity, listening to music or spending time in nature
  • Don’t unload the issue on clients or use them as emotional support
  • Do open up to trusted loved ones
  • Don’t skip sessions or force yourself through difficult days
  • Do take time away from work if needed. Signs when it’s time to take time off:
    • The mood toward your clients becomes impatient or irritable
    • Zoning out during sessions
    • Patient issues are similar to yours and you find them triggering
  • Don’t doubt yourself
  • Do practice acceptance and self-compassion

What Are the Primary Goals of Counseling?

As there are plenty of methods for counseling, there are five major goals that are universal for therapy in general:


  • As the economy changes, the need for social development increases. In order to create a positive social culture and quality economic life, the first thing to enhance is individuals and their mental health

Facilitating Client Potential and Promoting the Decision-Making Process

  • Therapy gives patients their own autonomy by letting them manage what they can control (their emotions) in response to what some people can’t control (their environment)

Increasing the Client’s Efficiency and Coping Capacity

  • As stated previously, teaching a client how to cope is an important part of therapy
  • These coping and defense mechanisms they learn can be beneficial to themselves and also to others

Improving the Ability of the Patient to Form and Sustain Relationships

Helping People Modify Their Habits

  • Habits are behavior-based. Facilitating this will need the patient to identify their negative thoughts and patterns in order to improve healthy habits
  • With behavior change, the patient will have better outcomes in life (i.e. meaningful relationships and managing their emotions)

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