Becoming a mental health counselor is something that, for the right kind of person with the right mindset and qualities, can be an excellent career choice. It’s a way to help people when they are at their lowest and to really change their lives in a positive way. Over time, you will be able to see the differences you make in people’s lives, and this is one of the many different reasons why people choose this career. However, before you do make the decision to start studying to become a mental health counselor, there are some important things you need to know. Not only will having this knowledge help you make the right choice in terms of your career, but it will also help you put a career progression plan in place for when you become a counselor. This is a crucial job as it is something that can help so many people, and it’s important that as many people qualify to do it as possible, but just wanting to help won’t be enough (although it’s a great start); you’ll need to want to continue and make the most of your learning and the hard work you put in. With that in mind, here are some things you need to know before you get started so that you have all the information needed to make the right choice. You Need As Much Experience As Possible Experience is one of the most important things that a mental health counselor can have. Of course, there are other crucial elements to put in place, including having a degree and the right qualifications. However, once you have done that, you will need to gather as much experience as possible in order to progress in the way you want to. If you want to help a wide range of people in every way they need help, this experience is non-negotiable. Yet how can you gain experience if you have only just started? There are a number of options. You might work in a different area than the one you want to specialize in, for example, and gain experience that way. This will allow you to come into contact with a wide variety of different people, all of whom you can learn from and help at the same time. You might also choose to shadow another counselor or find a mentor. Perhaps you’ll read journals and blogs. No matter how you do it, gaining experience will help to boost your confidence and push your career forward, no matter what stage you might be at. Anyone Can Do It If you want to become a mental health counselor but you’re worried because you’ve never worked in that sector before and you are currently doing something else, there is no need to be concerned. The great thing about counseling is that anyone can do it (assuming they have the kind of traits and qualities that will help them achieve more) and if you want to switch careers to specialize in school counseling, for example, or you want to come back into work after taking time off for any reason, or if you’ve been a counselor for many years but now want to work in just one area, you can do it. Part of the great accessibility of becoming a mental health counselor comes from the option to learn online. This opens up the profession to many people who would otherwise not have had the chance but who would make excellent counselors. By giving people the opportunity to learn in their own time, these online courses really make a difference. As well as this, the entire idea of what a mental health counselor does is much more understood. Mental health is no longer something to hide away from and try to ignore; it’s a very real part of the human condition, and mental health counselors are needed more than ever. Trust Can Take A Long Time To Build One of the most important things that is needed when you become a mental health counselor is to instill trust in your clients. They need to know that you are there for them and that they can trust you and tell you everything that is on their mind. Only when you are at this stage can you truly help them become well and deal with their mental health issues. Trust is crucial because if the patient doesn’t trust their counselor, they’ll never fully open up. This means the counselor won’t be able to get to the root cause of the issue, and a way through it won’t be forthcoming. However, as well as understanding this and having methods in place to allow for this trust to develop, it’s crucial that any counselor knows that trust can take a long time to build. This is especially true if the client has been through a lot of trauma; they might find it hard to trust anyone, and you shouldn’t expect them to trust you just because you ask them to. You need to prove that you are trustworthy and that you truly are there to help them. This can take many sessions spanning months, if not years. To help, there are some things you should bear in mind. Firstly, you need to be yourself. If you’re not honest and open with your client, they won’t feel comfortable being honest and open with you, and it will make it much harder for them to trust you. By being open, you are showing you trust them, and this will help to develop a mutual feeling. It’s also a good idea for you to keep learning. New ideas are always being developed, and the more you know about mental health counseling, the more you can put it into practice, and some of those new pieces of information will be about helping patients trust you more. It Will Take Time To Gain A Client Base If you intend to build up your own mental health counseling practice (this is not mandatory – you can work for someone else if you prefer), you should know that finding clients might take some time. It could even take years to build a thriving counseling clinic. Therefore don’t allow yourself to become disillusioned or disappointed if you only have a very few clients at the start. As long as you keep moving forward and doing all you can to find new clients, you will grow. One thing that can help is gaining a good reputation. The better you are at what you do, the more likely it is that people will recommend you to others. Once those new people have come to you and can see for themselves that you are good at what you do, they will tell more people, and so on. Word of mouth can be one of the most effective ways to build a client base, which is why focusing on excellent patient care and being the best mental health counselor you can be is so important. Another way to grow your client base is to network whenever you can. When you can put yourself in the same place as those who might be able to help you in your clinic business – and whom you can help in return, ideally – then you stand a much better chance of growing at a faster rate. Networking might allow you to get referrals, perhaps working in a mutually beneficial way to refer patients to one another if either is booked up, for example. Take Your Own Advice When you are a mental health counselor, you’ll often spend time giving your clients advice about how to practice self-care to ensure that they feel better and can be more relaxed, thus ensuring they are better equipped to deal with mental health issues as they arise. This is clearly important, but it’s just as important to take that advice yourself. If you want to be a successful counselor, you need to take care of your own mental health, especially as you’ll be hearing stories of trauma, abuse, and neglect issues from your clients, and no matter how professional or experienced you might be, these sessions may well affect you. If you don’t take time to de-stress and unwind and take time to practice self-care for yourself, you will become unwell. You might suffer from burnout or perhaps develop your own mental health issues. The best way to really take care of your patients is to take care of yourself, but sometimes remembering to do that is not so easy. It Will Sometimes Feel Hopeless This may not sound like something that would make many people jump at the chance to become a mental health counselor, but it’s an important thing to be aware of, as you need to know both the positive and negative sides of the job – the more you know, the more you’ll be able to decide whether or not this really is the right career move for you, whether you’re starting straight from college after high school or this is something you have decided to try later in life. Sometimes, counseling will feel hopeless. You might not be seeing the progress you had expected in your clients, and perhaps you wonder if you’re doing the right thing. It’s crucial to remember that in those moments, although it might seem as though you’re not getting anywhere, the truth is you are. It might be just a very small step forward that is hard to quantify. As long as you are doing something and helping as much as you can, you truly are making a difference.