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Counselors | What Do They Do?

Mental health counselors and marriage and family therapists typically do the following:

  • Diagnose and treat mental and emotional disorders, such as anxiety and depression
  • Encourage clients to discuss their emotions and experiences
  • Help clients process their reactions and adjust to changes in their life, such as divorce or layoffs
  • Guide clients through the process of making decisions about their future
  • Help clients develop strategies and skills to change their behavior or cope with difficult situations
  • Coordinate treatment with other professionals, such as psychiatrists and social workers
  • Refer clients to other resources or services in the community, such as support groups or inpatient treatment facilities

Mental health counselors and marriage and family therapists use a variety of techniques and tools to help their clients. Many apply cognitive behavioral therapy, a goal-oriented approach that helps clients understand harmful thoughts, feelings, and beliefs and replace them with positive, life-enhancing ones. Furthermore, cognitive behavioral therapy teaches clients to eliminate unwanted or damaging behaviors and replace them with more productive ones.

Some disorders can be overcome, but others need to be managed. In these cases, mental health counselors and marriage and family therapists help the client develop strategies and skills to minimize the effects of their disorders or illnesses.

Some mental health counselors and marriage and family therapists work in private practice. They must spend time marketing their practice to prospective clients and working with insurance companies and clients to get payment for their services.

Mental health counselors provide treatment to individuals, families, couples, and groups. Some work with specific populations, such as the elderly, college students, or children. Mental health counselors deal with a variety of issues, including anxiety, depression, grief, low self-esteem, stress, and suicidal impulses. They also help with mental and emotional health issues, and relationship problems. 

Marriage and family therapists work with individuals, couples, and families. Unlike other types of mental health professionals, they bring a family-centered perspective to treatment, even when treating individuals. They evaluate family roles and development to understand how clients’ families affect their mental health. They treat the clients’ relationships, not just the clients themselves. They address issues such as low self-esteem, stress, addiction and substance abuse.

Source: U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2012-13 Edition


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