As a teenager, I always thought mental health counselors worked in their own private practice. I had a friend who used to visit her counselor at her home office. Then, when I became a foster parent and welcomed other children into my home, I discovered that counselors also saw children at schools, aftercare programs, and all sorts of places and institutions. So, where do mental health counselors work?
Mental health counselors are professionals who have special training to use psychotherapy to help all sorts of people experiencing mental illness or distress. You can find a counselor in all sorts of places such as mental health clinics, schools, private practices, prisons, businesses, social service agencies, and many other places where people congregate and are in need of counseling services. Let’s look at some common and not-so-common places where counselors work.
Common Places Mental Health Counselors Work
In order to have a private practice as a psychologist, you would need to have a Ph.D. in psychology. However, there are many counselors and therapists who work in private practice with just a Master of Social Work (MSW) or a Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW). These people may do marriage and family counseling, provide therapy for victims of child abuse or specialize in another area of interest and expertise.
Hospitals generally have a psychiatric floor where counselors work with people who are experiencing acute distress but do not require long-term care. They are also needed in other areas of the hospital where a patient is anxious or in crisis.
Counselors also may work with patients who are rehabilitating in the hospital.
Mental Health Facilities
Most counties have a state-run mental health facility where people without insurance or those with a lower income can receive services. They generally have licensed counselors that perform individual, family, and group counseling services, generally with a specialty in mind.
Residential Care Facilities
Sometimes people are in such distress or have psychiatric disorders that require 24-hour supervision. These people generally spend time in a residential care facility so they can be observed and kept safe around the clock.
At the facility, counselors provide one-on-one counseling several times a week and also different types of therapies such as group therapy, music therapy, and art therapy.
Prisons and Halfway Houses
A lot of people in correctional facilities also suffer from mental illness and have substance abuse issues. Counselors employed by the prison system work specifically with prisoners and help them adjust and work toward rehabilitation. They provide individual and group therapy and also help them develop an effective plan for when they are released.
Counselors will also help prisoners set up outside mental health resources and prepare them to transition back into the mainstream of society.
The number of stressors that children face is not like it was 20 years ago. There are many more societal issues in the world today, such as school shootings, rising suicide rates, racial tensions, and, more recently, the pandemic. Some studies have indicated that teens have reported higher stress levels than adults!
With all the recent issues in the world today, kids are in worse shape mentally than years prior. Kids often report they feel as though they have no control over their lives and fall into despair and hopelessness.
Counselors are needed in schools to help students better navigate their lives. They provide one-on-one support on all levels, such as crisis intervention, trauma, gun violence, domestic violence in either the family or a close relationship, or grief support when a friend or family member dies.
Having counselors in elementary schools also helps working parents by providing therapy for their children while they are attending school. This removes the added stress of taking time off from work to take their child for counseling services at another location.
VA Hospitals and Clinics
Veterans experience unique stressors that aren’t as common to other people. Things like PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) and anger management – where the anger is triggered by their experiences in combat – are just a few reasons they need a counselor familiar with their problems.
Counselors who work in VA Hospitals and clinics also provide counseling for the entire family as the veteran attempts to adjust to society upon their return.
Drug and Alcohol Rehabilitation Facilities
In 2014 about 1.1 million people sought help at an addiction recovery rehabilitation facility. Counselors who work here assist in helping people to recover from their addictions to substances such as drugs and alcohol.
Some counselors work with a specific population, such as just men or women, only teens, or only at inpatient or outpatient facilities. Counselors also will often work not only with the patient struggling with an addiction but also with family members. They help patients discover what led them to use the substance and help them find new ways to cope with their feelings and distress.
Nursing homes, hospitals, retirement homes, and senior community centers are just some places you find counselors working with the elderly. They are trained specifically to assist with such things as retirement transitions, end-of-life decisions, coping with the loss of lifelong friends and spouses, and dealing with aging and deteriorating health.
Unusual Places Where Mental Health Counselors Work
There is a newer approach to counseling that is gaining momentum in working with adolescents who have behavioral problems or addictions. It is called Wilderness or Adventure Therapy.
Patients spend time living with their peers outdoors and participate in regular one-on-one and group therapy and adventure-based counseling and challenge courses. Clients are taught mindfulness-based activities and participate in cognitive behavioral therapy while hiking in the woods and living in tents.
There can be a lot of extra pressure and stress when playing sports professionally. Athletes may find they need help to learn how to effectively handle the pressures that come with competing. A sports counselor can help them develop strategies to improve their performance as well as relieve unwanted anxiety.
A Horse Farm
Equestrian therapy is a type of service counselors offer where horses are incorporated into the therapeutic process. The client participates in horse-related activities such as grooming, feeding, leading, and even riding the horse while supervised by a mental health counselor.
Some of the goals of equestrian therapy include developing emotional regulation skills, increasing self-confidence, and learning about responsibility. It is particularly helpful for treating adults, children, and teens who have experienced trauma, anxiety, depression, and PTSD. It is also used with children who have ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder).
A Music Studio
Music therapy is a kind of expressive therapy whereby music is used to help a person gain a better sense of well-being. It combines listening to different forms of music with playing various instruments while doing counseling with the therapist. People who have participated in music therapy have found that their stress levels decrease, anxiety temporarily subsides, and it can even lower blood pressure and heart rates.
Music therapists work with individuals who suffer from all sorts of problems, from anxiety and depression to autism, cognitive issues, and Schizophrenia.
An employee assistance program (EAP) counselor works to help employees who may need assistance with issues such as divorce, childcare, domestic violence, mental health, stress, or basically anything that is affecting their performance on the job. An EAP counselor usually has a master’s degree in social work.
An Art and Dance Studio
Another growing form of therapy that has been shown to be highly beneficial to the client is Expressive Arts Therapy. Here various forms of expressive arts are combined with psychology in ways to help clients initiate change in their lives. Creativity becomes the way that people express how they feel inside, leading to a place of deeper understanding and healing.
Counselors combine psychotherapy with the creative process the client chooses, be it art, dance, music, or any other art form. It has been proven to nurture profound personal growth as people work through their life situations in a physical way through storytelling, journaling, dance, music, and other types of creative arts.
In Conclusion, the above list gives you a broad picture of the different types of jobs counselors perform and the arena where they work. Though the places of work vary, the counseling position held generally requires the same level of education, whether it’s at the master’s level or doctorate. Different states have different educational requirements.
So if you find yourself experiencing problems with anxiety, grief, addiction, or just having trouble coping with the everyday stresses that life brings, this list will hopefully give you a good idea of places to search for the right type of counseling that will meet your needs.
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Alexandra Christensen is a freelance writer and editor. When she is not working on an assignment, she can be found hanging around with other writers on Medium.com/@alexandra_creates where she writes mostly about raising foster and adopted kids and those with invisible disabilities.