An increasing number of people are battling with mental health issues today, and help is not always available. The onset of various types of mental illness usually begins in the late teens and early adulthood and, if left unchecked, continues into later life with devastating effects. Mental health and behavioral issues affect both the individual with the problem and those around them: families, school friends, colleagues, and society in general.
Of utmost importance in the treatment of mental illness is timely intervention. The sooner treatment begins, the greater the likelihood of a successful outcome. However, the distribution of mental health practitioners is sparse in many rural and economically distressed areas, making it difficult for people with mental and behavioral health disorders to get timely access to appropriate mental healthcare.
Counselors and researchers recognize the urgency of treating patients promptly. Some organizations are making concerted efforts to identify early signs of mental illness and use timely and innovative interventions to turn the mental health statistics around.
The role of a counselor
Mental illness comes in many forms. Psychiatric counselors work with people affected by personal crises and trauma, as well as people with behavioral problems, gender orientation differences, physical disabilities that affect mental health, anxiety and depression, ethnic, religious, and cultural diversity, and more. Counselors practice in a wide range of settings and utilize a multitude of skills and techniques in their dealings with patients.
A mental healthcare counselor’s knowledge and skills are in great demand. With the diversity of mental health problems and a vast array of methods and skills employed in the counseling process, the scope of work for a qualified mental health counselor is interesting and immensely rewarding. With a masters degree in mental health counseling online, such as the excellent course offered by the American International College, students can study while they work, gaining experience in their chosen field and adding value to a society in need.
Approaches to counseling
Counselors learn strategies and skills through their studies, but each case is different, and the counselor learns to intervene in a manner that is best suited to the client.
First is the ability to make the patient feel that their problems are important. Counselors should listen attentively and establish a rapport with them before delving too deeply into the reason they are there. Respect and empathy go a long way toward creating a trusting relationship between a counselor and client.
The counselor will help the client understand their feelings and show that they can identify with the issues affecting their mental health. As the counselor listens, they will try to establish whether there are mechanisms currently in use to cope with problems.
Once the client can analyze and identify the cause and nature of their problem, the counselor will teach them the coping skills and strategies to overcome their problems and improve their lives.
This is where the counselor can use innovative ways to empower their patients to face their problems and maintain a healthy trajectory towards mental wellbeing. Encouraging clients to set goals for their healing and personal growth helps in their long-term recovery.
Historically, psychologists focused on the unpleasant experiences in life. Now, however, a new school of thought is gaining momentum where counselors encourage clients to acknowledge their positive feelings, thoughts, and behaviors, enhancing happiness and reducing anxiety and depression. With regular practice, the positive effects are sustainable in the long term, empowering people to lead more productive and happy lives. Happiness improves health, eases pain, and prolongs life.
Adapting to patient’s needs
Once the counselor has established a relationship with the client and knows more about their personality and their likes and dislikes, it is time to be creative. Creative interventions can make the difference between keeping patients focused and losing their attention altogether.
Counseling a client from a different race or ethnic group needs to be handled with sensitivity and expertise. Ideally, the cultural or ethnic differences between counselor and client should be acknowledged by both parties from the start.
Counselors need to be aware of their own biases, understand the reasons for their thinking, and be aware of how they interact with their clients. An awareness of their own culture and belief systems helps counselors recognize differences in other cultures. Each client should be listened to and treated as an individual with their own personal needs.
Group counseling and community support
Group counseling may not work for everyone, however, there are many benefits to this practice. Counselors identify patients with similar issues and bring them together as a group. This helps people realize that they are not alone with their problems, and as they begin to identify with others who are battling with similar issues, their healing process is likely to accelerate. It also helps people form friendships, and more introverted clients may learn to interact confidently with others.
Counselors working in community settings use innovative ways to get patients involved in their communities. By giving the client a task to complete or asking them for help with a particular community project, they automatically start feeling that they belong, and their sense of self-worth improves.
Creative arts and mental health
Using various forms of art as an aid to counseling supports mental health in ways that verbal counseling alone cannot do. A study conducted in Scotland indicated that giving clients the freedom to experiment and express themselves through art enhances their self-understanding and alleviates feelings of loneliness or isolation. Art therapy also improves cognitive function and is used in the treatment of dementia patients and those suffering from anxiety or depression. Art therapy has been found to alleviate mental health problems, while music and singing therapy have been found to reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression.
The long haul
There are many ways in which a counselor can incorporate creativity into their counseling sessions, enhancing mental stimulation and creating a relaxing and enjoyable atmosphere. Mental healing can take months or years, and it is important that the counselor maintains a good relationship with clients so that they look forward to returning for their next session of therapy.