What do Mental Health Counselors Do? Role & Responsibilities

Industry Advice Healthcare

The need for mental well-being is everywhere: in schools, at home dealing with the loss of a loved one, or in a facility helping someone overcoming an addiction.

According to Johns Hopkins Medicine, 26 percent of American adults suffer from a mental disorder in a given year. These individuals need help identifying their problems, the root causes, and treatment options to help them improve their lives.

Many different mental health professionals exist to help their patients meet those needs. Mental health counselors are one example.

Are you considering a career as a mental health counselor? Below, we explore the role and responsibilities of these professionals and detail the steps it will take to get you to your goal. 


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What is a mental health counselor?

A mental health counselor is a trained professional with the necessary expertise to help those who are suffering from a number of disorders including anxiety or depression. An incoming client has identified that they need help in dealing with their mental health symptoms or they want to discuss a difficult life experience. This individual has identified that they have a problem and want to overcome that problem. They need your assistance in order to do so.

What does a mental health counselor do?

Mental health counselors spend their days assisting clients to live better, happier, healthier lives. They do this through a variety of different activities, discussed below.

Roles and Responsibilities

Mental health counselors help people deal with their internal problems and struggles. This guidance is typically accomplished through talk therapy, wherein the counselor listens to the patient or client discuss an issue or problem that they are facing and then works with the patient to develop potential solutions 

The precise activities that make up a counselor’s daily work depend on a number of factors, including where they work and the patient population they specialize in. For example, mental health counselors may help their patients navigate a myriad of issues including:

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

Some mental health counselors choose to specialize in a particular area, while others work on a range of general issues. Some also choose to specialize in a particular patient population, such as children or the elderly. Specialization depends on one’s unique interests and desires. 

It is important to note that it is not a mental health counselor’s job to fix the problems their clients face but to instead help them understand those challenges and determine their own path toward resolution. As a mental health counselor, you will offer guidance and advice, but in the vast majority of cases, the work that must be done will need to be done by the client.

Addiction Counseling

If you work as an addiction counselor, for example, you will help a client navigate through the stress of daily life, overcome their substance abuse problems, and allow them to see other ways of dealing with the daily problems besides turning to daily habits and vices.

Family Counseling

If you work as a family counselor, you will guide your clients through conflict and turmoil. A family counselor’s patients may be challenged by internal strife caused by infidelity or PTSD. These counselors can help couples and spouses deal with conflicts brought about by financial disputes or abuse. They will see families or individual clients and help them adjust to new scenarios. They will assist people as they begin a new life. They will help children and adults find ways to express their emotions in ways that are healthy and safe for them and all who are around them.

Elder Counseling

Some counselors work specifically with the elderly to help them with depression or problems related to aging. More elderly patients today are seeking help thanks to the lessened stigma of mental health services. 

Where do mental health counselors work?

Mental health counselors work in a wide range of settings and atmospheres. Some of the most common examples include:

  • Schools, helping students navigate their way through academic and social challenges
  • Prisons, helping new inmates adjust to a new life and those who are leaving and prepare to become productive members of society
  • Hospitals, helping patients as they recover from a traumatic accident
  • Business settings, helping employees deal with the daily stresses and extraordinary incidents
  • Community health centers, providing mental health services in the center and in the community to a wide variety of clients, many of whom suffer from severe psychiatric disorders
  • Private practice, treating the patients and clients on an individual basis.

Becoming a Mental Health Counselor

Wanting to help people is just one part of becoming a mental health counselor. You will also need training and education that prepares you for the challenges of the job. Earning a graduate degree, such as a Master of Science in Counseling Psychology, can be an excellent way of learning the knowledge and skills that you will need to be successful. 

When choosing a program, it’s important to look for certain key attributes. First, the curriculum should be academically challenging, yet rewarding. Second, its courses should be taught by faculty that have spent time working in the industry. Third, whenever possible, the program should offer experiential learning opportunities that will allow you to put your education into practice. And finally, if you have a specific concentration in mind, you should seek a program that offers that specialty.

The MS in Counseling Psychology program at Northeastern is one example of a program that meets all of these requirements. Visit the program page to learn more.