5 Attributes of a Successful Mental Health Counselor

Pursuing a career as a mental health counselor brings you in contact with a diverse range of patients with complex conditions. While counseling can be a challenging profession, it can also be very rewarding for those with the right traits and mindset. Having these five characteristics can help you succeed as a counselor.

1. Good Listening Skills

The people that counselors work with suffer from many different conditions presenting a variety of concerns and challenges. Being able to “talk it out” with someone is a valuable part of the healing process. Some patients may not have anyone else in their lives to talk to who understands what they’re going through or is even willing to listen. Often, patients will communicate much more than what’s actually being said, and part of a counselor’s job is to listen for clues that point to deeper problems that need to be discussed.

2. Effective Communication

To understand every patients as well as possible, a counselor must be clear when asking questions. Being simple and direct in your communication helps individuals sort out their thoughts when they’re dealing with conditions that make them feel anxious, nervous or confused. Advice should be offered in a manner that is nonjudgmental and easy to understand. When discussing options for treatment, it’s important to be able to convey how your suggestions will help your patients address their concerns or manage their conditions. Remember that listening should be your first priority, but the ability to speak well is equally valuable.

3. Compassionate and Empathetic

The patients you work with as a mental health counselor will be dealing with emotions that can range from unusual calmness to illogical anger. Fear, doubt, depression and many other feelings may come to light during a session. No matter what a patient is expressing, you need to be able to put forth a compassionate attitude that makes them feel safe and understood. Showing empathy without getting caught up in their emotions keeps you calm and can help diffuse volatile situations. Over time, you’ll build a relationship based on trust that will lead to more productive sessions.

4. Flexible and Adaptable

The circumstances and needs of mental health patients are always changing. It’s important to know how to tailor treatment plans and make adjustments as needed. There is no one plan that will work for everyone, and patients deserve an individualized approach designed to help them manage or recover from specific conditions. During every session, note whether or not a patient’s symptoms and quality of life are improving. Pay attention to changes in their circumstances that may necessitate a new approach, and always be clear about adjustments to the treatment plan.

5. Willing to Learn

Over the course of your career as a counselor, you’ll encounter new situations that require further education to understand and address. Research is always bringing new ideas and treatments to light, and you must be willing to take time to read new research papers, articles and books in order to stay on top of changes. Honing your problem-solving skills is an ongoing endeavor that happens as you work and should also be included in your continuing studies. Critical thinking is another crucial skill that you should practice so that you can address every patient’s needs in a logical way.

Along with the right education and training, these personal attributes allow you to provide patients with the best possible counseling services. Use your time in school well to sharpen your skills and learn all that you can to get ready for a career in mental health counseling.